Congress, White House agree on $500 billion budget plan
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 15) -- The White House reached a deal with Congress Thursday on a $500 billion budget package, following compromises on such topics as education and agriculture.
The bill, and an accompanying $20 billion emergency spending package, must still be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the president. Those votes were expected on Friday. Despite some grumbling about programs put in or taken out, quick passage was likely.
"We believe this is a bill that is going to get overwhelming support," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., following more than a week of round-the-clock negotiations. The budget covers government expenses and programs for the 1999 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Both parties claimed victories they can boast about in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.
President Bill Clinton was pleased that Republicans accepted his request to spend $1.1 billion to hire 100,000 more elementary school teachers, an effort to decrease class sizes, while Republicans took credit for preserving a budget surplus.
Clinton thanked Democratic and Republican leaders for their work.
"We were able to put people ahead of politics. This is a very, very good day for America," he said.
"The president came into the negotiations and wanted to spend as much as possible of the surplus," said Rep. Dick Armey, Republican House majority leader. "But I can tell you, Mr. and Mrs. America, for the most part, your surplus is still intact."
"There was give and take on both sides," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Once the spending plan is approved by the House and Senate, Congress can adjourn so members can return to their re-election campaigns.
Just hours before the agreement was reached, Democrats, who were largely on the sidelines in the talks, said they wouldn't accept the package without careful scrutiny.
"You cannot short-circuit and push all 535 people out of the room and make the decision between two or three people," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. "We are not going to let them run over people's right to understand what's in the bill."
Clinton conceded that his proposal for modernizing and repairing school buildings using $5 billion in targeted tax breaks had been dropped in the budget negotiations. He said he would push for it again next year.
"Today, we got the teachers, and now we must come back with a new Congress and get the (improved buildings)," Gephardt said. "We are thrilled that our children are going to have a better education."
Among the sticking points that occupied the chief negotiators were whether statistical sampling would be used in the year 2000 Census, whether federal health care plans should cover prescription contraceptives and funding the International Monetary Fund.
A fourth temporary spending bill was passed Wednesday to keep the government open through Friday, while negotiations continued on the main bill.
While Democrats touted the deals on education and agriculture, Republicans pointed to their emphasis on a stronger defense program and anti-drug measures.
"Our Democratic priorities clearly prevailed, and I welcome the decision by our Republican colleagues to accept them," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Meanwhile, Republicans said their key belief -- that educational funding should go directly to local schools rather than through a Washington bureaucracy -- was kept intact.
"It is a huge win for local educators and parents who are fed up with Washington mandates, red tape and regulation," said Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Education and the Workplace Committee.
The measure gives local communities the funds to recruit, hire and train teachers. It does not address a ban on proposed federal testing wanted by the administration.
Democrats were able to obtain $6 billion in disaster aid for farmers hurt by low crop prices and severe weather. The final figure was well above the $4.2 billion offered by Republicans in a spending bill the president vetoed, but down from the $7.3 billion sought by Democrats.
A few long-standing hang-ups delayed a final handshake on a giant package that includes eight of the 13 annual spending bill and funds programs for the departments of Justice, State, Education, Labor and Interior.
Gingrich said negotiators had agreed to a funding procedure that essentially puts off until April 15, after a probable Supreme Court ruling, a decision on the use of so-called statistical sampling in the 2000 census. Democrats have not signed off on that agreement.
Negotiators resolved what has been another intransigent problem, a Democratic-backed plan to require health care providers to cover most prescription contraceptives for federal workers, Gingrich said.
At the insistence of anti-abortion Republicans, a compromise was worked out that would let individual doctors opt out of the plans if they have moral or religious objections, he said.
The Clinton administration got $18 billion to replenish International Monetary Fund credit, but with the GOP conditions that the IMF take steps to make its operations more open and effective.
Details were being worked out on a near $20 billion emergency spending package that included the agriculture aid, money for disaster victims, peacekeeping in Bosnia, the year 2000 computer problem and, at the urging of Republicans, $9.7 billion for military readiness, a national defense system and intelligence.
Lott said Republicans had met their goals for the year.
"We wanted the government to be smaller, less decisions made in Washington, less taxes and generally more freedom for America," he said.
"I'm very proud of what we've achieved ... but there is, however, a large unfinished agenda," Gephardt said, citing a patients' bill of rights, social security reform, anti-teen smoking and campaign finance reform as key issues that need more work.
He blamed Congress for the lack of action on the issues.
"Frankly, in my view, they have been captivated by their special interests," Gephardt said.
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