Congressional leaders and White House officials announced agreement Wednesday on a huge bill financing dozens of federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, solving a months-long standoff that had become a political embarrassment for both parties.
Nearly seven months after fiscal 1996 began, the two sides resolved a handful of stubborn environmental disputes - in many cases following retreats by Republicans - and prepared to push the $160 billion measure through Congress today.
“We believe we have agreement on remaining issues,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., as yet another day of closed-door bargaining came to an end.
About an hour later, presidential press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters President Clinton would sign the legislation as soon as it reaches his desk.
“The administration is satisfied that the president’s priorities have been addressed as well as they can be addressed,” McCurry said.
Money for agencies covered by the bill was due to run out at midnight, since they have been financed all fiscal year by a series of temporary stopgap bills. So to head off a third federal shutdown since autumn, the House voted 400-14 to keep programs running for 24 more hours, and the Senate, by voice vote, shipped it to Clinton for his promised signature.
Wednesday’s agreement would leave bills financing all federal agencies this year at $23 billion below 1995 levels, Republicans said, enabling them to assert that their agenda of shrinking government had triumphed.
“That is very significant; that’s a lot of money,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who will no doubt cite the savings as an accomplishment as he seeks the presidency in this fall’s election.
But Democrats claimed victory, too, saying the pact would restore $5 billion in cuts the House had made in education, environmental, job training, Clinton’s national service initiative and other programs.
The bargainers announced no details of their plan publicly. But participants from both sides provided some descriptions.
One of the final impediments was cleared when bargainers solved a dispute over logging in the Tongass national forest in Alaska. GOPsought language allowing more logging than the administration wants would remain in the bill - but Clinton would be empowered to not enforce it.
As a tradeoff, negotiators agreed on creating a program to buttress the state’s economy if is damaged by reduced logging, said aides to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The program would provide $110 million over four years to localities for economic development, to employ displaced timber workers and for other purposes.
Republicans agreed to drop an effort to end Environmental Protection Agency regulation of wetlands development. GOP language limiting listings of some newly endangered species and potentially allowing more use of a new national park in California’s Mojave Desert would be approved - but Clinton could waive its enforcement.
One of the few GOP victories on the environment would allow construction of a telescope in Arizona in an area inhabited by endangered red squirrels.
The GOP did win on a pair of reproductive issues. The bill would allow cuts in aid to overseas family planning programs and protect the accreditation of hospitals that refuse to teach abortion procedures to medical students.