Restive Senate Republicans are pressuring the GOP leadership to drop their "gimmicks" and take a more straightforward approach to passing major spending bills, even if it means conceding they cannot stay within the constraints of the 1997 budget agreement.
Influential Republicans including Sens. Larry E. Craig (Idaho), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, and first-termers Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio) said they were troubled by some of the more blatant efforts to circumvent the limits on new spending.
"I'm very willing to be straightforward with the people," Craig said in an interview yesterday. "If that means adjusting the [spending] caps, I'm willing to adjust the caps."
In a scathing letter to colleagues this week, Hagel ridiculed many of the strategies under consideration to comply with budget limits, including "forward funding" that would delay some of the spending into the next fiscal year and declaring the 2000 census an "emergency," and accused Congress of "living a charade which demeans our country" as well as Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) defended the leadership's efforts to pass the spending bills in the face of limited resources, a rash of emergencies and the Kosovo war. But he conceded to reporters that Congress already had exceeded the caps and was likely to do so again.
"I think you have to be honest and acknowledge that we're not going to meet the caps if for no other reason because of emergencies that we've already dealt with," he said. As Senate and House GOP leaders met throughout the day to try to work out compromises on a host of issues from emergency spending for agriculture to defense, the Senate plowed through several important spending measures.
The Senate voted 54 to 38 to give final congressional approval to a bill that would boost salaries for the next president, federal workers and lawmakers themselves. The bill, which President Clinton is expected to sign, would raise salaries for members of Congress by $4,600 a year, to $141,300.
The Senate also approved, 95 to 0, a $49.5 billion transportation measure that increases spending for highways, mass transit and airports. The House approved a different version of the bill in June.
At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a large veterans, housing, space and environmental spending bill that would top Clinton's request for veterans' health care by $1.1 billion and restore cuts in space programs and housing ordered by the House.
With time running out before the start of the new fiscal year, Senate appropriators appear to be taking a more pragmatic approach to funding than the House, drafting measures that seem more likely to be signed by the president. The $90.9 billion VA-HUD bill overall is about the same as Clinton's request and $1 billion more than the House approved last week.