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Spending Bill Clears Congress, Heads for President's Approval

By Eric Pianin
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The 104th Congress completed its major work Monday night when the Senate sent President Clinton a massive spending bill that averted the possibility of another government shutdown and that reflects more of Clinton's domestic priorities than those of the Republican controlled Congress.

"Did we add more spending than we wanted? Yes," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Monday.

"The Democrats love spending. They never saw a spending increase they didn't worship But I think, all things considered, good work has been done," Lott said.

Faced with a midnight deadline for passing the new spending legislation to keep the government fully funded as the new fiscal year begins and desperate to adjourn for the year to campaign back home, Republicans took no chance of triggering a last minute confrontation with Clinton.

Throughout the three days and nights of grueling negotiations that ended early Saturday morning, Clinton and the Democrats held the upper hand.

The Senate voted 84 to 15 to approve legislation that provides about $356 billion for domestic programs and benefits and $244 billion for defense. Attached to the huge spending bill was a measure that significantly toughens the government's powers to stem the rising flow of illegal immigration.

At the insistence of the White House, the spending bill includes $6.5 billion more for education, combatting drugs, other domestic programs and anti-terrorism measures than the GOP originally included in their spending bills.

Clinton praised the deal Monday as "good for America because it continues to move us toward a balanced budget while protecting, not violating, our values."

But even with passage of the bill, Senate plans for adjourning Monday night fell through because of a dispute over a separate bill reauthorizing air traffic systems.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., complained that it contained language to help Federal Express prevent its truck drivers from unionizing and threatened stalling tactics that could keep the Senate in Washington at least through Tuesday.

The House finished its business on Saturday when it passed the immigration and spending bills, 370 to 37, after the White House forced GOP leaders to drop some of the harshest provisions from the immigration bill, including the denial of federally funded HIV and AIDS treatment to legal immigrants.

The White House and the Democrats also managed to blunt the GOP's revolutionary march to freeze or sharply reduce spending in key areas, ranging from education, job training and the environment to health care and other social services.

When Republicans took control in 1995, discretionary spending (other than for entitlements) totalled $508.5 billion, but last year that spending dipped to $488.6 billion. Under the spending bills agreed to for the new fiscal year beginning Tuesday, gross discretionary spending will shoot up to $503 billion. The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, for example, will receive about $71 billion in fiscal 1997, an increase of nearly $7 billion over the 1996 levels.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., and other Democrats threatened over the weekend to try to block final action of the bill in hopes of extracting additional concessions, but Democrats concluded Monday that they couldn't hope to do any better and ought to "quit while we're ahead."

White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta, a chief negotiator of the spending document who urged Democrats to support the plan, said, "In the end, Democrats recognize that we won a great deal in terms of the president's priorities and their priorities and it's important to get this done and for (members) to get back to their constituents."

Thirty-eight Republicans and 46 Democrats voted for the legislation, while 14 disgruntled Republicans and one Democrat (Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin) voted against it.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who opposed the legislation, complained it was brimming with pork-barrel spending.

With the House effectively gone for the year, Lott and other GOP leaders had hoped to finish up all major work by Monday night. But a dispute over the $19 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill was holding them up.

The Federal Aviation Administration bill was bogged down over a "technical" amendment that had little to do with aviation, but was part of an ongoing battle between Federal Express and organized labor.