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Progress and setbacks in battle over spending bills

International aid bill passed; spending plan for federal agencies stalled

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to a $15 billion international aid bill that includes $435 million in debt relief for a few dozen of the world's poorest countries.

In this story:

Aid for Serbia included
Resolution keeps government running

President Clinton hailed the debt program as "one of the signal achievements of this Congress."

The spending bill also lifts restrictions on overseas family planning groups that support abortions, although Republicans won a delay in releasing those funds until next year. Their hope is that Republican George W. Bush will win the White House and block the funding.

Passage of the foreign operations spending bill for 2001 and separate action on a tax relief package encouraged some Republicans who want to wrap up legislative work and hit the campaign trail in the next couple of days.


But negotiations over two other spending bills -- one for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and the second for the departments of Commerce, State, and Justice -- are at a stalemate over disputes involving financing school construction, funding the government's lawsuit against tobacco companies, immigration reform, implementing new ergonomics standards and other issues.

"We're in a very unpredictable mode at this point," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.

"We have those issues to resolve. Negotiations are under way. I think on most of them, it's anybody's guess to resolve."

Aid for Serbia included

The foreign operations bill, which passed the Senate 65-27 and the House 307-101, also includes $100 million for the new government in Serbia.

Also Wednesday, GOP leaders announced compromise language between the House and Senate on a $245 billion tax-relief package that, among other things, reforms pension plans, helps pay for health insurance, and boosts the minimum wage by $1 over the next two years.

In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, Clinton suggested a tax agreement was close.

"In the spirit of compromise, I believe we can work together quickly to pass this balanced legislation that I can sign into law that can benefit the American people," Clinton wrote.

Hastert responded: "I agree with you that should work together in a bipartisan fashion, and I believe this work product is a result of a hard-fought compromise." But differences remain.

About $28 billion in payments to health-care providers -- hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs and others -- will be included in the tax package, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Wednesday.

The payments, called "givebacks," are designed to restore funding that was cut as part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

The administration believes too much money goes to HMOs and that the private companies are not required to assure the government they will continue to provide coverage to Medicare recipients.

Resolution keeps government running

A fight over reforming immigration laws still blocks the Commerce-State-Justice bill. Democrats want a broad amnesty program while Republicans want a narrower program aimed at about 400,000 immigrants who have been fighting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for years over permanent residency.

Negotiations over the dispute continued late Wednesday.

Before leaving for the day, both the House and Senate passed 24-hour continuing resolutions to keep the government running through Thursday.

Clinton told congressional leaders he will only sign 1-day stopgap measures until all the spending bills are passed and signed.

When will that happen?

"I'd give equal chance to Friday, Saturday or sometime next week," a leadership aide said.




Wednesday, October 25, 2000


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