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Senate Passes Budget Bill, Then Clinton Makes it Law

Congress: $500-billion measure 'honors our values and strengthens our country,' president says. But critics speak out from both parties.

October 22, 1998|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Dropping the curtain on this session of Congress, the Senate on Wednesday approved a $500-billion-plus spending bill that keeps the government operating and includes scores of new laws and projects that most lawmakers acknowledged they had not had time to examine in their entirety.

The measure was passed by the Senate, 65 to 29. Voting for the bill were 33 Republicans and 32 Democrats. Voting against it were 20 Republicans and 9 Democrats. California's two senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, were among those casting "aye" votes.

President Clinton quickly signed the bill, which cleared the House Tuesday night. "There's a lot of little things tucked away there that I wish weren't," Clinton said of the measure. "But on balance, it honors our values and strengthens our country and looks to the future."

Thwarted on the legislative front by Republicans during much of the year, Clinton used negotiations over the massive appropriations bill to win some key victories, including increased funding for education.

Although the bill's passage ends a session that left the nation with the federal budget in balance for the first time since the late 1960s, one piece of unfinished business remains for at least some lawmakers. Members of the House Judiciary Committee are expected to return to work after the Nov. 3 election for impeachment hearings on charges stemming from Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

The spending bill was negotiated by GOP congressional leaders and White House officials and provides funding for 10 Cabinet departments for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Tacked on are such major legislative initiatives as reform of the International Monetary Fund, emergency assistance for economically strapped farmers and funding to address the 2000 computer problem.

The bill includes a number of foreign policy initiatives, including a long-delayed reorganization of the State Department and a provision granting the president the authority to lift economic sanctions imposed six months ago on India and Pakistan after the two countries tested nuclear weapons.

It also was laced with scores of local projects that politicians of both parties can brag about to their constituents in the last days of this election campaign. For instance, there is $750,000 for grasshopper research in Alaska, $1.1 million for manure handling in Mississippi and $100,000 for Vidalia onion research in Georgia.

It is hardly uncommon for Congress to turn a year-end budget bill into a pork-barrel cornucopia. But this measure came in for particularly fierce criticism because it was just this sort of legislative back-scratching that conservative Republicans pledged to end when they took control of Congress in 1994. And it comes in a bill that drains $20 billion from the year's projected $70-billion surplus.

"This bill is loaded with locality-specific, special-interest, pork-barrel spending projects, which are paid for by robbing billions from the budget surplus," complained Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted against the legislation.

In the Senate, as in the House, most of those opposing the bill were conservative Republicans who considered the budget agreement a shameless capitulation to Clinton.

"The Republican Party seems to have lost its courage to stand up for its principles," said Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.).

Some conservatives, however, voted for the bill because it included initiatives that they favor--such as defense increases and anti-drug measures--and because they view compromise as the order of the day in a divided government.

"If I were king, would I have put forward this bill?" said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "Certainly not. But I am not king. . . . A compromise by definition means that neither side gets everything it wants."

Several Democrats voted against the bill as a protest of the way the deal was negotiated by a handful of top officials and presented to the rank and file with little time to review the 4,000-page document.

"Although the president and Democrats in the Congress have won some important victories in this bill, which I applaud, I do not support the wretched process which produced this bill," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.

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