GOP, White House fail to reach deal on budget for 2000

Republicans are seeking 0.4% across-the-board cut in federal spending

November 17, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Confronting the final obstacle to a budget deal, White House and congressional negotiators wrestled in vain last night over how to pay for $6.5 billion in additional spending.

Both sides have pledged to swear off the traditional practice of borrowing from the Social Security surplus to pay for increases in other government programs. As a result, they are forced to find savings elsewhere.

Republican leaders were pushing for an across-the-board cut of 0.4 percent in proposed spending for most programs. President Clinton has vetoed such a cut of nearly 1 percent. But Republican negotiators said the administration had not come up with alternatives to an across-the-board cut that would save money.

"We'll have to defend these things on the floor; they have to be real," said Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Stevens angrily observed that Clinton and the Democrats are already claiming victory in the budget talks because Republicans agreed to provide money to hire more teachers.

"If they won," Stevens asked, "why can't they agree to this one little thing?"

Republicans contend that Clinton had hinted to House Speaker Dennis Hastert that he could accept an across-the-board cut smaller than the one he vetoed. But White House negotiators and congressional Democrats have so far rejected such a notion.

"We generally think that's a bad way to budget," said Rep. David E. Bonior, the House Democratic whip. "It disproportionately hurts programs that need the money and rewards those that could use some discipline."

Finding the last bit of savings was all that remained to complete bargaining over nearly $400 billion in proposed federal spending for fiscal year 2000, which began

Oct. 1.

Much of the government has been operating since then on temporary spending authority, which is scheduled to expire today.

A sixth extension of the temporary bill would have to be passed if Congress fails to enact the final legislation by tonight.

Congressional leaders had hoped the final bill could be voted on by the House today, but that prospect appeared doubtful last night. And Senate action could be delayed by senators who are unhappy over some provisions.

One of the senators whose concerns have not been met is Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.

Byrd has been seeking an amendment to the final budget bill in hopes of voiding a federal court decision that would curb the practice of mining coal from mountaintops and dumping the spoil in streams and valleys.

John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff, said in a letter to Hastert that the president would likely veto a bill that included a provision such as the one Byrd is seeking.

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