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U.S. Politicians Tweak Budget in 11th-Hour Final Touches

By George Hager
and Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post

White House and congressional negotiators Monday put what they hoped were the finishing touches on a massive year-end spending measure and prepared for a final House vote Tuesday evening, after another round of last-minute dealmaking.

Although leaders held celebratory news conferences late last week to announce that they had finished work on the huge budget deal, negotiations continued through the weekend and into Monday afternoon.

In a flurry of eleventh-hour haggling, negotiators took some provisions out, put some provisions in and continued to battle fiercely over others.

Kept in were nearly $2 billion of increased payments to Medicare home health care providers and a disability program for Persian Gulf War veterans that a senior GOP aide said will cost from $1 billion to $6 billion over 10 years.

Also preserved was legislation to repeal a government directive requiring peanut-free zones on some airline flights. Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said the directive, designed to protect people with peanut allergies, was not based on scientific evidence.

"These guidelines represent why so many people have come to resent and distrust government," he said.

Stripped from the package were two provisions that had been promoted by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.: One would have exempted scrap metal recycling companies from liability under Superfund cleanup laws. The other, also backed by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., would have provided more than $350 million of agriculture credits to Russia.

The credits would have allowed Russian business interests to pay for frozen poultry and other products shipped overseas by American producers.

Also jettisoned was a White House proposal that would have raised $200 million by recovering broadcast licenses from companies that successfully bid for a piece of the broadcast spectrum but later went bankrupt. And negotiators abandoned a proposal by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., to add a multibillion-dollar "water resources" measure to the spending package.

As of late Monday, a provision was still in play that would bar the United States from levying fees on Canadian flights over Alaska.