Clinton, GOP in budget accord $500 billion deal has both sides claiming victory

October 16, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Agreements to boost defense spending and to battle Internet pornography allowed Republican leaders and the White House to forge a $500 billion budget deal yesterday, handing President Clinton a political victory and Republicans some legislative achievements to show voters.

Democrats were delighted with the accord, which gave them what they wanted on education, farm relief and contraceptive issues, while providing plenty of fodder to take on the campaign trail before the Nov. 3 congressional elections.

"We didn't even start this work until after the whole budget year was over," Clinton said at a Rose Garden ceremony, basking in a triumph exactly one week after the House voted to approve an impeachment inquiry into the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Just think what we could do for Americans if we had these priorities all year long and not just eight days."

Republicans, too, had plenty to crow about, including a $690 million increase in funding for the drug war, $1 billion to help develop a missile defense system, and a $9 billion boost to the military budget, the largest increase in defense spending since 1985.

"I think we have a package that's good for America," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. "That's the main thing. It's not a question of who won or who lost."

But with less than three weeks before the mid-term elections, the political calculations were not far below the surface. And Republicans clearly had more to worry about than Democrats, as GOP leaders dodged fire from their right flank.

"Let me say emphatically: This is a bad bill," said Rep. David M. McIntosh of Indiana, a leader of the Republicans' conservative wing.

Lawmakers are eager to head home for their election campaigns, and Republican leaders said Congress should be able to pass the budget by tonight. But one Republican appropriations aide cautioned that last-minute changes could push the recess date into the weekend.

Conservative complaints

That could give naysayers more time to snipe. Conservatives complain that the bill does not include a sizable tax cut. They also argue that it funds too many government programs and, worst of all, would trim $20.5 billion from the budget surplus, the first since 1969. They trained their fire on the president, whom they portrayed as dishonest and duplicitous.

"The greatest difficulty is dealing with a president who, even under oath, cannot be trusted," charged Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr., an Oklahoma Republican.

But Democrats were not about to let Republicans sully the budget deal with talk of the president's sex scandal. Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the lead Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said any Republican defeats could be pinned directly on the Republican right.

Congress failed to complete eight of the 13 spending bills needed to keep the government operating -- in part, Obey said, because conservatives helped draft spending legislation that could not pass Congress. As a result, congressional leaders had to negotiate a final deal with the White House, to finance nearly one-third of the federal government's $1.7 trillion budget.

Of the $500 billion, $20.5 billion is considered emergency spending and would come directly from the budget surplus. That includes nearly $6 billion for cash-strapped farmers; $6.5 billion for military readiness, including nearly $2 billion for peacekeepers in Bosnia; $1 billion for national missile defense; $1.8 billion for embassy security; $100 million for a Capitol visitors center; $106 million for security upgrades at the Capitol and Library of Congress; $3.4 billion to fix Year 2000 glitches in federal computers; $690 million for new anti-drug programs; and $1.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

GOP share of victories

To be sure, Republicans had their share of victories. They blocked a needle exchange program for drug addicts in the District of Columbia. They scuttled the president's national education testing efforts and defeated his demand for school construction subsidies.

And over White House opposition, Republican leaders included a provision requiring commercial pornographic Web sites to take steps to prevent children from seeing material considered harmful to minors. The White House had argued that the provision is unconstitutional, and the Justice Department had complained that the law would be unenforceable.

Republicans also linked nearly $1 billion owed to the United Nations to legislation that the White House vehemently opposes. That legislation would block funding for international family planning programs that promote or perform abortions. In addition, U.N. family planning programs would receive no money so long as they operate in China, whose government, the Republicans say, practices forced abortions.

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