House OKs conservation, heating oil, NEA funds in Interior spending bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House passed an $18.8 billion Interior Department spending bill Tuesday that includes an expensive land conservation program the White House has pressed the Republican-controlled Congress to approve.
The Interior bill commits $12 billion over the next six years for the federal government to buy and maintain environmentally sensitive lands such as wetlands, coastal areas and forests. The White House won passage of the "Lands Legacy" program only after agreeing to let Congress decide each year which lands to purchase.
The bill, which passed 348-69, also includes $8 million to create and maintain a new heating oil reserve for the Northeast. The stockpile will hold about 2.8 million gallons of heating oil in tanks in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut -- about a two-week supply for the region.
The reserves could be released this winter to discourage heating oil prices from spiking, said Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pennsylvania.
The House measure includes $1.8 billion in emergency funding to pay for fighting this year's Western wildfires and a rare increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which until this year had seen its budget stagnate on the GOP's watch.
The NEA will be funded at $98 million next year, $7 million more than its 2000 budget. That still fell $52 million short of President Clinton's request. The National Endowment for the Humanities received a $5 million increase over last year to put it at $120 million for 2001, about $30 million less than what the president wanted.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill late Tuesday or Wednesday, and Clinton has indicated he will sign it.
Passage of the Interior Department appropriations bill, which took weeks for congressional and administration officials to nail down, was a plus for Republican leaders eager to finish the budget for fiscal year 2001, which began October 1, and send their members back to their districts to campaign.
A conference committee met Tuesday afternoon to take other measures, including a controversial provision to ease sanctions on Cuba and to allow for the reimportation of U.S.-made drugs as a means to lower prescription drug costs. The session adjourned Tuesday night without an agreement.
The House also approved a continuing resolution Tuesday that will keep the government funded through October 14.