- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

The Senate last night passed a District of Columbia appropriations bill without some of the social riders in a House bill that has garnered a veto threat from the White House.

By voice vote, the Senate approved a bill that would provide $441 million in federal funds for the District for 2001, raise the cap for lawyer fees in special-education cases and provide for the construction of a Metro station on New York Avenue.

The Senate measure now goes to the House, which earlier this month narrowly passed a D.C. appropriations bill that would provide $414 million in federal funds.

President Clinton had asked for $445 million in federal funds.

The money is just part of the $1.3 billion the federal government provides to the District in the form of outlays and grants and accounts for nearly 10 percent of the city's $4.8 billion overall budget.

Though the bills vary significantly before going to a budget conference committee next week, Republicans and Democrats yesterday expressed confidence a compromise will be reached.

"It will be a done deal if the House will accept the Senate Republican language," said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat and member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District.

Democrats have objected to the House bill's riders, or amendments, that would ban:

n Tobacco possession by people younger than 18.

n Needle-exchange programs within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, arcades and other places children frequent.

n Using city funds to sue Congress for voting rights.

n Legalizing marijuana, even for medicinal use.

Mr. Moran said using language approved in last year's budget bill allowing private funding of needle-exchange programs will address a critical need in reducing the number of HIV cases in the District. "It's the only thing that seems to be working," he said.

A House Republican aide familiar with the bill said it is "very" likely the Senate bill will be acceptable to House Republicans.

"Members care very deeply about the needle-exchange provisions … but not to risk haggling over them just five weeks away from an election," said the aide.

An amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, to ban the needle-exchange programs in areas around the city was not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Micah Swafford, spokeswoman for Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said there is still much work to be done on the bill.

"The riders were causing less of a problem this year than in the past," Ms. Swafford said. "We'll have to make some adjustments."

Ms. Swafford said she did not know if the D.C. budget bill would stand on its own or be attached to another bill.

"It's the goal, and it's what leadership has been working on in trying to see how the D.C. bill fits in to the endgame," she said.

Another Republican aide said that when negotiators go to conference next week, the needle-exchange program could be a thorny issue, along with the provision that would cap fees for defense lawyers in special-education cases.

The staffer noted that Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, worked with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee in crafting the bill to make it acceptable to all sides.

Democrats pushed and Republicans agreed to increasing the lawyers' fees cap to $125 an hour, with a maximum of $2,500.

The Senate included $25 million for a new Metro station along New York Avenue. The House bill would provide only $7 million.

The Senate bill also would require the establishment of an emergency reserve fund that is equal to 1 percent of the District's operating budget in 2001, 2 percent in 2002 and 3 percent in 2003 and thereafter.

• John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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