Two separate House-Senate conference committees will begin work this week to produce what are likely to be the final pieces of legislation implementing the $30-billon deficit-reduction agreement reached last month by President Reagan and Congress.
After the Senate approved a record $606-billion catchall spending bill early Saturday, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of the negotiators who produced the deficit reduction plan, predicted that the two sets of House and Senate negotiators could finish their work this week.
However, others remained skeptical, noting that there are many important differences in the legislative spending packages passed by each house.
Non-Military Contra Aid
Probably the most significant difference is that the Senate bill--approved by a 72-21 vote about 3 a.m.--includes $9 million in new non-military aid to Nicaragua's Contras and funds to transport the aid, whereas the bill approved earlier by the House does not provide any aid to the rebels.
The spending package produced by the conferees will cover almost all of the government's budget priorities for fiscal 1988.
Meanwhile, the second House-Senate conference committee will be considering a tax and entitlement bill that makes up the rest of the deficit-reduction agreement between congressional leaders and the President.
Reagan has threatened to veto the spending bill unless it provides aid to the Contras. White House spokesman Bob Hall said Saturday that the President would wait for the final legislation produced by the conference committee before deciding whether to accept the measure.
Link to Peace Plan
The Senate attempted to tie the additional Contra aid to the progress of the Nicaraguan peace initiative begun in August by providing that, if the cease-fire takes place next month as scheduled, the remaining money would be administered by humanitarian agencies.
Nevertheless, the aid provision could still face strong opposition in the House, where Democratic leaders have warned that any new assistance to the rebels could undermine U.S. support for the negotiations between the Contras and Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Usually, the process of settling the dozens of differences between the House and Senate bills would take weeks, but lawmakers are pressing the process because they are eager to go home for the holidays.
Unless they wrap up both bills, the $23 billion in automatic spending cuts of the Gramm-Rudman law will begin to take full effect. Congressional leaders believe that the deficit-reduction pact is more politically palatable than the Gramm-Rudman cuts.