The federal government heads into a new fiscal year tomorrow without funding for most agencies and departments because of an inflamed dispute between the House and Senate over abortions for low-income women and congressional pay raise.
The Senate met yesterday, but leaders had no immediate solution and put off any action until Monday. The House, meanwhile, is on vacation and won't be back for regular business until Oct. 9.
Although most agencies won't be able legally to pay out or commit funds, most employes and creditors probably won't feel the bite for a few weeks, by which time the dispute in all likelihood will be settled and funding approved.
The battle between the two chambers eupted late Friday when leaders of the Appropriations committees thought they had worked out a deal to provide needed funding for the government agencies, to allow a 5.5 percent House-passed pay increase for Congress 22,000 top federal employes and judges, and to accept some Senate loopholes in the ban on free federal abortions for low-income women.
When the House took up the compromise on the funding resolution, it junked the Senate abortion language in favor its own tighter abortion ban, left the 5.5 percent raise in place and went home for 10 days. Members gambled that the Senate would swallow this action and endorse the House position in order to avoid cutting off funds for federal agencies.
But senators, furious at the House action, killed the bill by a 55 to 9 vote late Friday, accusing the House of what Sen. Edmund S. muskie (D-Maine) called "legislative blackmail."
This action has two results:
It leaves most government agencies -- including the Defense, Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare Departments -- without funding for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
It permits a 12.9 percent cost-of-living raise put in place by earlier legislation, but so far blocked by Congress in favor of the 5.5 percent proposal, to come into effect automatically at midnight today. Senate leaders said yesterday that this is so large that they intend to move to rescind it next week for Congress and the 22,000 high Level federal employes but not for judges, since the Constitution bars reducing the pay of a judge.
As a result, judges may be the only ones in the controversy ending up with a raise.
Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said yesterday that the Senate, rather than yielding to the House, will pull up a minor emergency appropriations bill and attach to it continued funding for federal agencies and the Senate abortion language, but no pay raise for Congress.
I will then be up to the House to act when it returns.