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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Conferees Back Kosovo Aid, Other Funds

Legislation: House, Senate negotiators agree to package that is double what Clinton sought. Controversial riders could draw his veto.

May 13, 1999|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday on key elements of a bill providing emergency funds for U.S. military and humanitarian operations in Kosovo, but the measure--double what President Clinton asked for and containing some controversial riders--could face a veto.

Under pressure from Republican leaders to hold spending down, the conferees approved $11.7 billion in funding for Kosovo: $10.9 billion for military spending and $819 million for refugee assistance. Clinton had sought $6.05 billion for the entire package.

Besides money for the Balkans operation, the bill includes funds for bolstering military readiness, a 4.8% pay raise for military personnel, $687 million in relief for Central American countries hit by Hurricane Mitch and $570 million in aid for U.S. farmers.

The conferees also defied the administration by agreeing to a provision that would prohibit the federal government from claiming any of the $246-billion legal settlement the states received from the tobacco industry last year.

And they agreed to include a controversial amendment by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) that would allocate $140 million for federal loan guarantees for some small steel companies that are facing competition from low-priced imports.

The negotiators adjourned early this morning without completing the bill. They are slated to meet again this afternoon.

Once the panel completes its work, Republican congressional leaders are expected to move quickly to send the compromise to the floor of each chamber for final approval. Clinton has said he needs the Kosovo money by Memorial Day, which is May 31.

Nevertheless, the measure could face a veto if it ends up loaded with too many contentious provisions. The White House had warned that Clinton might veto the emergency appropriations bill unless the conferees cut the Kosovo funding from the $13.1 billion approved by the House, killed the tobacco and environmental riders and dropped demands for offsetting budget cuts in domestic programs.

The $11.7 billion that the panel approved for military spending pared a package of construction projects that the House had attached to the bill, from $1 billion to $475 million.

The conferees' action on the military funding portion came after a call by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that the panel hold the Kosovo appropriation to no more than $11 billion.

GOP congressional leaders also feared a mutiny by Republican conservatives, who have warned that they will oppose the bill on the floor if it is loaded with pork-barrel provisions. "We're very much on the edge of whether this bill will pass the Senate," said Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.).

Despite such warnings, the negotiators increased to $570 million the $153 million in aid that the administration had requested to help U.S. farmers and nearly tripled, to $900 million, a White House request for federal disaster relief for victims of recent tornadoes.

The conferees approved a provision that would earmark $4.3 million for the government to use for reparations to Japanese Americans who were deported or sent to camps during World War II and who missed a previous opportunity to claim payments Congress provided in compensation.

At the same time, the conferees rejected Democratic proposals to add $5.7 billion to the package of aid for farmers and to provide $265 million to combat school violence by increasing the number of counselors and after-school programs at elementary and middle schools.

The conferees accepted a proposal by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to continue through September a moratorium against new Energy Department rules that would force oil and gas producers who use federal lands to pay higher royalties to the government.

They also approved a measure by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to force the Interior Department to delay stricter cleanup requirements for mining companies that use federal lands.

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