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White House Wins Overtime Pay Flap

Lawmakers hope to iron out the last disputes over an end-of-session spending bill exceeding $280 billion after the Bush administration won a fight over overtime pay that had been the toughest stumbling block.

With the Senate holding a rare Saturday session, legislators were hoping to end lingering battles over replacing federal workers and other issues.

That would clear the way for the House to vote this weekend, and the Senate by early next week, on the last spending measures for the federal budget year that started Oct. 1. Also needing approval were two measures financing foreign aid and the Treasury and Transportation departments.

It was possible, however, that lawmakers would leave town for Thanksgiving and return in early December.

President Bush on Saturday signed a bill that temporarily finances federal agencies through January. That gives lawmakers more time to work on the spending bills.

The Republicans who run Congress were loath to repeat a standoff that resulted in spending bills not finished until last February - nearly five months late. They blamed the Democrats who controlled the Senate in 2002 but could blame no one but themselves this time.

"We're very close to having that ($280 billion) bill completed," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said Friday.

Disagreements remained between the White House and some Republicans over an administration plan to let private companies do work now performed by government employees. There were also questions over how to pay for about $4 billion in added spending for schools, veterans, foreign aid and new voting systems.

But the biggest remaining problem was resolved Friday when Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., ended his effort to stop the administration from reducing the number of white-collar workers who qualify for overtime pay under federal law.

Specter, facing a strong re-election challenge next fall in a state where unions have muscle, abandoned the fight under pressure from the White House and House GOP leaders. He said it was unrealistic to vote against the spending bill - in effect, in favor of a federal shutdown - if the language he and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, had pushed was dropped.

"Does anybody have any choice" but to vote for the bill, he asked rhetorically.

Though the Senate voted in September to block the proposed administration rules and the House used a nonbinding vote to express the same sentiment, the administration and its business allies prevailed in a battle with Democrats, moderate Republicans and labor.

As details of the massive bill emerged, Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., said leaders tentatively agreed to include $25 million apiece for security at next summer's presidential party conventions. The Democrats will meet in Boston, while Republicans will convene in New York.

One lobbyist said the bill also will contain another $350 million for the president's "Millennium Challenge Account," a new foreign aid program for countries that adopt democratic reforms.

Combined with money in a separate foreign aid spending bill, that would bring spending for that account to $1 billion - $300 million less than Mr. Bush requested.

That $17 billion foreign aid measure - also awaiting congressional approval - contains money for battling AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

There also was an $89 billion bill financing the Treasury and Transportation departments with funds for Amtrak, highway construction and improved voting equipment. It also would open the door for a 2.2 percent pay raise for members of Congress.

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