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Senate Approves Budget Bill

The Senate passed a massive $520 billion budget package Wednesday, the final legislative day of the 105th Congress, as lawmakers turned to the voters to assess a year marked by a breakthrough budget surplus and unrelenting partisan rancor.

The 65-29 vote for the bill that provides money for hundreds of federal agencies came amid resentment among many members about voting for a measure of such sheer immensity that few had had a chance to read.

"It is too big, and the process isn't the preferred way" to construct such a bill, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told a reporter just before the vote. "But it is what is needed to keep important government programs working."

Many lawmakers aren't happy with the measure, but they're eager to get out of town and begin campaigning. Sen. Robert Byrd, for example, called the bill a "colossal monstrosity." But the West Virginia Democrat said he'd vote for it anyway.

The House approved the bill Tuesday, and CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that President Clinton is ready to sign it.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart says Mr. Clinton will sign the massive Omnibus Appropriations bill Wednesday, along with some other spending measures.

Lockhart said some items in the bill might have been the target of line-item vetoes, if that power had not been ruled unconstitutional. The president has said that signing the legislation "is the right thing to do."

Both the White House and the Republican-led Congress have claimed victories in the bill, which the House passed in an overwhelming 333-95 vote. Democrats touted more money for education and environmental safeguards, while Republicans praised higher spending for military preparedness and crime fighting.

President Clinton has touted the legislation as a pre-election victory that would boost Democratic candidates. After a week of tense talks on the bill aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, Republicans urged their side to vote for it, saying it was the best deal they could reach given that neither the House nor Senate has a veto-proof Republican majority.

Congressional staff worked through the weekend on the final details of the bill that runs to several thousand pages.

Among its provisions, the bill sets out the year's policies and funding for foreign aid, education, health, labor, federal courts, the nation's parks, farm programs, highways, airports, and the intelligence agencies. It also extends several tax provisions, limits the availability to children of pornography on the Internet, and expands anti-drug activities.

One of Mr. Clinton's prized gains was an initiative to spend more than $1 billion to start hiring 100,000 additional school teachers. He also touted success in fending off "the worst of the anti-environmental provisions the Republicans had put into the budget bill" and for staving off a Republican tax cut plan he sai would have imperiled the Social Security trust fund.

But Republicans will not head into the elections empty-handed.

Republican victories included $20 billion in spending outside of agreed-upon budget limits for an array of election-year offerings, such as aid for farmers and increased defense spending, including about $1 billion for a national missile defense program.

The government has operated on a series of short-term spending bills since the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Reuters contributed to this report

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