Federal Budget Talks on Hold for Election Result

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Lame Ducks Wait

Federal Budget Talks on Hold for Election Result

By Jim Abrams

The Associated Press

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 14 -- Congress has given up trying to resolve its remaining tax and spending issues for at least three weeks as it waits for the dust to settle in the still-undecided presidential election.

Lawmakers, who began returning to Washington on Monday for the ninth lame-duck session of the past half-century, prepared for a quick turnaround with the decision to take a break until Dec. 5.

The House today is to vote on a tax measure affecting U.S. exporters and House Republicans are to re-elect Speaker Dennis Hastert and others in their leadership. But any serious attempt to reach finality on outstanding budget differences with the White House will wait until after Dec. 5.

"The feeling was there was just too much uncertainty swirling around Washington and the presidential campaign to conclude anything this week," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The House on Monday for the 16th time approved a temporary spending measure, this time running through Dec. 5, to keep government programs running while it struggles to complete its work for the year.

The stopgap measure includes $1 million for Congress and nearly $6 million for the District of Columbia to cover presidential inauguration expenses, and $200,000 for White House moving and transition costs.

Before the election, the White House was agreeing to only one-day extensions in an effort to force Congress into session-ending negotiations.

But White House budget director Jack Lew said the three-week extension "had a kind of inevitability to it" after the delay in completing the presidential election and lawmakers' reaction to it.

Minimum Wage, Medicare Left Hanging

With the next occupant of the White House uncertain, neither party knows how much leverage they have in pushing for their priorities in the last days of this session. "Knowing what's going to happen next year is going to be helpful in coming to a conclusion this year," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the GOP leadership.

Congress and the White House have yet to agree on five of the 13 spending bills to run the federal government in fiscal 2001, which started Oct. 1. Also left hanging is a 10-year, $240 billion tax relief package that includes a $1 increase in the hourly minimum wage and higher Medicare reimbursements for health care providers.

The GOP leadership has also resisted Democratic efforts to make it easier for some Central American immigrants and illegal aliens to apply for permanent residence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday brought to a head another highly divisive issue when it issued new rules aimed at protecting some 100 million workers who perform repetitive functions such as typing, lifting heavy loads or working on assembly lines.

The business community has lobbied hard against the rules, saying they will add billions of dollars in costs, and Republicans have pressed for a compromise under which the next president would have the authority to withdraw the regulations before they go into effect.

Labor, Health, Education in Limbo

Before the election, the workplace safety issue held up an agreement on a $350 billion bill to finance labor, health and education programs that provided new money for hiring teachers and school repair eagerly sought by the White House.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said OSHA's issuing of the rules "pretty well blows up everything" on the labor-health-education talks. But Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said there was still room for negotiations. Businesses have until next October to comply with the new rules.

The tax cut for exporters, costing $4.5 billion over 10 years, was separated from the $240 billion tax package because the European Union is threatening to impose tariffs on U.S. goods if Congress does not act this week. The new measure would replace the current U.S. Foreign Sales Corporation tax system that the WorldTrade Organization ruled was an illegal subsidy.

The House on Monday also removed from an intelligence agency authorization bill language that would have criminalized the leaking of some government secrets. President Clinton had vetoed the bill, which provides an estimated $30 billion for the CIA and other intelligence agencies, because he said the provision went too far in stifling the legitimate flow of information to the public.

"The president still has veto authority until January 20," Daschle said, warning Republicans against ignoring the president in his last days in office. "It isnBt going to get any easier for them."

-- (The@2000.election), November 14, 2000

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