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Key Programs Get Increases as Spending Deal is Reached

By George Hager and Stephen Barr
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The White House and the Republican Congress reached a roughly $500 billion year-end budget deal Thursday, with both sides claiming major victories and vowing to take issues they lost to the voters.

Congress appears headed toward approving the massive spending measure as soon as today, which would avert a government shutdown and send the House and Senate home for the final two weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

The bill settled big political fights and provided for huge spending increases in key programs.

Chief among those were $1.1 billion to begin hiring 100,000 new teachers, nearly $6 billion of emergency funding for hard-pressed farmers and ranchers, and almost $18 billion of new funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - all priorities of the administration. There were billions more for other Democratic initiatives, such as summer jobs for youth, after-school programs and low-income home heating assistance.

Equally important to both sides were the things the bill did not do. Republicans said they had killed a Clinton proposal for national testing of fourth- and eighth-graders, blocked a White House plan to create tax subsidies for building new schools and barred the use of federal money for needle-exchange programs designed to cut down on the spread of AIDS among drug addicts.

Democrats noted that they had stopped a $177 billion, 10-year GOP tax cut that they claimed would have raided the budget surplus created largely by Social Security taxes. Instead, the measure will include a scaled-back, $9.2 billion, 10-year package whose primary focus is extending popular expiring tax breaks, such as the research and development credit for business.

In back-to-back press events at the White House and on Capitol Hill, each side pronounced itself happy with the outcome.

"This is a very, very good day for America," said President Clinton during a White House ceremony in which he touted what he said were Democratic victories on education, the environment and Social Security.

Republicans held their own celebration in the Capitol to showcase what they said were their victories on defense spending, the war on drugs and abortion, though they insisted they were not toting up winners and losers.

"We have a package that's good for America, that's the main thing," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "It's not a matter of who won or lost."

In a way, the final package was a victory for traditional politics, as lawmakers from both parties exceeded spending limits they had agreed to in last year's balanced-budget deal and created what critics derided as an election-year political pinata , stuffed with special projects and extra spending for both parties.

"It's a Great Society bill, and it's not something that I as a conservative Republican am prepared to support," said Rep. David M. McIntosh (Ind.), leader of an influential group of conservative House Republicans. "It's a liberal, big-spending bill."

Despite complaints from McIntosh and other conservatives, though, leaders predicted overwhelming support for the measure when it finally comes to a vote.