Your Road Map to Congress's Budget Bills
THE fiscal New Year here began at midnight yesterday, but you wouldn't know it. Lawmakers abandoned Capitol Hill for a weeklong Columbus Day recess, and few remaining staff aides seem wont to throw confetti.
It's hard to blame them. Before they skipped town, members of Congress had to cobble together a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government running for six weeks while they finish bellyaching about the budget.
Today, only two of the 14 bills that make up the federal budget have been dressed for the White House. The rest languish in congressional committees and most face the likelihood of a presidential veto. Last week, in a mutinous rebuke of the Republican leadership, a cadre of hard-line Republicans joined Democrats to kill Interior and Defense appropriations bills that had already cleared conference committees.
The upshot: Save your party hats. The budget struggle could wear on until New Year's Day proper. Here is the status of the budget:
Agriculture. Republicans would cut subsidy payments to farmers by $13.4 billion over seven years, while allowing them more control over their own production. But both chambers have had trouble cutting subsidies for cotton, rice, sugar, and peanuts. The bill awaits resuscitation by the House Budget Committee.
Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary. This bill is headed to conference. On Friday, the Senate restored some funding for the Legal Services Corporation, programs to prevent violence against women, and left President Clinton's community policing initiative intact. The bill trims the budgets of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission, while cutting foreign aid and the State Department budget. The bill would dismantle the Commerce Depar tment and cancel programs designed to help US companies sell products overseas. It faces a likely veto.
Defense. In a surprising turn last week, the House voted down a $243 billion compromise on Pentagon spending. The bill was defeated by a coalition of Democrats who object to funding for the Seawolf submarine and the B-2 bomber, and conservatives who oppose the availability of abortions on military bases overseas. Veto looms.
District of Columbia. The capital city funding bill leaves rent control in place and gives the city some quick fiscal relief. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has taken a personal interest in the city's finances.
Energy and Water Development. This bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and raise revenues by selling government assets like the Alaska Power Administration, several Western ski areas, and an oil reserve. The bill is headed to conference.
Foreign Operations. This bill offers the nation's first direct economic aid to Pakistan, puts some restrictions on aid to Russia, and imposes tough trade sanctions on the Burmese government. It's in conference.
Interior. This $12.1 billion bill was hijacked last week by GOP deficit hawks in the House, who object to a compromise that allows big companies to continue buying mineral rights on public lands for almost nothing. Joining them were environmentalists concerned about curbs on the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and logging in national forests. The bill upholds limits on off-shore oil drilling, but cuts the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Endowment s of Arts and Humanities. Look for a veto.
Labor, Health and Human Services, Education. This controversial bill cuts funds from more than 50 educational programs including $10.9 billion from the direct student loan program over seven years. Candidates for cuts or elimination include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Labor Relations Board, Head Start, summer youth employment and training programs, the Goals 2000 Initiative, and the rule barring federal contractors from replacing striking workers. The Senate version, which is far more moderate, has not been approved on the floor yet. A veto is almost certain.
Legislative Branch. This bill is one of only two that has been passed by both chambers and sent to the White House. It would save $200 million next year in legislative costs, mainly by closing the Office of Technical Assessment and privatizing some congressional support agencies.
Military Construction. This usually mundane bill is also on the president's desk, but it is $479 million fatter than Clinton's request.
Transportation. This bill would curb federal regulations by dissolving the 55 m.p.h speed limit, overturning a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and easing regulations on truck drivers. Congress would sell New York's Governors Island for $500 million and push Amtrack toward privatization. The bill would overhaul the nation's air traffic control system.
Treasury, Postal Service, General Government. This bill, which the leadership had hoped to pass by Sunday is bogged down in conference because of a measure, sponsored by two House GOP freshmen, would prevent many interest groups and universities from lobbying Congress if they receive federal funds or grants.
Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, Independent Agencies. This bill reduces spending on the Superfund program by 36 percent and chops $1.6 billion out of the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. While a Senate version restores some cuts in the EPA's regulatory powers, it makes it tougher for government to block wetlands development and curbs the Clean Air Act. The bill keeps the space station, but cuts homeless assistance programs, public housing construction, and the budget of th e Department of Housing and Urban Development. Clinton's Americorps program would be eliminated. A veto is likely.
Reconciliation. This giant, high-stakes bill, which covers taxes and entitlements, is the centerpiece of the GOP plan to balance the budget. Special rules will make it nearly impossible to amend the bill on the floor of either chamber. If Clinton vetoes it, Republicans have threatened to allow the government to default on Treasury obligations.
The bill includes cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and taxes. On Medicare, the GOP plan would cut projected spending by $270 billion or 14 percent, over seven years. Recipients would be encouraged to enter managed care plans. Premiums would rise and payments to doctors and hospitals would be curtailed.High income recipients would pay more. The measure must now be considered in the House. A veto is threatened.
On Medicaid, the Republican plan saves $182 billion by handing the program to the states in block grants, a move expected to reduce spending by 19 percent over seven years.
Plans passed in both houses would give welfare to the states, but require recipients to work after two years and cap lifetime eligibility at five years. The House would cut off benefits to unwed teenage mothers, while the Senate would provide child care. If the compromise is moderate, Clinton will likely approve it.
On taxes, Republicans would save $32.5 billion over seven years by tightening qualifications for poor working families who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit.