Spending bills stack up in Congress

Election-weary members of Congress have trudged back to Washington to take up some unfinished business: the 1983 budget. But the post-election congressional session will likely produce little progress toward a completed budget, and a lot of argument about guns vs. butter.

Even though the government's 1983 fiscal year has already begun, 10 of the 13 appropriations bills remain unpassed. Only four or five of the spending bills will be approved by Congress before it adjourns for the holidays, says an aide to Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee - and one or two of those may be vetoed by President Reagan.

Once again, large portions of the government will end up being funded through a stopgap continuing resolution. But if Congress passes a continuing resolution with less defense spending and more domestic outlays than the President wants, both congressional and White House sources say, this omnibus spending measure may be vetoed as well.

''There could be a game of chicken'' over the continuing resolution, says Ed Dale, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Congress's lame-duck session is expected to last three weeks. House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. has indicated that during those 15 working days the House will clear nine of the 10 pending appropriations bills.

But those bills will then stack up in the Senate like jets circling LaGuardia Airport, waiting to land. Probably no more than five of them will be passed by both chambers.

''Senator Baker doesn't seem as committed to ramming them through as Speaker O'Neill,'' says the head of a congressional research office.

The District of Columbia appropriations, a relatively noncontroversial measure, stands the best chance ofUFquoteBills will stack up like jets waiting to land at LaGuardia.

passage. The foreign-aid bill, which one Democratic aide says ''is full of land mines every year,'' seems least likely to be enacted.

The other unpassed appropriations bills contain a variety of contentious points.

Defense spending in general, and the MX missile in particular, is likely to spark the most heated debate of the lame-duck session. A Senate committee has already approved a defense spending bill that contains funds for the weapon, but the House hasn't even addressed the issue yet.

Funds for the F-18 fighter and for construction of a second nuclear-powered aircraft carrier are also likely to be controversial, congressional aides say.

The Clinch River breeder reactor and the Tennessee Tombigbee waterway, both funded by energy and water-development appropriations, will also come under attack yet again. Clinch River, a favorite project of Senator Baker, survived by only one vote a preelection attempt in the Senate to strip away its funding.

In addition, the White House is complaining that three of the unpassed spending measures are over-budget. The transportation bill, which has been passed by the House and will soon appear on the Senate floor, will be vetoed unless it is changed, says the OMB's Mr. Dale. The White House is also ''concerned'' about the agriculture bill, which exceeds President Reagan's original budget request by $2 billion, and funding for the Treasury and the US Postal Service.

''We'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't expect a veto or two during the lame duck (session),'' says a -Baker aide.

Just before lawmakers bolt for home before Christmas, undone budget business will be packaged into yet another continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.

This supposedly temporary measure is threatening to become a permanent feature of government budgeting. The federal government has finished out the last three fiscal years running under a continuing resolution.

cl11 Last November, President Reagan vetoed a continuing resolution, saying Congress had overspent. That shut down the government for a day. Similar action could occur this year, if the Democratic House succeeds in juggling spending priorities within the continuing resolution.

A stopgap spending bill without funds for the MX, or with a jobs program larger than the White House wants, might not make it off the President's desk.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.