Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Budget Babble Congress Speaks Mysterious Language

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Budget Babble Congress Speaks Mysterious Language

Article excerpt

APPROPRIATIONS. Reconciliation. Debt limits. Entitlements. Discretionary spending. As normal Americans get into the holiday spirit, this is the seasonal fare on Capitol Hill.

And if you can't figure out what's going on, join the club.

The budget debate rises to the pay-attention level when the government shuts down. With another deadline looming Dec. 15, there's no guarantee it won't happen again.

But shutdowns are only the most visible symbols of the conflicts simmering below the surface. There are three major fiscal elements in play:

The reconciliation bill. Renamed the "balanced budget act" by its Republican champions, it would reshape government in the GOP image. It would cut the Medicaid and welfare programs, send them to the states as fixed grants, and impose strict curbs on the growth of Medicare. It also would cut taxes for many families, corporations and investors and attempt to erase the federal deficit by 2002.

This bill is at the heart of the deeper conflict. It embodies Republican goals of federal fiscal austerity and greater state responsibility. But President Bill Clinton plans to veto it. Democrats say its tax cut is too large, its priorities misguided.

The 13 appropriations bills that fund the government. The fiscal year began last Oct. 1. But only seven appropriations bills have been signed - those covering energy and water, the Treasury Department and the Postal Service, agriculture, transportation, military construction, the Pentagon and Congress.

There could be progress this week on bills that pay for the Commerce, State and Justice departments; housing, veterans, environmental protection and other programs; foreign aid; the Interior Department; and the District of Columbia budget.

Also pending is the biggest government spending bill with the most direct impact on people: the one funding the departments of labor, education, and health and human services. The Senate hasn't even voted on it.

The debt limit. Congress has refused to extend the nation's borrowing authority. …

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