Budget negotiators last night agreed to gamble on who will be the next president rather than resolve a dispute over abortion.
“Everyone is betting on the election,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said.
Last year, Congress agreed to appropriate $385 million for international family planning on the condition that the money not go to groups that lobby in foreign countries for abortion rights.
Under the deal Mrs. Pelosi reached with Rep. Sonny Callahan, Alabama Republican, the international family planning budget would increase to $425 million for fiscal 2001, but none of the money could be spent until Feb. 15, well after the next president is inaugurated. Current restrictions on lobbying would be dropped.
Abortion rights groups called the deal a victory, but abortion foes were silent.
“The repeal of the global ‘gag’ rule is a tremendous victory for the health of families around the world,” said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). “But today’s victory could be short-lived if we elect an anti-choice president like George W. Bush.”
The deal clears the way for final consideration of the foreign assistance bill by the House and Senate today.
The foreign aid bill also includes $2.7 billion in military and economic assistance to Israel, fully funds the president’s request for $435 million in debt relief for the world’s poorest nations, and provides $300 million for AIDS relief.
The legislation also would increase the spending limit for fiscal 2001 imposed in the 1997 balanced budget agreement. Under the 1997 agreement, federal outlays would be limited to $579 billion in 2001; the provision approved yesterday would raise that cap to about $645 billion.
“I am not personally sure the number reflects the amount of money necessary to accommodate everything going on around here,” said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said negotiations on the remaining spending bills funding the Commerce Department and labor, health and education programs are a “zero sum game.”
Any money added to one program has to be cut from some other, he said.
In other developments, House and Senate Republicans worked yesterday to put the final touches on a $227 billion, 10-year tax cut. The bill could be finished as early as today, a House Ways and Means Committee aide said last night.
The bill includes tax breaks to encourage retirement savings, to promote investment in blighted urban areas and underdeveloped rural areas, and to help small businesses. The package of small business breaks are intended to offset the economic cost of increasing the minimum wage by $1 an hour over the next two years, which the bill also does.
Finally, the measure includes a package of payment increases to Medicare providers that Republicans estimate would cost the government $74 billion over the next decade. Republicans say the plan, which they wrote without Democrats, eases excessive cuts made in the 1997 budget agreement.
But Democrats say Republicans have gone too far.
“Now we’ve had a chance to look at it, and it confirms some of our worst fears,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday.
“There is a huge gift to the HMOs … with no requirements that they do anything to obtain that gift,” Mr. Daschle said. He estimated the bill would cost $92 billion over the next decade, half of which would go to health maintenance organizations.
Mr. Daschle said the president has already promised to veto the bill. However, it is not clear what he will do if it is attached to the tax-cut legislation.
“I have no idea,” said one House Democratic aide.
“I can’t believe he wouldn’t sign it,” said a senior Senate Republican aide.