Congress and President No Closer on Budget Agreement
(CNSNews.com) - As fiscal year 2000 enters its second month, Congress and the White House have yet to agree on a federal budget, with the government continuing to operate on a week-to-week basis using stopgap spending bills and neither side seems any closer to an agreement.
The Senate is expected to pass the final appropriations bill on Tuesday, authorizing $313.6 billion for the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, plus $429 million for the District of Columbia. President Clinton is expected to veto the package, but it is "not a certainty" a spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, (R-TX), told CNSNews.com.
If Clinton vetoes the HHS package, along with an Interior Department bill already passed by Congress and likely to be sent to the President this week, it will bring the appropriations tally to eight bills signed and five vetoed. The 106th Congress is hoping to wrap up the budget negotiations and end its first session by Nov. 10, the day before lawmakers begin their Veterans Day recess.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey said that there is "a high probability" that the two sides can come to an agreement by the 10th, however his counterpart, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, (D-MO) is less optimistic, having termed this year's budget battle a "pointless, endless process."
White House chief of staff John Podesta said that an agreement by Nov. 10 was "certainly possible, but there are a lot of important issues to get through."
Many congressional observers say the HHS bill is a good example of some of the budget issues that divide Congress and the President. Not only does it include an almost one percent across-the-board discretionary spending cut, it gives more control to local school boards over money that Clinton wants the federal government to use to hire more teachers. Both sides have pledged to pass a balanced budget that does not dip into the Social Security Trust Fund surplus, but each side is accusing the other of politicizing the issue and obstructing the process.
In a letter to Clinton on Saturday, Congressional leaders House Speaker Dennis Hastert, (R-IL), House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, (R-OK), Armey and DeLay said that they are willing to work with Clinton to salvage Social Security, but they are concerned with "the efforts of congressional Democrats to obstruct our work in order to advance their political agenda." They urged Clinton to commit "to saving 100 percent of the Social Security surplus."
Podesta supported his fellow Democrats in Congress, saying that they prevented a $792 billion tax cut proposed by Republicans earlier this year "that would have undermined Social Security."
Hastert urged Clinton to sign the remaining appropriations bills, saying that the GOP budget, with its proposed spending cuts, has "stopped the raid on Social Security."