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House pushes controversial combined spending bill

House pushes controversial combined spending bill

House Republican leaders, intent on getting fiscal appropriations conference reports completed before the impending August recess pushed ahead with a floor vote Thursday on a stripped-down version of the appropriations-tax cut package they tried to develop with Senate leaders Wednesday night. However, the package appeared to be doomed in the Senate.

A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Daschle will object to a unanimous consent request for the Senate to take up the package, which is the only way it could be added to the Senate's already crowded floor schedule before the recess.

Senate Democrats are incensed that Republicans want to move a conference report on the Treasury-Postal spending bill when the Senate has yet to even debate its version, just as their House counterparts are livid that they have not had the chance to review the package before voting.

House Treasury-Postal Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Steny Hoyer, D-Md., thundered from the floor, "This is not the way we ought to run this House and respect each other as members."

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said the point is "to get it done. We can't control the Senate, but any time you can get something done [in the House], it's preferable."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said of the plan, "We're just trying to keep the wheels of government in motion, " but conceded, "I prefer regular order."

Salvaged from the more ambitious package under discussion Wednesday were the conference reports on the $2.5 billion Legislative Branch and $15.6 billion Treasury-Postal spending bills, repeal of the telephone excise tax, and language to reverse the $6 billion in FY2001 shifts in benefits payments included in the FY2000 supplemental.

The final package, which was completed early this morning and negotiated without suggestion from congressional Democrats or top White House officials, contains $40 million in emergency fiscal 2000 credit subsidy finding for the Federal Housing Administration to back loans for multi-family, low-income housing.

And it drops several controversial provisions, including the prohibition on enforcing the U.S. ban on exports of food and medicine to Cuba and restrictions on travel to Cuba, the prohibition on giving preference to gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson in federal government gun purchases, and the moratorium on implementing so-called federal acquisition rules on contractors, which the GOP calls "blacklisting."

As of Thursday, the White House had not made a judgment on the appropriations package because aides to President Clinton have not had a chance to view the details, according to White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. Lockhart charged that Democrats were excluded from "Republican only" negotiations over the bill. "Democratic members in the House have been forced to try to get details off the Internet," Lockhart said.

But Democrats were not the GOP leadership's only problem. Asked if he would back the conference report, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said, "Absolutely not." Sanford said he was upset that conferees included members of Congress in a rollback in retirement benefits contributions for federal employees.

Other Republicans may oppose the rule or the bill because a moratorium on "blacklisting" of government contractors who fail to meet certain guidelines was dropped. Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., said he told leaders he was undecided because of it. Rep. James Moran, D-Va., vowed to continue his efforts to enact the amendment, which passed the House with broad bipartisan support.

GOP leadership sources said the provision was removed to circumvent a strong lobbying campaign that the AFL- CIO, which supports the rule, has launched in the Senate. Moran said he will work with the administration to modify the rule and will look for another spending bill to which he can attach it.

A number of conservatives were expected to support the bill, according to an aide to a conservative member, because of the bill's elimination of budget accounting "gimmicks" from the FY2000 supplemental appropriations bill. The aide declared, "It's one of the cleanest conference reports I've seen in a long time."