Senate votes down Treasury-Postal spending bill

The Senate voted 69-28 Wednesday to reject the combined conference report on fiscal year 2001 Treasury-Postal and legislative branch funding, which contains funding for a 3.7 percent average pay increase for federal employees next year. The lopsided defeat came after GOP leaders realized the combination of Democratic anger over how the package was brought to the floor and conservative opposition to a pay raise for Members of Congress had doomed the vote. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the Senate's failure Wednesday to pass the Treasury- Postal/Legislative Branch package "increases the possibility" of a lame duck session after the November elections. "I always thought that was a possibility anyway," he told reporters. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Ark., told reporters, "In my opinion now we're ready for a post-election session ... We just don't have time to get 11 bills through in nine days." It came on a day in which Republicans leaders in both chambers took it on the chin, suffering embarrassing, if ultimately short- lived, setbacks. Earlier in the day, 18 House Republicans joined with nearly the entire Democratic Caucus to back a motion to instruct conferees on the Labor-HHS bill offered by Appropriations Committee ranking member David Obey, D-Wis. The motion, which prevailed on a 222-201 vote, urges conferees to reject language in the Senate Labor-HHS bill denying the administration's request to dedicate funds for Clinton's school construction and class size reduction initiatives in favor of block-granting federal education dollars to the states. In a further dose of unwelcome news, it appeared unlikely GOP leaders will get the Interior conference report cleared this week, as they had hoped, because the conference needs to meet again today to finalize their bill. After the Treasury-Postal/Legislative Branch bill failed Lott said: "I'm going to let them stew in their own mess for a little while [before returning to this package] ... The vote indicates the Democrats and the White House are not serious about completing the process." Said Daschle: "Don't let anybody say with a straight face or with any credibility that it is Democrats holding things up. Let's get to those bills. Let's get them done. Let's offer amendments. But for heaven's sake, let's remember this institution." Lott later told reporters that while the Treasury-Postal package sits on the shelf, the Senate would probably move Thursday on the Interior bill, followed by the Transportation spending bill, adding that he still prefers to "pair" the Transportation bill with another measure, possibly VA-HUD.