WASHINGTON -- Congress has agreed on a major conservation bill that could double federal land acquisition and preservation spending next year.
The agreement, while significant, still left Congress entering the new fiscal year with 11 of 13 spending bills unfinished, disputes with the White House on issues ranging from Cuba sanctions to Missouri River water levels and increasing pressure to end the session as the election nears.
Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations interior panel, said the land deal he helped engineer is "the greatest increase in resources for conservation in the history of the country." While less costly than a $3 billion-a-year plan championed by President Clinton, it would budget $1.6 billion next year for land acquisition and conservation, with that figure rising to $2.4 billion a year by 2006.
Agreement on the land issue opened the way for passage next week of a $19 billion bill to fund the Interior Department.
Some progress was also made Thursday when the House, by 301-118, approved a $23.6 billion measure for water and energy programs. But that vote was clouded by a threat from Clinton to veto the bill because it would block administration plans to allow a springtime rise in the Missouri River to protect endangered fish and wildlife.
The matter is only a small part of a bill that allots $13.5 billion to atomic energy defense activities and $3.2 billion to Energy Department science programs. But a veto could have election-year repercussions in the swing state of Missouri, where farmers and the barge industry worry about floods and other problems if the river ebbs and flows more naturally.
"Make our day," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said when asked about Clinton's veto threat. "He loses Missouri to Bush."
With no votes scheduled for Friday, the start of the Jewish New Year, Congress will enter the new fiscal year on Sunday with only two spending bills, both defense-related, signed by the president.
To avoid a repeat of the government shutdown of 1995, the Senate on Thursday, following House action, voted 96-0 to keep government programs running through Friday, Oct. 6.
Clinton said he would sign the temporary extension, but prodded Republicans: "I ask Congress to finish the work they were sent here to do."
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