Breaking more than a week of partisan stalemate on the eve of a two-week Easter recess, the Senate late Thursday approved a $16 billion package of spending cuts to help pay for deficit reduction and to offset the costs of disaster relief in California.
Brokered by Senate leaders and supported by the White House, the package was approved by a vote of 99-0 after a modest round of changes was negotiated to appease liberal Democrats who had been threatening to scuttle the bill.
“It’s an agreement we all can support,” Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said.
The deal also cleared the way for passage of other stalled legislation as the senators threw themselves into a lastminute sprint to complete action on backlogged bills before the recess. These included a $3.1 billion bill to reimburse the Pentagon for the cost of its peacekeeping operations in Haiti and Somalia and legislation creating a control board to oversee the District of Columbia’s fiscal crisis, both of which were passed by voice votes.
To secure Democratic support, the 11th-hour compromise negotiated on the spending cut package would restore $835 million to more than a dozen federal housing, education and childcare programs that Republicans had sought to cut. In return, Democrats agreed to increase the amount of deficit reduction in the bill from about $8 billion to nearly $9 billion.
The remainder of savings achieved by the $16 billion in spending cuts would be used to offset an administration request for $275 million in debt forgiveness for Jordan and $6.7 billion in disaster aid for California.
The new agreement meant steeper cuts in other areas, mostly from funds earmarked for federal administrative and travel costs.
The Senate bill would cut only about $1 billion less than an earlier House bill but it would preserve many of the antipoverty programs that House members had voted to cut. The differing versions must be reconciled by a Senate-House conference committee when Congress returns from its spring break.
Although the Senate compromise was supported by the White House, Daschle warned that President Clinton still might veto the bill if the House version is adopted by the conference committee.
As part of the compromise, Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, R-N.Y., agreed to withdraw an amendment that would have forced the administration to renege on its pledge to put together a $20 billion package to help rescue Mexico’s faltering economy.
The D’Amato proposal nearly scuttled the spending cut package earlier in the week, as the administration’s Democratic allies sought to defeat it. And Democratic senators nearly brought the package down again Wednesday night after Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Daschle announced they had reached a compromise on the spending cuts after a week of negotiations.
That agreement would have provided for both slightly bigger cuts in the antipoverty programs that Democrats sought to protect and slightly less deficit reduction than is contained in the final deal. But rank-and-file Democrats rejected the leadership deal, saying that it still cut too deeply into social spending, and new negotiations were necessary.
Rejection of the first compromise was clearly an embarrassment to both leaders - to Daschle, who spent the day trying to quell the rebellion within his party’s ranks by liberal senators, and to Dole, whose presidential ambitions could suffer if the Senate seems to be in gridlock under his leadership.