Disaster Relief, Military Spending Bill Moves Forward In Senate
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 25) -- Spending bills for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), U.S. troops abroad and disaster relief are moving toward completion in the Senate, but the House's versions of the legislation appear to be headed toward a partisan fight.
Debate resumed in the Senate Wednesday morning on the $3 billion supplemental appropriations bill to fund overseas operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf and assistance to California, New England and other states hit hard by this winter's El Niño-related storms.
A separate Senate bill would provide $17.9 billion in loan guarantees needed by the IMF in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.
The two spending measures will likely be merged into a single bill, but a series of side disputes embroiling the Senate delayed the move. GOP leaders agreed to the merger after negotiations with the White House over conditions attached to the IMF funding.
"That would lift a great burden from the Senate," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
Bipartisan support of the merged supplemental spending package is expected.
In the House, the Appropriations Committee Tuesday marked up its two corresponding bills. But the legislation contains features that have already prompted sharp objections from the White House and Democrats.
In its bill for disaster relief and troops, Republicans included cuts to domestic spending programs to pay for the $2.9 billion supplemental spending. Among the areas targeted are housing, airport funds, bilingual education and President Bill Clinton's pet Americorps national service program. The bill was approved by the committee by a 29-21 roll call vote that broke down on party lines.
A voice vote approved the measure to provide IMF funding, plus $505 million in back dues owed the United Nations. But the Clinton Administration says conditions placed on the IMF money by Republicans are too restrictive.
An amendment that would ban federal aid to pro-abortion groups is also likely to be attached to the IMF bill, forcing a showdown with Clinton who opposes the measure.
Echoing last year's battle over aid to the flood-ravaged Midwest, the White House is criticizing House Republicans for politicizing important issues like disaster relief and military support.
"It would be disappointing and disturbing if our ability to provide assistance to victims of natural disasters and our troops in Bosnia and Iraq were held hostage to partisan politics in the House," White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles said in a statement.
In a letter to House leaders, White House budget director Franklin Raines warned the administration would "vigorously oppose" the domestic spending cuts. "I urge you not to take actions that could result in gridlock and that would be detrimental both to our troops abroad and to our citizens at home at their time of need," Raines said.
While Republicans don't want a repeat of last year's disaster aid battle -- which they lost in the court of public opinion -- they expressed frustration that "emergency spending" could eat away at the projected budget surplus.
"I don't understand, as the president goes through Africa giving away money, why the White House is opposed to a balanced budget," House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told The Associated Press.
The measure faces action next week.Its prospects for passage are unclear as most Democrats and some Republicans oppose using domestic funding to pay for the additional spending.
The House Appropriations Committee launched a contentious and partisan markup of two separate fiscal 1998 supplementals, which it hoped to complete by Wednesday night.