The Republican-controlled Senate yesterday brushed aside veto threats and narrowly approved $1.2 billion for public works jobs as it plodded wearily toward passage of emergency legislation to avoid a shutdown of most of the government on Monday.
Exhausted after a week-long filibuster against a proposed nickel-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax, the Senate missed the midnight deadline for congressional passage of stopgap funding for the government, meaning that most departments and agencies technically ran out of money at 12:01 a.m. today.
But before it recessed, the Senate, as part of its deliberations on the spending measure, made an impressive array of policy decisions.
It voted conditional funding of the MX missile, partial restrictions on powers of the Federal Trade Commission, more aid to Israel than the president wanted, resumption of funding for abortions under federal employes' health insurance and continuation of work on the Clinch River breeder reactor.
The Senate also was expected to vote to continue the cap on federal executives' pay, leaving the issue up to a House-Senate conference on the spending bill. The House has approved pay raises of 10 to 15 percent for more than 32,000 executives whose pay has been frozen for four of the past five years as part of a plan to raise the pay of members of Congress by 15 percent.
Still in doubt as bleary-eyed senators recessed for a night's sleep after more than 37 straight hours of work was whether the "continuing resolution" could be passed and signed into law before government offices are scheduled to reopen for business Monday. The Senate planned to resume work today on the measure, which passed the House last week in considerably different form.
An administration spokesman said government workers are supposed to come to work Monday morning to help shut their agencies down, although many could be furloughed during the day unless the Office of Management and Budget sees a "reasonable prospect" that the bill will be passed and signed during the day.
President Reagan has objected strongly to the jobs money that has been included in both House and Senate versions of the spending bill and said he is "not in the mood" to compromise on the issue, although yesterday he stopped short of out-of-hand rejection of the Senate version.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and Senate Republican leaders said they anticipate a veto and believe that Congress lacks the votes to override it, which means that efforts to pass an anti-recession jobs program in the lame-duck session could turn into a bust.
This would be especially true if Senate leaders fail to resurrect the gas tax increase, which proponents say would create up to 320,000 jobs by providing $5.5 billion for highway, bridge and transit repairs over the next year.
Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) worked behind the scenes yesterday to salvage the filibustered gas tax bill, which was laid aside Thursday night so the Senate could get on with the omnibus spending resolution.
Last night Baker and other Republican leaders decided to make another stab at passing it today by pushing for reconsideration of a debate-limiting cloture vote that failed Thursday. Congressional leaders disagreed over chances for the bill's eventual passage.
At stake along with the gas tax increase was up to six more weeks of unemployment benefits for victims of the current recession, which were included in the tax bill. However, proponents of the extended jobless aid also planned to try to add it to another piece of "must" legislation.
The continuing resolution is needed because Congress has so far passed only five of its 13 regular appropriations bills for the fiscal year that started last October, and only three have been signed into law.
Agencies exempted from the Monday shutdown threat because they already have their appropriations include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and a variety of smaller agencies.
The Senate vote of 50 to 46 to include $1.2 billion for jobs in the spending bill was far short of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto and considerably closer than Republican leaders privately predicted before they made their attempt to knock out the money.
But O'Neill warned Reagan not to take too much cheer from his likely veto victory, hinting broadly that administration-backed bills to aid Caribbean Basin countries and to revise U.S. immigration laws might die if the spending bill is vetoed.
O'Neill also called on Reagan to compromise on the jobs program, saying that House Democrats were willing to compromise, but warning that that "is a two-way street."
At the White House, the lame-duck session was already being declared a virtual victory for the president, a view that provoked reactions ranging from amusement to ridicule on Capitol Hill, even among some Republicans.
Although Reagan has suffered setbacks on everything from the MX missile to the beleagured gas tax, deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said, "This lame-duck session is on the verge of being very successful for the president."
Said O'Neill of Reagan's fortunes in the lame-duck session: "He's had one defeat after another."
On the jobs money, a House-Senate conference on the spending bill, scheduled for today, will have to decide where to split the difference between the Senate's $1.2 billion program and a more ambitious $5.4 billion plan approved last week by the House.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who prevailed over Baker and other Senate leaders in getting the Senate to stick with the jobs money, said he thought a compromise of about $2 billion was likely. The president, said Hatfield, should "take it and run."
But a Republican leadership aide said Congress would have a "hard time" selling $2 billion in jobs money to Reagan.
The White House continued yesterday to send out confusing signals on a veto, apparently trying to preserve its negotiating options. Reagan, who had earlier called the House plan a "pork barrel in the old-fashioned sense," said of the Senate plan: "We'll have to look at it and see what the nature of the proposal is."
Asked if Reagan had thus left the door open to compromise, Speakes later said: "I don't think the man's remarks were intended to do that. I would not read that as any change in his position."
In debate over the jobs plan, Hatfield argued that jobs money would demonstrate a "commitment to the unemployed," which he called a "legitimate role of government," while his Republican leadership colleagues opposed the aid largely on grounds that it would provoke a veto.
With "dimming hope" for passage of the gas tax highway repair bill, argued Hatfield, the money in the continuing resolution is all that Congress may wind up approving to help alleviate the recession.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said he would like to support a real jobs bill but this wasn't one. He said it was simply a "spending bill" that resulted from a "bidding war" with the House.
In other action in connection with the spending bill, the Senate voted 49 to 48 to reverse a House decision blocking further spending for the controversial Clinch River breeder reactor. It was the closest call so far for Baker, the reactor's leading champion, who reportedly had to call in all his chits on this vote.
The Senate voted 59 to 36 to impose less stringent limits than the House had proposed earlier in a separate bill on the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate doctors, lawyers and other professionals. One limit would prevent the FTC from overriding state laws on regulation of professionals.
On the highly sensitive abortion issue, the Senate also voted 49 to 48 to allow federal workers' health plans to pay for abortions, which the House had refused in its version of the bill.
The Senate also voted to let the continuing resolution last until Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. The House had proposed an expiration date of March 15, meaning Congress would have to pass more stopgap funding then if, as expected, it continues to be stalemated over some regular appropriations bills.