Disputes Force Lame-Duck Congress

House Republicans, their majority status seriously at stake in next Tuesday's elections, have vowed to stay at their posts for at least a few more days to continue their budget battle with President Clinton.

That put them at odds with the Senate, which on Wednesday recessed until Nov. 14, effectively assuring the third lame-duck session of Congress in the past six years.

House GOP leaders, after a lengthy closed-door meeting with their rank-and-file, modified earlier statements that they would go along with the Senate's recess, instead deciding to keep working through Friday at least.

"There's legislation that we want to get done," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said after the meeting. "Unless politics completely obfuscates the ability to get things done, we're going to stay here," he said.

With six of the 13 annual spending bills still unsigned by the president a month after the start of the fiscal year, Congress on Wednesday approved its 12th temporary measure to keep federal offices running. But unlike the 24-hour extension approved by the House, the Senate voted on stopgap legislation taking them until Nov. 14, seven days after the election.

Democrats went along with the longer extension and said the White House, which previously had insisted on 24-hour extensions, also agreed.

Speaking to high-tech executives at a fund-raiser Wednesday night in the capital's Virginia suburbs, Clinton said the budget apparently "won't pass until after the election, but eventually it will pass."

Immediately after Wednesday's vote, senators began heading for airports and home states where 34 Senate seats are being contested and Democrats still hold slim hopes of reversing the Republicans' current 54-46 majority.

The battle for control of the House is even closer, and House Republicans were wary of being charged with giving up on major legislation to fund education and health programs in order to rush home to campaign. "A lot of our members smelled a rat," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery, describing how GOP lawmakers stood up at the meeting to oppose the longer extension.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., said in a floor speech afterward that he was "prepared to stay through Tuesday, Election Day, to make certain we deliver a budget that's good for America."

But with the Senate gone and attention focused on the election, there was little likelihood of serious progress on the workplace safety, immigration and tax issues that have blocked a conclusion to this Congress.

The House is expected to do little on the floor Thursday except pass another temporary spending bill, and is likely to finish Friday with a vote on a major Everglades restoration bill already passed by the Senate. The Everglades legislation is very popular in Florida, a crucial state in the presidential election.

"They are pretending there is still something going on," Rep David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said earlier Tuesday. Nothing is getting done, he said, and "they are trying to hide it with these useless sessions."

The lame-duck session would be the sixth since 1971 and the third since 1994. The last came two years ago when the House returned after the election to vote on articles of impeachment against Clinton.

Among the still unfinished business is workplace safety rules, strongly opposed by many business groups, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to finish in the coming weeks.

Republicans want assurances that the rules won't be implemented until next year when they hope that George W. Bush, as the next president, will be able to stop them.

An issue of ergonomics has held up agreement on a $350 billion bill to fund labor, education and health programs. Another $39.9 billion bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments faces a presidential veto unless the White House gets inclusion of more liberal immigration measures to help aliens who have been living illegally in the country since before 1986.

Veto threats also hang over a 10-year $240 billion tax relief package that Clinton says is too favorable to health management organizations and legislation making it more difficult to declare bankruptcy.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., expressed hope that Congress can reconvene on Nov. 14 and make quick work of the budget, tax cut and bankruptcy bills. "I hope that we will come back and in a day or two we'll be done with it."