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Congress Struggles to Wrap Up Series of Key Financial Bills

December 18, 1985

Congress has dealt with a confusing array of financial legislation in the last few weeks as it struggles to wrap up business for the year. Here are the major measures:

Debt ceiling--After two temporary extensions, Congress last week increased the legal limit on the national debt to more than $2 trillion from $1.8 trillion. That gives the government authority to borrow the money it needs to pay its bills. Attached to this bill was the Gramm-Rudman legislation, which aims to balance the budget by 1991 by reducing the federal deficit in steps each year.

Appropriations--Congress has passed only six of its 13 regular spending bills for fiscal 1986, which began Oct. 1, and President Reagan has vetoed one of them. Until it can pass all of those spending bills, Congress must approve stopgap legislation--called a "continuing resolution"--to fund agencies that still have no appropriation. Spending authority for those agencies technically expired at midnight Monday, and Congress Tuesday passed legislation extending it until midnight Thursday. Reagan signed the extension Tuesday night.

Deficit reduction--A conference committee is working on legislation to implement the deficit-reduction agreement reached in July after months of negotiations. That measure, known as the budget reconciliation bill, makes spending cuts and contains a provision to extend the 16-cents-a-pack cigarette tax.

Farm bill--Compromise legislation setting federal crop subsidy levels for five years, effective last Oct. 1, has been approved by a conference committee and is pending before both House and Senate.

Tax overhaul--The House late Tuesday passed a Democratic version of President Reagan's plan to overhaul the tax code. The Senate plans to act next year.

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