Congressional negotiators agreed yesterday to restore money for housing, space exploration and science as part of a final pact on a major fiscal 2000 spending bill that funds the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development and several independent agencies.
The agreement produced the first real evidence of cooperation between the White House and Republican congressional leaders as they work through the remaining spending bills and try to avert a year-end crisis.
Republicans claimed a major victory in boosting spending for veterans health care programs $1.7 billion above President Clinton's request, while the White House won last-minute concessions to fund 60,000 new housing vouchers and to boost spending for the National Science Foundation, NASA, fair housing programs, enterprise zones and other priorities. The measure also includes $2.5 billion of emergency spending to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd.
The $100 million added for NASA should be good news for Maryland's Goddard Space Flight Center, which faced severe budget cuts under the House-passed version.
The agreement, worked out by House and Senate Republicans and Democrats and White House budget chief Jacob "Jack" Lew, restores many of the cuts the House made in Clinton's housing, science and environmental priorities. In all, the agreement calls for about $98 billion in total spending, about $6 billion more than in the House-passed bill and nearly $1 billion more than the Senate version.
The White House indicated last night that Clinton would sign the bill.
Taken together with a compromise between House and Senate negotiators over a $268 billion defense spending bill that is also likely to win Clinton's approval, yesterday's action marked the first ray of hope in the prolonged partisan bickering over the appropriations bills this year.
"Any time we get a significant bill it's encouraging, especially when we hold to our principles and fiscal restraints," said Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.), the House Republicans' chief strategist on spending policy.
"Some would say we look like heavyweight fighters battered and bruised, but we're still on our feet," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the VA, HUD and independent agencies subcommittee.
The key to the agreement was the willingness of House Republicans and Democrats to go along with the Senate's accounting tactics and more generous approach to the bill as well as the administration's decision to offer specific offsets to finance the additional spending. Those offsets include $440 million of unused federal tenant protection funds and $500 million of unspent housing voucher funds carried over from 1999.
"If we have an atmosphere of good will and good offsets, we can get the job done," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the VA-HUD subcommittee.
House and Senate negotiators completed work on a $268 billion defense spending bill that slows the Air Force's F-22 "stealth" fighter program but will keep the radar-evading jets flying.
The appropriations bill now goes back to the House and Senate for final approval. It provides $4.5 billion more for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 than Clinton requested, and $17.3 billion more than last year's levels.
The increases include money to help pay for a 4.8 percent across-the-board military pay raise also included in a defense authorization bill signed earlier this week by Clinton.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 73 to 25 to approve a massive $312 billion labor-health-education bill following days of debate, but Clinton immediately complained the measure was "woefully" inadequate and threatened a veto. "It undermines the commitment we made last year to hire quality teachers and reduce class size in the early grades," Clinton said.