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Devil In Details Of Budget Battle

Lawmakers were saying Tuesday that a budget agreement was within sight. But with many details in a compromise spending bill still to be worked out, Congressional leaders braced for bruising battles over education and family planning, among other issues.

"We're highly motivated to hang tough," said Rep. Vic Fazio of California, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "I think we have momentum on our side."

Republican leaders on Monday had expressed confidence that Tuesday, after a week of intense negotiations, they would finish all but the details of the giant bill needed to fund government programs in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other GOP leaders said a completed bill could move to the House and Senate floors as early as Wednesday. "Maybe that's an optimistic goal, but I think it's clearly achievable based on what we have reached agreement on," Lott said.

But House Democrats, after a party meeting Tuesday morning, said they were not satisfied with the Republican response to President Clinton's demands for money to hire more elementary school teachers and build more schools.

"There is no resolution at all on school construction which our people feel is very, very important and very necessary in this bill," House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said. He said the issues of extending prescription contraceptives for federal workers and the use of statistical sampling for the 2000 census were still unresolved.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., a leading proponent of census sampling, said she had been assured by the White House that there was no deal on a plan to effectively put off a decision on the census for six months. "We're holding out for full funding. It is worth fighting for," she said.

White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, after nine hours of meetings Monday with Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other congressional leaders, was cautious about reaching a quick conclusion to the negotiations. "We do have a significant number of issues still left open," he said.

Bowles named education and the environment as two big obstacles to an agreement. Clinton wants $1.1 billion more in the budget for his proposal to hire 100,000 more elementary school teachers. Republicans have agreed to the spending, but their proposal would turn the money directly over to local school districts and would ban new federal testing of students.

"The president is going to have to make up his mind on whether he wants an issue for the fall congressional campaigns or whether he wants to work with us and accomplish something for our children," said Rep. William Goodling, R-Pa., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

A spending bill would wrap together eight of the 13 annual spending bills that had not become law when the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. It would include spending of bout $500 billion, nearly one-third of the federal budget, for programs in the areas of health, education, labor, foreign aid, and law enforcement.

To avoid a repeat of the shutdowns of the winter of 1995-96, the House and Senate on Monday approved their third temporary measure to keep the government open. This time the extension lasts until midnight Wednesday. Clinton signed it while on a campaign fundraising trip to New York, replacing one that expired at midnight Monday.

"We are almost there, I hope," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La. "It is our intention to keep government open and not jeopardize the livelihoods of all the federal employees or the services they perform."

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