Transportation Bill Passes; Conservatives Force Cuts

The House voted 429 to 3 to approve a $44.5 billion transportation spending bill for fiscal 2000 after conservatives knocked out $5.9 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and forced additional trims of $301 million.

The funds for air traffic controllers will be restored in conference, appropriations leaders said after yesterday's vote. But Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a leader of the conservatives, is counting on Congress embracing the Senate-passed version, which contains $255 million less for the FAA than the House would provide.

Yesterday's action marked the third time that conservatives -- determined that Congress and the administration stay within tight budget caps -- forced the leadership to rewrite a spending bill on the floor to achieve modest savings.

Energy Dept. Chief Objects To Nuclear Oversight Overhaul

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson objected to legislation to reorganize his department, delaying a Senate vote on a new Agency for Nuclear Stewardship. The draft bill is aimed at tightening security in the wake of allegations that Chinese spies stole nuclear secrets from America's national laboratories, which are part of the Department of Energy.

Richardson said he has taken steps to bolster security and said the bill would diminish his authority by creating a post of undersecretary of energy for nuclear stewardship. This official could set independent policies on security, personnel, and environmental, health and safety programs.

"We don't want to make the labs and the nuclear weapons complex an entity that is so strong that you can't oversee it properly," Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

White House May Seek To Ease Spending Limits

The White House may try to use an imminent update of its budget forecast to justify easing tight spending limits, which were approved in 1997 before the strong economy created large surpluses, according to a published report.

A new, more optimistic White House fiscal outlook on budget surpluses, due out as early as next week, is likely to put the administration much closer to the current Congressional Budget Office prediction of $133 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. In February, the administration forecast a surplus of only $117.3 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. An OMB spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report.

Committee Clears Bill On Abortion Consent

Anyone who takes a pregnant teenager to another state for an abortion without her parents' consent could face federal prosecution under a bill that cleared a House panel. The House Judiciary Committee voted 16 to 13 along party lines to send the measure to the full House for a vote, possibly as soon as next week. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.