June 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Finger Pointing Follows Veto Of Flood Relief

From Wire Reports

In an escalating war of political wills, President Clinton made good Monday on his threat to veto an $8.6 billion emergency flood relief bill because of unrelated provisions, volleying it back to the Republican-led Congress almost the moment he received it.

Each side sought Monday to portray the other as being to blame for denying long-term relief to flood victims in 33 states, from Minnesota to California. Clinton said the Republicans had left him no choice but to veto the bill, citing several provisions, especially one that would prevent government shutdowns in budget disputes and another that would prevent the Census Bureau from using a survey technique whose accuracy Republicans dispute.

“The time has come to stop playing politics with the lives of Americans in need and to send me a clean, unencumbered disaster relief bill,” Clinton said in a letter to the House.

The GOP accused Clinton of playing politics as well, noting that it was the president himself who spoke loudly against government shutdowns.

“The president came out against disaster relief and in favor of government shutdowns,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Ed Shafer of North Dakota, which suffered the most extensive flooding, criticized Clinton.

“The fact that he actually vetoed this bill, when he himself opposes shutting the government down and when he came to our state and promised to put politics aside to support strong flexible relief, is discouraging,” Shafer said.

Clinton’s veto had a ritualistic quality, because each side had made its position clear for weeks. Each has repeatedly attacked the other for standing in the way of the relief money, in an echo of the bitter exchanges over the partial government shutdowns in the winter of 1995-96.

Each side sees high stakes in this standoff. Republican leaders had been divided over whether to compromise and delayed sending the legislation to the White House.

By contrast, the White House was primed to respond and did not hesitate Monday afternoon. The measure arrived at the White House at 1:50 and was vetoed at 2:09. By 2:18, it was in a car on its way back to Capitol Hill.

Negotiations are expected to resume over a new bill, because the House is unlikely to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override the president’s veto.

There is no disagreement on the bill’s central thrust, to provide $5.4 billion in long-term relief for such projects as helping farmers clear their fields of flood debris. The two sides also agree on other spending initiatives, including $1.9 billion for peacekeeping efforts.

But because the bill is viewed as must-pass legislation, it has become encrusted with dozens of unrelated provisions. Republicans, who took the brunt of the blame for the government shutdowns, have inserted into the bill language that would automatically continue spending at this year’s level if regular appropriations bills were not approved by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

But Clinton argued that such a law would reduce spending on some of his cherished programs by $18 billion below levels specified in the recent budget deal. He said that change would reduce the number of children eligible for Head Start, the number of students eligible for Pell Grants and the numbers of border agents and air traffic controllers.

The flood relief bill would also prohibit the Census Bureau from applying the survey technique of statistical sampling, which it hopes to use in the year 2000 to help avoid the undercounts of the 1980 and 1990 censuses.

Republicans objected because, they said, the Constitution demands “actual enumeration.” Democrats say that the Republicans fear the method would result in the census counting more poor people and members of minorities, who might support Democrats.

xxxx TRICKLE OF HELP Although the legislation is on hold, federal emergency officials have enough money in the pipeline to help flood victims through midsummer.

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