Possible signs of progress on the larger issues related to a balanced federal budget and controversial spending emerged Friday from the melting snowdrifts in Washington.
Members of the conference committee on defense appropriations agreed on a $265 billion budget for 1996 the fiscal year that started in October but remains partially unfunded largely because of partisan politics.
The negotiators from the House and Senate mostly are pro-military; they differ in how the very large defense pie should be sliced. President Clinton earlier vetoed another version of the 1996 defense budget. The president laid out what he could and could not accept in a new bill. The conferees, in contrast to the negotiators working on a balanced budget and major entitlement spending, hammered out an agreement that is expected to pass both houses and then be signed by the president.
Agreement among the top defense leaders of both parties in both houses strongly suggests that the gaps separating larger and long-term issues also could be closed, agreed on and enacted if the principals involved want that to happen.
The defense budget agreement also provides a window into which citizens may get some idea about the micro-issues that often block approval of important legislation. The negotiators settled at least tentatively disagreements related to missile defense systems, awarding of Navy contracts, and peace-keeping missions. Those sub-heads in the larger bill aren’t of equal importance, but they individually and collectively kept the appropriation from being approved.
The president got some of what he wanted in the revived bill; some things to which he had objected remain in the bill. On balance, the give and take within the negotiating team produced what Secretary of Defense William Perry said is a signable bill.
Both houses must approve what their defense leadership has produced. The House is expected to act as early as Wednesday of next week and the Senate afterward.
The bill’s passage should send a clear signal to the White House and the top congressional leadership about what is possible and expected on the balanced budget and related issues.