White House officials and House GOP leaders are working on a compromise that would place some restrictions on U.S. support for family planning abroad to try to break a deadlock that has held up payment of the roughly $1 billion in back dues the United States owes the United Nations.
The dispute on U.N. dues is part of negotiations, which now appear certain to spill over to next week, on a final package of spending for international assistance, education, police and interior programs.
Yesterday, Republicans agreed to go along with President Clinton's request for more money to hire police officers. But a final deal is being threatened by major policy disputes over hiring more teachers, mining in West Virginia and the U.N. dues.
Aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other top leaders are meeting with White House deputy chief of staff Steve Ricchetti to craft a compromise that would satisfy Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who has held up payment of the U.N. arrears by insisting that Congress end funding for international family planning groups that lobby foreign countries for more liberal abortion laws.
Although the fight has been going on for three years, it has a greater sense of urgency now because the United States is threatened with the loss of its vote in the U.N. General Assembly unless payment is made by Jan. 1.
The private talks follow a meeting in Chicago on Friday between Clinton and Hastert. The two sides have agreed to "get it done" before Congress adjourns this month, according to an administration official. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday that Congress would insist on abortion language as the price for a final deal.
"You can't get it through the House without that and it's the right thing anyway," Lott told reporters. "The president of the United States cannot let that arrearage fail over that small side issue."
But while administration officials were hopeful that a deal could be struck in the coming days, Smith, an antiabortion leader, and other conservatives are holding out for tough language.
As a fallback, Republicans may be prepared to pay about $112 million of the back dues, or just enough to keep the United States from being expelled from the General Assembly. Congress did something similar last year.
Until yesterday, Republican leaders and White House officials held out hope that the negotiations could be wrapped up in time for the Veterans Day holiday Thursday. But with so many unresolved disputes over issues with powerful political overtones, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said it wasn't "physically possible" to complete work by tonight.
"This is a political world," Stevens said. "I see a lot of politics in the issues being raised. People are looking long term at next year's election."
Administration officials appeared discouraged. "The Republicans would have to move a lot more quickly and engage a lot more seriously in order for us to resolve this in short order," said Linda Ricci, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget.
Congress and the administration are trying to complete work on five of the 13 spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. With neither side willing to provoke a government shutdown, Congress last night passed its fifth continuing resolution this fall to keep agencies operating through next Wednesday.
White House and Republican negotiators scored one important breakthrough yesterday in agreeing to add $625 million to a $39 billion funding measure for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State--including $140 million more to hire police.
The bill originally contained $325 million for more police, but the administration insisted on more. The funds are essential to the administration's proposal to help law enforcement agencies hire an additional 150,000 officers over five years.
"We covered most of the waterfront," said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), who oversees legislation that funds the Commerce, Justice and State departments. "The total new appropriations we had to fund was a lot less than I had feared."
But the two sides continued to bicker over the labor, health and education bill, with the White House insisting that a full $1.4 billion go for hiring additional teachers while the Republicans insist that local school boards be given the option of using the funds for other purposes.
"We're not going to accede to [Clinton's] ultimatum on teachers," declared Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a senior appropriator with jurisdiction over education spending.
As the impasse over Clinton's proposal for hiring 100,000 teachers continued, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley defended the program's flexibility and said he was "bewildered" at the GOP's opposition to a program that "so clearly benefits children in their ability to learn and teachers in their ability to teach."
Even as White House officials negotiated with Republicans, they faced a problem within their own party. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he would press ahead with his plan to try to amend one of the pending spending bills to reverse a recent court ruling barring coal companies from dumping waste into local streams.
Byrd's language could exempt West Virginia from the Clean Water Act and has prompted other lawmakers from mining states to renew their drive for other anti-environmental provisions. Byrd, mining operators and miners say the ruling would seriously damage the mining industry in West Virginia, one of the state's major sources of employment.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred coal miners on the West Front of the Capitol, Byrd used biblical references as he led them in several chants.
"This is a crucial time and your voices must be heard. Hear us, hear us, hear us," Byrd cried. "You, at the other end of the avenue, hear our people! Let our people go!"
Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), who has been pushing to expand the amount of waste that hardrock mining operations could dump in adjoining mill sites, told reporters he was hoping to join Byrd in drafting legislation that could aid both western and eastern miners.
Several moderate Republicans urged Clinton to openly resist Byrd's efforts, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said he would oppose any effort to attach a new mining rider to any spending bill.
Pianin reported from Washington, special correspondent Lynch from New York. Staff writers Juliet Eilperin and Dan Morgan contributed to this report.