The Senate yesterday voted 87-8 to move the $108 billion fiscal 2001 budget for the nation’s veterans, housing and urban programs as part of an agreement that begins to free the legislative logjam blocking Congress’ departure for the year.
While the bill had never been considered by the Senate, Senate negotiators had worked unofficially with the House over several weeks to hash out the compromise bill approved yesterday.
“We are abrogating our responsibility to the taxpayers by voting on bills that we have neither seen nor read,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
But with nearly a 7 percent increase for veterans’ health care and a 15 percent rise in spending for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the measure passed easily.
Attached to the legislation was the fiscal 2001 budget for energy and water projects.
Since Saturday, senators have added $23 million in new projects to the energy and water bill, including $1 million for a water project on New York’s Upper Susquehanna River, and $10.8 million for a project in Geneva, Ala.
The bill also authorizes, but did not immediately fund, a $58 million federal contribution to a plan to provide flood control, environmental remediation and recreational development for Murrieta Creek in California.
Instead of simply taking up and passing the Senate-approved bill, the House next will insist upon meeting to negotiate a final compromise on the Veterans Administration/HUD and energy and water bills.
House staff say they must take up the bill for procedural reasons, but Senate staff say House members just want to add another batch of their own pet projects.
As part of Wednesday’s deal, the Senate also took final action on the combined 2001 budgets of the Treasury Department and legislative branch. The two-bill package, which also includes a repeal of the federal telephone excise tax, was approved by the House in mid-September. The Senate rejected the bill then, but approved it yesterday by a 58-37 vote.
Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew said yesterday it would be inappropriate for Congress to send Mr. Clinton the bill, and the telephone excise tax repeal it includes, until negotiations on other tax cuts had been completed. But Mr. Lew did not mention a veto.
Overall, funding for Congress would increase 2 percent from 2000 to 2001, a turnaround from the 3.8 percent cut approved earlier in the year by the House. The original House plan included a politically embarrassing 10 percent cut for U.S. Capitol police, but a slight increase for some leadership offices.
So far, three of 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2001 which began on Oct. 1 have been signed into law.
A third stopgap spending bill that would keep the government’s doors open through Oct. 20 was passed yesterday by Congress. Most expect 10 of the 13 appropriations bills to be signed or signable by next week.
Harder to resolve will be the remaining three, which will fund the Commerce, State and Justice departments, foreign affairs, labor, health and education programs.
The only major funding issue is $3 billion for a series of education initiatives backed by the president. But there are also substantial fights over allowing low-wattage radio stations, allowing the federal government to pursue tobacco litigation and imposing more stringent prosecution of hate crimes.