WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Finally ending months of budget battles that included two partial government shutdowns, White House and congressional negotiators struck a deal last night that will finance the government through the fall.
The agreement, which negotiators expect to see passed by Congress today and signed into law by President Clinton tonight, completes work on about $23 billion worth of cuts from the federal budget for the current year, most of which Mr. Clinton had originally vetoed.
The compromise was reached when the Republican-led congressional negotiators agreed to restore nearly $5 billion that had been cut from Clinton priority programs, most of them relating to education and the environment.
Republicans also yielded on many of the policy changes they had added to the spending bills by dropping or weakening those Mr. Clinton didn't like. Most of those dealt with the environment, generally providing for a loosening of federal protections.
Under the compromise, Mr. Clinton could waive provisions to allow increased logging in Alaska's Tongass National Forest and expand commercial use of the Mohave Desert in California. Another GOP proposal that would have granted greater power over wetlands to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was dropped.
Negotiators also agreed to adopt a Senate-passed plan that would protect military personnel who test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus from being automatically discharged.
White House is 'pleased'
"We're pleased," said the White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, who was the lead White House negotiator. "This goes a very long way to protect the president's priorities."
Leaders of the Republican-led Congress were less ebullient.
"After a long, long, difficult process, I believe we have a package that can be supported by hopefully nearly everybody on both sides of the aisle," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
"Some will complain the cuts are not deep enough and others will complain the cuts go too far, but in the final analysis we have saved about $23 billion. That is very significant. That's a lot of money."
But last night's agreement was a far cry from the Republicans' initial goal of winning Mr. Clinton's signature on a bill that would wipe out the federal budget deficit within seven years. It doesn't address their proposal to curb the growth of increasingly expensive automatic spending programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
The GOP had already conceded victory to Mr. Clinton in the public relations war over those programs, and is now just trying to finish the basic work of government financing to get them through the 1996 election.
'This is just practice'
"This is just practice for fiscal 1997," quipped Rep. Robert L. Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, when asked to characterize the product of the yearlong effort.
Mr. Clinton has revived talk of trying again to reach a balanced budget, suggesting this week that he and top Republican leaders resume the direct negotiations that broke off in January.
He broached the issue personally with Mr. Dole yesterday at a White House signing ceremony for an anti-terrorism bill. Mr. Dole, the all but certain GOP presidential nominee, responded that he would consult with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and get back to him.
Dole advisers believe, however, that the president has no intention of making the compromises that would be necessary to reach a long-term deal and is taunting Mr. Dole because he believes he has the upper hand.
The $160 billion bill to be voted on today provides money for nine federal departments and dozens of agencies that have been twice shut down and have operated in a state of uncertainty for months. For example, school boards throughout the nation have been waiting to learn about the fate of grants given by the Department of Education before hiring teachers for next school year.
A dozen separate stopgap spending bills were passed before the latest was due to expire last night. With negotiators still at work yesterday, a 13th temporary measure was passed yesterday by the Congress and signed by Mr. Clinton to buy the process one more day.
Mr. Livingston and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield, an Oregon Republican, acknowledged that they each may have trouble winning support from some of their GOP colleagues for the budget deal reached.
Both predicted, however, that the legislation would pass before the new deadline tonight.
Where the difference is
Rep. David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who was a key budget negotiator, said the total savings equal the amount proposed by the Republicans. The difference in the compromise agreement is that money has been shifted between categories, mainly from disaster assistance, to finance Mr. Clinton's priorities.
Much of the extra money went to the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for toxic waste cleanup, enforcement of anti-pollution standards and to help communities provide safe drinking water.
Negotiators also provided additional funds for the Head Start program for preschoolers and a program to promote drug-free schools. The agreement saves Mr. Clinton's Goals 2000 program to raise school standards, which the GOP had tried to eliminate.
In addition, the Republicans bowed to Mr. Clinton's demand that they drop a proposal to convert his 1994 officers-on-the-beat program, which directly pays the salaries of police officers, into a block grant that would allow cities and states to spend the money as they want.
Pub Date: 4/25/96