The Senate sought again last night to reach a compromise with the House over deferally funded abortions that could break a legislative deadlock that threatens thousands of government employees with short pre-Christmas paychecks.
Both the House and Senate passed, inslightly different forms, a so-called "continuing resolution" that would restore the lapsed speading power of the U.S. departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare, and the District of Columbia.
If the House accepts the Senate version today, it would assure full pay for 17,000 Labor Department workers, about half of them in metropolitan Washington. The deadline for paying about 225,000 HEW employees, including some 25,000 in the Washington area, is Friday.
No similar problems for the D.C. government are expected until at least mid-December.
To end the deadlock, the two chambers of Congress must agree on identical language in the countinuing resolution, setting terms under which funds from HEW's Medicaid program may be spent for abortions.
Labor, HEW and the District of Columbia have been without approved budgets since Oct. 1, when the 1978 fiscal year began. A continuing resolution that permitted continued spending by all three governmental units at last year's levels expired Nov. 30.
Yesterday, the House agreed to lump every program of the two agencies into a single, continuing resolution, which would run until next Sept. 30, the end of the 1978 fiscal year. Hence the funding of D.C. operations is tied to settlement of the abortion issue, in which it is not directly involved.
Under the terms of the resolution, the D.C. government would operate for the entire 1978 fiscal year at the funding levels of the old 1977 fiscal year, while Labor and HEW would be permitted to spend at the more generous levels for 1978 already approved by Congress.
The House acted first yesterday. By turning down a slightly liberalizing amendment offered by Rep. Robert Michel (R'LLL.), it continued in effect the current abortion law, allowing federally funded abortions only to save a woman's life.
Michel's measure, rejected by a vote of 200 to 170, would have limited federally funded abortions primarily to cases of "forced" rape and incest if the attacks were "promptly" reported to police or a public health agency.
House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) strongly supported Michel, warning that a wide range of welfare and other vital programs in HEW would be curtailed soon unless a compromise were reached. Rep. Daniel J. Flood (D'Pa.), a leader of the anti-abortion forces, urged the House to stand firm against loosened rules.
There was scarcely a word about the District of Columbia during the debate.
After Michel's amendment was rejected, the resolution was approved by voice vote and sent to the Senate, which has repeatedly adopted more liberal positions on the issue.
There, after nightfall, the Senate added language to the bill nearly identical to the House's rejected Michel amendment. It would require "prompt" reporting of any rape or incest. It eliminated "forced" from the definition of rape.
Sen. Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.), who had threatened to filibuster against any Senate move forward acceptance of the House postion, said the Senate "is making a compromise, a serious compromise."
By leaving the House-proposed Sept. 30, 1978, expiration date of the Labor-HEW resolution intact, Brooke said an agreement on the measure would amount to final passage of the budgest for the two departments for the entire fiscal year.
Senate action that sent the measure back to the House was taken by a voice vote, with only handful of members of the floor [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
The D.C. section of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] measure is another matter.
Under its terms, the city [WORD ILLEGIBLE] conceivably operate at the past [WORD ILLEGIBLE] level of spending throughout [WORD ILLEGIBLE] 1978 fiscal year. But there would no leagal reason that a joint [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Senate conference committee [WORD ILLEGIBLE] not meet in the meantime to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] differences and enact a regular [WORD ILLEGIBLE] get.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy [WORD ILLEGIBLE] chairman of the Senate District Appropriations Committee, said in a statement prepared for delivery - but not actually give - that he regretted the House's decision to adopt a continuing resolution running to the end of the fiscal year.
Leahy said he would have perferred a resolution running no longer than two months. That, he said, woudl have permitted the conferees to deal with the city's request for $27 million to start work on a downtown convention center, approved by the House but rejected by the Senate.