Congress has its work cut out: money woes, bills due
The US Congress, which has spent nearly all of the past year-and-two-thirds tackling money woes, comes back this week for more of the same.Skip to next paragraph
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And it had best return ready for action, since the military has no cash for its payroll Sept. 15. President Reagan vetoed a $14 billion supplemental spending bill, passed just before the Labor Day break, that would have financed the government until the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Since Congress is widely expected to sustain the veto, the lawmakers will have one week to come up with a bill more pleasing to the Reagan administration. That means trimming back some of the $918 million in domestic spending the President objects to and perhaps adding more defense money that the White House wants.
The battle over the supplemental spending bill will be largely one of symbols. By federal standards, the disputed dollar amounts in domestic programs are small, and Congress can add the military funds in a later bill.
Even so, the flap sets a tone for the final weeks of the 97th Congress. The veto is ''the first sniper fire in a long guerrilla warfare'' over spending, says Edwin L. Dale Jr., spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is the administration's watchdog on spending.
Reworking the $14 billion supplemental bill will be easy compared with the major task of Congress before it adjourns in October: passing a huge ''continuing resolution'' to fund the federal government from Oct. 1 through as late as next spring. The usual spending procedure has been so delayed by the budget debate this year that it is now too late to pass many, or perhaps any, individual appropriations bills.
The Reagan administration will be watching every penny (or at least every $ 100 million) in the giant continuing resolution. Its aim will be to keep Congress inside its budget on domestic programs, which the lawmakers are prone to expand, and preserve the $238.5 billion in budget authority promised for the Pentagon.
Already the Office of Management and Budget has sent out warning signals about a House proposal for the Departments of State, Commerce, and Justice that is $663 million over budget.
''A veto confrontation is a distinct possibility,'' says OMB spokesman Dale, discussing the administration's options on the coming continuing resolution. ''It depends entirely on what they (members of Congress) do.''
Besides the stop-gap spending bills, Congress must also complete its annual ritual of lifting the ceiling on the national debt. Without that action to permit continued borrowing, the US government will run out of money late this month.
The debt-ceiling issue is now ensnared in a Senate debate over school prayer, stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction, and abortion rights. Conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina is pressing for action on these social issues before the vote on the debt limit. His opponents, meanwhile, have launched a filibuster on the Helms proposals.
When the Senate returns this week, it will vote on a cloture petition to limit the debate and speed up action on the debt-limit bill.
Once these money matters are disposed of, the lawmakers can be expected to close up shop and hurry home for the coming elections, leaving a trail of unfinished business behind them.
Left behind will most likely be revisions of the Clean Air Act, President Reagan's to give tax credits to parents of private-school students, and the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which passed the Senate but has never reached the House floor.