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Funding Bill Stalled by Veto Threats, Fairness Doctrine

December 22, 1987|KAREN TUMULTY and JOSH GETLIN | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — A huge spending bill crucial to funding almost all government operations became tangled in veto threats Monday as President Reagan and congressional negotiators clashed over whether to require broadcasters to offer air time to opposing viewpoints.

Administration officials also expressed concern that a second piece of legislation--one that combines $9 billion in higher taxes with federal asset sales and reductions in government benefit programs--does not live up to a deficit-reduction agreement reached by Reagan and congressional leaders last month.

Meanwhile, complicating matters even further, it appeared that both houses might try to resurrect a two-year, $15-billion housing bill, which would be the first major new housing authorization in seven years. The Senate had defeated an earlier version of the bill with a series of procedural votes last month.

As a result of the complications, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) predicted Monday night that Congress would be forced to approve yet another stopgap emergency spending bill to keep the government operating. Federal agencies have been funded by such temporary extensions since the Sept. 30 end of the last fiscal year.

After meeting through the weekend, weary and frustrated lawmakers had started the day hoping that they would finally be able to pass the two massive revenue and spending bills and recess for Christmas. On Sunday night, they had settled what many believed to be the most contentious issue, providing aid to the Nicaraguan rebels.

However, the fatigue and bitterness of the last few days lingered. A negotiating session broke down almost immediately when House members insisted that broadcasting's so-called Fairness Doctrine be included in the $600-billion spending legislation that is needed to fund the government through next September.

The Fairness Doctrine, which was followed by federal regulators for almost four decades before its repeal this year, requires broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on important issues.

"What you're doing here is you're jamming (the Fairness Doctrine) down the throat of the Administration," Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) said.

"We're having (Contra aid) shoved down our throats," Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) countered.

Reagan, who vetoed an earlier congressional effort to write the doctrine into the law, threatened again to kill the entire spending bill if Congress tried a second time to force him to accept it.

Seen as Only Chance

Congressional leaders have conceded that they cannot muster the two-thirds' majority necessary to override a presidential veto of the Fairness Doctrine. Thus, slipping it into a larger piece of more urgent legislation gives the doctrine its only chance of becoming law.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called the plan "a back-door maneuver to circumvent the presidential veto, and we trust that the Congress will recognize the wisdom of eliminating that provision."

Fitzwater said Reagan also wants an opportunity to "thoroughly consider" the two bills--each of which is thousands of pages long--before he decides whether to sign them.

The two bills are needed to carry out a deficit-reduction plan agreed upon after weeks of negotiations by Reagan and congressional leaders last month. Together, they would cut this year's projected deficit by $30 billion through a combination of spending reductions, tax increases, sale of government assets and other measures.

Big Differences Remain

Although only the Fairness Doctrine issue remained to be settled on the spending bill, Democrats and Republicans were deeply divided over a host of issues in the second bill, which would raise revenues, including taxes, and cut federal expenditures for Medicare and other federal benefits programs.

One dispute was over the sale of $5 billion in government assets, such as loan portfolios, a proposal that was part of the deficit-reduction agreement between White House and congressional negotiators. House Democrats balked at the sale, which Reagan has strongly supported.

Another sticking point was a proposal by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) to impose an excise tax on certain vaccinations. The funds would compensate victims who were injured by vaccinations received when they were children. The White House also opposes this proposal.

Threatens Filibuster

A third dispute centered on a proposal by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and other members to deny foreign tax credits to U.S. companies on income earned in South Africa. Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) have blasted the proposal, calling it an attempt to legislate "at the midnight hour and through the backdoor." Helms threatened to filibuster such a provision if it came before the Senate.

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