Republicans have agreed to go along with the administration's demands for funds to help implement the Wye River Middle East peace accord, although the two sides remain far apart on a broad range of other foreign aid and domestic issues.
White House Budget Director Jacob "Jack" Lew met with House and Senate GOP and Democratic appropriations leaders to spell out administration differences with Congress, and the two sides agreed to meet again today to get down to specifics. Congress has approved all but two of the 13 spending bills and President Clinton has vetoed or threatened to veto five of them.
The Republicans' refusal to include the $1.8 billion sought by the administration for Israel and the Palestinians to help carry out last year's peace accord negotiated in Maryland led Clinton to veto a $12.7 billion foreign aid spending bill last month. An administration attempt to pay nearly $1 billion in back dues and asssesments to the United Nations is also hung up in a dispute over proposed anti-abortion restrictions on funding for international family planning programs.
Clinton charged that the foreign aid bill, coupled with the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signaled a dangerous move toward American isolationism. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and other GOP leaders subsequently signaled that the administration would get much of the funds it is seeking for the Wye River agreement.
But there is still a dispute over whether the White House needs the full $1.8 billion that Clinton requested or whether it could get by with roughly half or two-thirds of the total--with the promise of the rest to come next year. "Absolutely there will be money for Wye River, but not the top dollar" the administration has requested, a senior House GOP aide said yesterday.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) confirmed that the two sides were in agreement over the Middle East funding, but he warned that Democrats would continue to hold out for funding for the U.N. back dues unfettered by the anti-abortion restrictions.
"The problem we have is that since Wye River is more likely to be worked out than all the other pieces that [Republicans] will want to split it off and leave everything else hanging, which we would not be supportive of doing," Daschle said.
The final round of budget talks is expected to shift into high gear today as the Senate completes work on the last of the spending bills, a giant $317 billion labor, health and education measure that is attached to the bill funding the District of Columbia budget.
Clinton has vowed to veto the combined bills, which include a 1 percent cut in practically all federal agencies and programs. Republicans contend that the across-the-board spending cut is necessary to complete work on the spending bills without dipping into the Social Security surplus. But the White House has argued that such a cut would be destructive to defense and other programs.
Clinton has said repeatedly he would veto the labor, health and education bill because it would undermine his plan to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce average class size in the early grades. Republicans included most of the funds that Clinton requested but are insisting that local school districts be granted flexibility to spend the money as they see fit.
Late yesterday, administration officials circulated an Education Department analysis of the bill saying that school districts would be free to use the funds to provide vouchers for students attending private schools--a conclusion that might make it tougher for moderate Republicans to support the bill.
"Our view is that class size funds should go for smaller classes in the public schools, not vouchers in the private schools," said Bruce Reed, White House domestic policy adviser.
Also yesterday, the administration warned House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that Clinton would veto the minimum wage legislation pending in the House. The bill would provide a $1-per-hour increase over three years, compared with the administration proposal for a $1 increase in the minimum wage over two years.
CAPTION: Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and OMB Director Jacob "Jack" Lew at news conference yesterday.