Clinton-GOP battle threatens programs to help bay, shellfish

Republicans, White House differ on spending levels, imperiling water projects

October 22, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- More than $13 million in funds to study the Chesapeake Bay's water quality and improve the habitat of the state's oysters and blue crabs is in jeopardy because of larger fights between President Clinton and congressional Republicans over spending levels.

Clinton has threatened to veto all remaining spending bills because of disagreements with Republicans over financial priorities.

Republicans say they have been forced to make spending cuts because the president is offering them the choice of making unpalatable tax increases or borrowing money from the Social Security trust funds, which they have promised not to do.

"The president is playing a game with each of these appropriations bills," said David Marin, a spokesman for Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a senior Republican.

Veto promised

The water projects are contained in a bill setting spending for the Departments of Commerce, State and Justice and several smaller agencies. The House passed the bill Wednesday, largely along party lines, and the Senate approved it on a voice vote Wednesday night.

Clinton has pledged to veto the bill, saying it does not include enough money to pay for U.S. dues owed to the United Nations or for the administration's community policing program. He has also threatened a veto because Republicans stripped a provision favored by Clinton to strengthen federal anti-hate crime law.

Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat who serves on the subcommittee that writes the Senate version of the spending bill, said the affected projects include:

$9.125 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research and monitor Pfiesteria, a toxic algal bloom, in the waterways of Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states.

$1.89 million to operate NOAA's Chesapeake Bay office.

$1.5 million for research into oyster disease at the agency's Horn Point and Oxford Labs facilities.

$500,000 to put into use a strategy to foster more blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.

$450,000 for an effort overseen by the National Marine Fisheries Service to restore the Chesapeake Bay's oyster habitats.

Waste alleged

The bill also includes $84.7 million for a continuing overhaul of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology facility in Montgomery County and $3 million to help renovate a NOAA building in the federal complex in Prince George's County.

Mikulski supported the president's approach, but said she would work to save the measures if the Congress decides to lump all eight spending bills that the president has not yet signed into a single, mammoth initiative. If the Congress instead proceeds by passing a series of stopgap measures, the projects, derided by fiscal conservatives as pork, may not survive, she said.

Potomac recreation

"There are some very important things in there, particularly that would benefit the Chesapeake Bay," Mikulski said.

Similarly at risk are two measures in the spending bill for the Interior Department. Included at the behest of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, they would provide nearly $300,000 to study alternative sources of water for his district and to improve recreational sites along the Potomac River.

The bill faces the threat of a presidential veto. Hoyer, who voted against the bill as part of the Democratic strategy on spending measures, said he would seek other ways to get his projects approved.

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