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Congress Approves Disaster Relief Bill (06/12/97)

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Clinton Signs Disaster-Relief Bill


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 12) -- President Bill Clinton signed an $8.6 billion disaster-relief provision into law Thursday after GOP congressional leaders backed off on controversial sections that had caused the bill to stall for weeks.

The House passed the revised measure by a 348-74 margin. The Senate cleared it 78-21.

Signing the bill soon after it arrived in the Oval Office, Clinton raised his fist in a victory salute.

"This bill provides the desperately needed resources for hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered terribly from the flooding and other natural disasters in the Dakotas, Minnesota, California and 29 other states," Clinton said in a statement released by the White House.

"When our people are in need, we Americans come to their assistance as one nation," the president said.


Republicans blamed for delay

Republicans had thought the political appeal of the bill, designed primarily to bring aid to flood victims in the Midwest, would overwhelm opposition to two-GOP sponsored provisions: To keep another budget impasse from shutting down the government, and to bar the Census Bureau from using statistical sampling techniques, rather than a full population count.

But Clinton vetoed that version, and polls showed the public blamed Republicans for holding up the disaster relief.

The GOP's wall of solidarity began to crack when 20 House Republicans wrote Speaker Newt Gingrich, urging him to give in. The letter warned the speaker that the GOP strategy "is slipping, and Republicans are losing the public relations war."

It was a grim picture for the Republicans, and Democrats were intent on keeping it that way, shutting down Senate business on everything but disaster relief.

These are not minor issues

The extra provisions were withdrawn, although Gingrich maintained they were still important.

"These are not minor issues," the Georgia Republican said on the House floor. "There are not political games. Keeping open the American government and ensuring that every citizen is counted are important to the people of this country."

In his statement, Clinton said, "I am especially pleased that the congressional majority heeded the call of common sense by ensuring that the people who need this assistance will get it and ensuring that the controversial and extraneous provisions of the bill were dropped."

Passage of the bill came as welcome news to the flood-ravaged Midwest.

"Many of us wondered if this day was ever going to come, and here it is," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D). Some areas of his state, particularly Grand Forks, were especially hard-hit.

Brenda Barger, mayor of Watertown, South Dakota, got the news by telephone.

"This has restored the faith of people in our communities," she said.

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