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Congress Near Agreement on Spending Bill : Emergency 1-Day Funding Prevents Federal Shutdown

December 21, 1987|KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate, in their first Sunday session in five years, passed an emergency one-day spending bill to prevent a government shutdown as they continued working on massive legislation funding the government through the next nine months.

The government technically ran out of money over the weekend, but few effects were felt. The one-day extension passed the House, 207 to 178, and the Senate on a voice vote.

By late Sunday night, lawmakers said they believed they have resolved almost all their differences on issues that ranged from funding for the Nicaraguan rebels to Medicare. They expressed confidence that today they would be able to pass the $600-billion spending bill and a related measure raising $9 billion in new taxes.

Veto Threat Looms

Still open is the issue of whether the lawmakers will seek to write broadcasting's so-called Fairness Doctrine into law. If House and Senate negotiators insist upon adding it to the spending bill, as they did in a preliminary vote last week, President Reagan has threatened to veto the entire measure.

The Fairness Doctrine was followed by federal regulators for almost four decades before its repeal earlier this year by the Administration. It requires broadcasters to offer opposing viewpoints access to their airwaves. Reagan vetoed an earlier bill that would have made it law.

Administration officials, headed by White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., and congressional leaders spent much of Sunday renegotiating a deal on the U.S. role in supporting the Contras.

Seek to Strengthen Position

Each side was seeking to strengthen its hand in next year's battle over resuming military aid to the rebels, which ended with the expiration of a $100-million package on Sept. 30.

As a result of the deal, the Administration is expected to put together a military-aid proposal for House and Senate votes in early February. If that proposal fails in either house, it may bring to an end Reagan's bitter six-year-old struggle with Congress over support for the rebels.

The outcome of that vote would likely be determined by the progress of peace efforts, which are scheduled to be reviewed at a mid-January meeting of five Central American presidents.

"I don't want to see it continue dribbing and drabbing," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), one Contra aid opponent.

"You want one last play, even if it's a 'Hail Mary' on either side," he said, using football jargon for a last-minute long pass that determines the winner of a game. "If they lose the vote, I think it would be the end of the policy."

However, Administration officials were seeking to keep their options open. They argued that the unfolding peace process in Central America will not work unless the United States keeps putting pressure on Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

Thus, if they win the early February vote, they will be allowed to put in a second request for military aid as early as next July.

Likened to 'Russian Roulette'

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a leading supporter of Contra aid, likened the setup to "Russian roulette. It is fraught with danger for (the Contras') future and for Central America."

Although the Administration would be allowed to make further requests for Contra aid through the normal legislative process, Stevens conceded that it would be difficult to force Congress to consider that request.

"There would be opportunities, but the question is, how would we succeed? We'd just have to wait our time," he said.

The agreement did not satisfy many opponents of Contra aid, who objected to the continued delivery of the stockpiled weapons. House Assistant Majority Leader Tony Coelho (D-Merced) predicted that as many as 100 Democrats would vote against the bill because of it.

"We took a pig and dressed it up in a tuxedo, but it's still a pig," Rep. Robert J. Mrazek (D-N.Y.) said.

The complexity of the agreement reflected, in large measure, the uncertain outlook for the peace process.

Regardless of any action taken in Washington, "whatever happens between now and the 17th of January will determine the future of the Contras," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) said. But even the mid-January meeting has been rescheduled once, and could be delayed again.

Agreed to Arms Accord

In negotiations Saturday night, the two sides had already agreed to let the government continue delivering 1.5 million pounds of weapons bought under spending authorization that expired last September. Those weapons now are stockpiled in warehouses in Honduras.

However, the weapons deliveries would cease the week of the mid-January meeting.

They also agreed to provide a total of about $8 million in non-lethal aid to the rebels, which they estimated would supply them with food, medicine, clothing and other supplies through the end of February.

The government has been running on a series of short-term spending measures since the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year.

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