White House, GOP Back Bill to Avert Shutdown


Congress and the White House set aside their differences Thursday and agreed on a stopgap spending bill that would avert the third partial shutdown of the government in the last three months.

The measure would provide money through March 15 for nine Cabinet agencies and an assortment of programs that would have lost their funding Saturday. The bill won House approval Thursday night on a 371-42 vote and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Clinton today.

Members of both parties conceded Thursday that the bill, known as a continuing resolution, contained provisions that they found distasteful. But lawmakers suggested that they have lost enthusiasm for the chaotic budgetary clashes that paralyzed parts of the government and alienated many Americans.


“Frankly, from where we started, I’m somewhat amazed” that a deal was possible, said Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The mid-March deadline, however, means that major elements of the government are still not assured of money through the 1996 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

The legislation came together during hours of behind-the-scenes wrangling over education, abortion and other issues.

Democrats accepted curbs that they generally oppose in funding for education and other programs. Republicans watered down an abortion restriction sought by conservatives and returned money to Clinton’s pet projects of national service and additional police officers.

“This is a terrible bill but it’s the only one we’ve got and that’s the only reason I’m going to vote for it,” said Rep. Harold L. Volkmer (D-Mo.).

Administration officials were pleased by the effort to stave off a shutdown, which contrasted with the more vindictive tone of recent budget confrontations. The shutdown would have started today. Partial shutdowns that started in mid-November and mid-December closed many federal operations for 27 days and cost taxpayers $1.4 billion, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“We think overall it [Thursday’s deal] was fair to all sides,” said Lawrence Haas, spokesman for the OMB.


In a separate development, Congress and the White House agreed to terms of the defense authorization bill, which sets out long-range plans for the Pentagon. The White House said that Clinton, who vetoed the measure in its original form Dec. 28, would sign the bill as soon as it passes the Senate, perhaps as early as today.

Clinton’s principal objection to the bill had been its call for the creation of a “Star Wars”-style antimissile defense--a move that the White House contended would have interfered with the 1972 treaty limiting antiballistic missiles. Congress removed that language earlier this month.

However, Clinton swallowed his objections to provisions that would require the discharge of GIs infected with the virus that causes AIDS and that would bar spending Pentagon money for abortions in overseas bases, except in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life.

The agreements came a day after House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) declared that Republicans would work with the administration to identify mutually acceptable savings in the budget, while putting off the sensitive issues that have created the impasse, such as health care spending.

But administration officials expressed wariness toward GOP proposals of attaching tax cuts and spending plans to an increase in the debt limit that is required by March 1 to prevent the nation from defaulting on its financial obligations.

The president “would take a dim view of that,” said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, when asked about GOP recommendations to add a cut in the capital gains tax to a debt-limit bill.


“It makes it much harder for the president to accept it, and makes it far harder for Democrats and others in the Senate and in the House to accept it,” McCurry said.

At the same time, Republicans were mindful that on Wednesday, an influential bond-rating agency announced that it had placed $387 billion in Treasury bonds “on review” for a possible downgrade, and they were increasingly reluctant to tinker with a national default as a lever over the White House.

“We’re going to pass” a debt-ceiling increase that is palatable to the White House, said Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the third-ranking House Republican. “We’re going to meet our responsibilities.”

Under the terms of the spending bill, House members agreed to fund the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Interior at restricted levels.

In addition, funds would be prohibited for embryo research, and international population planning activities would be barred unless authorized in a separate measure before July 1. A handful of little-known programs would be terminated under the measure, including some scholarships and aid to cultural arts in Hawaii and Alaska.

Significantly, Republicans back-pedaled on plans to eliminate Clinton’s AmeriCorps program, under which young people earn tuition money in exchange for community service, and also his “Cops on the Beat” program that provides money for communities to put more police officers on the streets.


Instead, Republicans offered up the olive branch of partial funding for both programs.

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) said that the compromise bill, which includes education curbs that he opposes, reflects a bipartisan desire to avoid the turmoil of recent shutdowns.

“I think the overriding need of the country is for us to overcome our differences and manage to live with our differences,” he said.

To achieve that on Thursday, Democrats and Republicans met for hours, sorting out an array of disputes. Confusing the picture at one point, House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B. H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) told reporters that a deal had been reached--even before White House budget specialists had finished poring over the details of a 55-page version of the bill.

Solomon’s comment drew a correction from the White House. “We’ve made it very clear that we don’t want a tree built to which ornaments are attached willy-nilly by the Congress,” McCurry said.

At the same time, House hard-liners continued to explore the possibility of establishing their own deal to balance the budget with conservative Democrats. But there were few signs of a groundswell.

“Some people confuse tactics with principle,” said Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), emphasizing that Republicans had not caved in on their long-term budget goals by moving away from highly confrontational tactics.


Rather, he said, the idea was to “get as much as possible” of the GOP agenda, given the realities of White House opposition.

Times staff writers Edwin Chen, Paul Richter and Janet Hook contributed to this story.