Senate votes to push budget battle past election


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed today to let lawmakers go home for the last few days of the election campaign, abandoning hopes of finishing the budget before Americans go to the polls.

That decision must still be accepted by the House and President Clinton, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., acknowledged that "we’re not making a lot of progress" and "it looks like maybe a cooling-off period is not a bad idea."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he had assurances from his Democratic counterpart, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, that the president would go along.

Ranit Schmelzer, Daschle’s spokeswoman, said that in a meeting with Democratic leaders earlier in the day, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta had indicated he would not recommend a veto of the 13-day stopgap spending measure that would allow House and Senate members to recess and come back after the election.

"The president has stated that he’d like to stay and get the work done," said White House spokesman Jake Siewert. "But we’ll take a look at whatever emerges from Congress at the end of the day."

At the insistence of Clinton and House Democrats, Congress has been limping along with day-to-day stopgap spending bills needed to keep the government in operation until a final budget agreement can be worked out.

As the Senate approved the longer stopgap measure, with no Democratic objections, the House was debating another one-day extension of the funding for government program.

It was the 12th such temporary measure Congress has acted on since the fiscal year began Oct. 1. The president has yet to sign six of the 13 annual spending bills necessary to operate the federal government, with issues of immigration, workplace safety, tax cuts and Medicare blocking a final resolution.

One House aide said it was likely to be Thursday at the earliest before the legislation could pass the House.

Lott said he hopes that when the Senate and House return a week after the election, most of the disputes will have been resolved and "we have a vote or two and be done with it."

If the House goes along with the Senate action, Congress would reconvene Nov. 14 for the sixth lame-duck session in the past 30 years. The last such session was in 1998, when the House met to vote on articles of impeachment against Clinton.

In recent days, it has become apparent that there was little prospect for quick resolution of fights over workplace safety, immigration, tax cuts and other issues. Even so, neither party wanted to make the first request for Congress to depart for fear of being accused of abandoning unfinished work.

Hastert, R-Ill., said earlier Wednesday that it was still his intent to finish the work of this congressional session before the election. "I will see how much cooperation we get."

But Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said any effort to reach a budget deal at this late date before the election was pretense. "This session is over."

Lawmakers’ hopes to complete the budget this week and return home to campaign darkened Monday when the Republican leadership rejected a tentative compromise worked out on a $350 billion to fund labor, health and education programs.

They objected most strongly to a deal on new workplace rules, opposed by business groups, meant to reduce repetitive-motion and other work-related injuries. The deal would allow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue the ergonomics rules this year but would postpone implementation until next year, giving the next president a say in whether the rules would go forward.

Clinton retaliated late Monday by vetoing a $33 billion bill to fund the Treasury Department, White House and Congress. He said he had no objection to the bill, which would raise lawmakers annual salaries by $3,800 to $145,100, but "I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that funds the operations of Congress and the White House before funding our schools."

Hastert, in a letter to Clinton Tuesday, said that with the veto "you have added to legislative gridlock. … Now you too, Mr. President, appear to have decided that political war makes sense."

Besides the ergonomics issue, the White House and Republicans are still far apart on a 10-year $240 billion tax relief package and immigration provisions on a $39.9 billion bill to fund the departments of Commerce, Justice and State. The president has threatened vetoes of both bills.

On immigration, Democrats are seeking, with strong backing from Hispanic groups, general amnesty for illegal aliens who have lived in the country since before 1986 and equal treatment, with Cuban and Nicaraguan refugees, for political refugees from right-wing governments in Latin American and Haiti.

Republicans say it is wrong to reward people for entering the country illegally and have offered a more narrow measure to help bring immigrant families together.

The ergonomics issue is equally politically charged: "We think it could cost jobs, we think it could cost billions of dollars," Lott said.

But Democrats, with posters of people crippled by work-related injuries, said Republicans had bowed to special interests by attempting to stop OSHA from implementing the repetitive-motion rules. "Because Republicans broke their promises even more workers will be left with broken bodies," said David Bonior, D-Mich., the House’s second-ranking Democrat.

Every day an additional 1,500 people suffer from lifting, posture and motion-related injuries, said OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress. "Every day we delay there are more Americans hurt."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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