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Partisan Snits Threaten Four Key Spending Bills

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Republicans and Democrats snarl at each other across committee rooms. Senate Democrats threaten filibusters, while their House counterparts get bogged down in procedural votes. Republicans grouse that Democrats still don't understand that they are the minority party and that the GOP sets the agenda.

Welcome to Congress as the budgetary battles enters its final stage. The we-can-work-together attitude that resonated so recently through the Capitol's marble hallways is giving way to partisan sniping.

The change is driven in part by a backlash against last summer's bipartisan budget deal. Partisans are worried that GOP leaders and President Clinton have each given up too much to the other side. Conservatives and liberals each argue their parties must draw sharp lines that differentiate them from each other as next year's elections approach.

Congress has already sent seven of the 13 spending bills to the president. But differences over some of the others could lead to a string of vetoes. GOP leaders want to finish by Nov. 7, and some remain optimistic, despite the climate of conflict.

"Any one of these issues could result in a delay ..., but I think, given that everybody is really willing to sit down and work hard on these issues ... we could probably be done by the 7th or 8th," says House majority leader Dick Armey of Texas.

Four of the outstanding spending bills are hung up over strongly partisan issues:

* Abortion. The foreign-operations bill faces stalemate over a House ban on funding for international family-planning groups that perform or promote abortions in other countries. Mr. Clinton last week vetoed another bill that would ban certain late-term, or "partial-birth," abortions.

* Education. The House version of the bill to fund the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments bars any spending on Clinton's proposed national-education testing. And the District of Columbia's spending measure is stuck on House proposals to give 2,000 D.C. schoolchildren vouchers to attend any private or public school they chose.

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