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House, mired in budget talks, passes bill to keep government funded

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the end of the fiscal year just days away and deep divisions remaining over spending priorities for next year, the House passed a bill Tuesday to keep the government up and running for an extra week.

The "continuing resolution," which will keep Social Security checks in the mail and the national parks open to tourists through October 6th, passed the House with little opposition. The "CR," as it is known, is expected to pass the Senate sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.

Democrats blamed Republicans for the budget stalemate.

"This congress has spent most of the year debating tax cuts for the wealthiest that left no money for debt reduction, basic appropriations, or anything else," Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, said from the House floor.

Republicans blamed Democrats.

"This congress has tried to work in a bipartisan way," Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, a member of the Appropriations Committee, responded. "We need good faith efforts and results, not roadblocks."

Lawmakers, who would otherwise prefer to be home campaigning for re-election, will use the extra time to negotiate passage of the separate appropriations bills that fund various parts of the government. Only two of the 13 bills have been approved despite a Republican strategy to meet the president at least halfway on many of his spending demands, and to drop many of the controversial legislative riders that they had attached to the remaining 11 bills.

But some of those riders remain.

House, Senate and administration negotiators met Tuesday on the Interior spending bill, which has been held up for days over environmental riders the White House opposes -- and over an expensive Lands Legacy initiative the White House wants. That proposal calls for spending over $1 billion to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive land.

Also Tuesday, negotiators, known as conferees, met on the Energy and Water bill.

Transportation bill conferees, who are trying to resolve a dispute over making .08 the national blood-alcohol content limit for drunk driving, canceled their Tuesday session even as Capitol Hill reporters chased rumors that a deal on the controversial proposal had been struck.

Veterans Administration/Housing and Urban Development conferees are scheduled to meet "informally" Wednesday, but legislation easing the Cuba embargo is stalling appointment of conferees to the Agriculture bill. Meanwhile, new ergonomics standards and education spending have blocked movement on the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education bill.

And, a turn-of-the-century telephone tax that remains on the books -- which was originally intended to fund the Spanish American War -- is holding up movement on the Treasury/Postal Service bill.

Congressional leaders are also trying to negotiate passage of prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients; HMO reform; various tax cuts; a minimum wage hike; bankruptcy reform; a proposal to use 90 percent of next year's budget surplus to pay down the debt; and numerous other complex issues before adjournment, planned for October 6.

This is not the first time Congress has found itself with too little time to do too much. In the past 11 years, the House Appropriations Committee staff reports, it has passed 43 CRs to extend government operations for a total of 538 days.

In 1995, the Republican-controlled congress refused to pass a CR, and was squarely blamed by the general public for its political miscalculation after portions of the government were shut down.

 
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Tuesday, September 26, 2000


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