Clinton, GOP near budget deal Tentative pact offers billions for schools, farmers and defense

A victory for Clinton

Republicans giving in on $500 billion plan

October 15, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- White House and congressional Republican leaders closed in last night on a mammoth, $500 billion budget proposal that would send billions of extra dollars to local school boards, cash-strapped farmers, international agencies and national defense programs.

The deal would mark a victory for President Clinton, who could claim success on long-standing White House policy initiatives that had languished in the shadows of pending impeachment proceedings. The highest-profile initiative envisions hiring 100,000 new teachers for the nation's elementary schools.

"We have finally come to what we believe is a resolution to this issue," Erskine Bowles, the White House chief of staff, said of the education proposal. "And we will have 100,000 new teachers in the classroom."

Republicans appear ready to give in to most of the White House demands on funding for the International Monetary Fund and on a rescue package for farmers.

At the same time, Republicans extracted extra funding for their priorities, such as missile defense projects, military training and intelligence efforts. They blocked Democratic demands for school construction subsidies.

And they won inclusion of a measure to help increase the number of foreign high-tech workers at American companies, a provision opposed by labor unions and many Democrats.

But congressional leaders warned that the deal could be short-lived. Many House Democrats were furious at an agricultural rescue package that they feel is heavily tilted toward grain farmers in the upper Midwest.

Conservative Republicans in the House may bridle at the size of an emergency spending package for disaster relief, agriculture, embassy security, peacekeepers in Bosnia and a computer repair effort that could draw up to $18 billion from the expected $71 billion budget surplus.

And abortion foes could revolt if Democrats win a high-stakes showdown on contraceptive coverage for federal workers and on funding for international family planning organizations that promote or perform abortions.

"I think we have a deal," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, one of the architects of the $6 billion farm package. "It's simply now a question of whether our colleagues will support what we have."

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri pointedly refused to appear with Daschle at a news conference last night announcing that package. A top Appropriations Committee aide suggested that the farm package might not be able to muster majority support in the House.

"We're going to read this bill," Gephardt warned. "We're going to read every word of this bill before any one of our members is ready to vote for it."

Both sides claim victory

On the most contentious issue, both sides claimed victory. The budget deal would set aside $1.1 billion for local school districts to hire teachers and reduce elementary school class sizes. Clinton had pledged in his State of the Union address last winter to find the money to hire up to 100,000 teachers nationwide.

Republicans agreed to the money, a major concession after months of refusing to consider Clinton's proposal.

"While Republicans had to be dragged kicking and screaming to [the proposal], we're glad they're finally there," said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the lead Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

But in a last-minute gambit, Republican leaders demanded that school districts be given the flexibility to spend the money in ways other than hiring new teachers -- including buying instructional materials, training teachers, bolstering special 3f education and administering teacher competency tests.

The Republicans largely gained those concessions, although the final list excludes the purchase of instructional materials.

"We gained what we had been pushing from Day 1," said Republican Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House education committee. "Moving the money out of the federal level, out of the state level, to the classrooms where they know best."

Aid to farmers

The farm bailout fell $700 million short of the total demanded by Democratic leaders, who also failed to obtain the higher crop supports they sought. But it was nearly $2 billion larger than the ++ $4.3 billion package originally approved by Republicans to help farmers plagued by bad weather, low produce prices and weak export sales in a troubled international economy.

The budget would also include a limited $9.2 billion package of tax cuts -- largely extensions of expiring tax breaks that have bipartisan support. They include tax credits for corporate research and development, and for companies hiring workers from economically disadvantaged groups.

The package is only a shadow of the $101 billion tax cut that House Republican leaders had pledged to pass this year.

However, Republicans could claim a victory on the increased number of visas for high-technology workers, a proposal that days ago appeared dead.

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