Administration considers veto of Interior bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An Interior spending bill that increases money for national parks and retains the National Endowment for the Arts faces a possible veto by President Clinton over its handling of logging of Northwest forests.
The $13.8 billion measure covering the Interior Department and related programs was approved by the Senate 84-14 on Tuesday. The House passed it Friday, 233-171.
The bill would provide $1.2 billion for operating the National Parks, a $79 million increase over last year, and $1.3 billion for the National Forest System, a $71 million increase.
It would also provide $98 million for the NEA, less than the administration requested but defeating a congressional attempt to kill the agency.
The legislation, however, may be vetoed.
``We are mulling over the specifics of this bill and the president has not made a final decision,″ said Lawrence Haas, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. The main concern, he said, is over the Forest Service’s ability to carry out its land management plan in Northwest forests.
``The Forest Service plan, in plain English, is designed to find a middle ground between those who want to cut and those who want to conserve,″ Haas said. The administration is worried whether the bill ``sets up too many roadblocks″ to the Forest Service’s implementation of numerous plans for the Northwest over the next five years, he said.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s panel that handled the Interior bill, warned the administration against vetoing it for any reason.
``This agreement is very delicately balanced and ... a decision by the administration to come back for one more bite at the apple despite the great lengths we have gone to accommodate its concerns will not be without peril,″ Gorton said before the Senate voted.
Several conservation groups urged Clinton to veto the bill.
``President Clinton knows what the American people want him to do: Protect our national parks, national forests and other public lands from the extremists in Congress who keep making backroom deals for special interest friends,″ said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.
The White House is pleased with the bill’s increases in funds for national parks and forests and with some of its environmental initiatives, including funds for land acquisition, Haas said. The acquisition funds would be used in part in the Headwaters Forest in California, where a timber company plans to cut thousands of old-growth redwoods and to close a deal with a Canadian mining company to halt plans for the New World Mine near Yellowstone National Park.
Gorton said the administration opposed Congress’ insistence on appraisals of those properties before they are bought and predicted that if the bill is vetoed, ``it will primarily be because of the appraisal requirement for these two acquisitions.″ He cautioned that Congress would be more likely to withdraw the money than the appraisal requirement.
But an administration official said that while the White House wasn’t particularly happy with the appraisal requirement, that alone would not prompt a veto.
The bill’s $98 million for NEA funding is $38 million less than Clinton requested and $1.5 million less than the NEA got last year. Yet, if the House had its way, the NEA would have gotten nothing.
That funding came from Senate insistence during a conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate’s original bill contained a little more than $100 million for NEA, while the House bill zeroed it out.
``If this bill were vetoed and returned to conference, it is almost certain that the House will demand additional reductions in funding for the NEA,″ said Gorton, an NEA supporter.
The Interior bill is the eighth of 13 appropriations measures for fiscal 1998, which began Oct. 1, that Congress has approved. Clinton has signed six.
To cover those agencies for which spending bills have not yet been enacted, Congress earlier passed a temporary measure to continue their funding through Nov. 7, when Congress plans to recess for the year.
The bill’s $13.8 billion total matches Clinton’s request and is $300 million above last year.
Separately, with Democrats blocking much of the Senate’s work to get a commitment for a full campaign finance overhaul debate, Republican leader Trent Lott declared a six-year, $145 billion highway bill dead for the year.
``In view of the other things we must do ... we’re just out of time for the year″ for it, he told reporters after losing the fourth attempt in two weeks to stop a Democratic filibuster.