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Clinton, Congress in Veto Showdown

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans warn that if President Clinton delivers on his promise to veto a tax-cut package and a spending bill that revamps immigration laws it will hurt Democrats' prospects in the Nov. 7 elections.

Defiant GOP leaders hoped to push both measures through the Senate on Friday, a day after a divided House approved the spending bill by 206-198 and the tax legislation by 237-174.

Both votes fell short of the two-thirds majorities needed to reverse a presidential veto. Even so, the brewing confrontation seemed likely to draw public attention to this year's long-running budget fight, just as it was looking as if Congress might finally complete its business and adjourn quietly — less than two weeks from Election Day.

Clinton's veto threat on a $39.9 billion measure financing the departments of Commerce, Justice and State for 2001 focused on the GOP's failure to overhaul immigration laws as broadly as Clinton wants.

The president would grant amnesty to all aliens who arrived illegally before 1986, while Republicans would ease restrictions for some close relatives of permanent residents and let others with long-running disputes over their immigration status go to court.

``Hispanics who are here legally abhor aliens who are here illegally,'' House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told a reporter. ``You're going to see the (poll) numbers in California go just like this,'' he added, moving one hand up and the other down.

Most public opinion polls in California show Democrat Al Gore leading Republican George W. Bush by a tangible but shrinking margin in the presidential race.

Clinton said the GOP fell short.

``Current Republican proposals would not help most of the people who need relief and would perpetuate the current patchwork of contradictory and unfair immigration policies,'' he said in a letter to GOP leaders.

Besides seeking amnesty, Clinton wants permanent residency for political refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti. He also would let some applicants for permanent residency avoid having to return home to await a final decision.

Clinton also complained that the bill ignored his plans to pay legal costs of the government's lawsuit against the cigarette industry and to expand hate crime protections to cover victims chosen for their sexual preference.

The tax bill would cut taxes by $240 billion over the next 10 years for some small businesses, people saving for retirement and others, and gradually raise the $5.15 hourly minimum wage by $1 by January 2002. It also would erase $30 billion in cuts planned for the next five years in Medicare reimbursements for health-maintenance organizations, hospitals and other health care providers.

Clinton said the tax package contained less than he wanted for bonds financing school construction, breaks for helping people afford health care and long-term care of relatives, and pension provisions. He also said HMOs would be treated too generously without being required to remain in Medicare, which some of them would like to leave.

``You chose to put forward a partisan legislative package that ignores our key concerns,'' he wrote.

In a brief interview, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said that if Clinton vetoed the tax measure, it probably would not be resurrected, spelling the end of popular provisions for the minimum wage, health care, and more generous pensions, individual retirement accounts and 401(k) accounts.

``That's a lot of good stuff,'' Hastert said.

The spending bill provides $618 million for land conservation and wildlife programs for coastal states as well as millions of dollars for the fishing industry, provisions helping broadcasting and telecommunications interests, and more than 200 projects for lawmakers with an estimated cost of $800 million.

These include $16 million for a water project for a company in Kentucky under a program designed for coastal states, thanks to Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., an author of the bill; and $8.5 million to clean up the Bronx River, home turf of Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., another sponsor.

Of the 13 remaining spending bills for fiscal 2001, which began Oct. 1, one remains stalled in Congress because of dispute over school spending and other issues: the $350 billion measure financing the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

The tax measure also would provide tax breaks for economically depressed urban and rural communities and cut taxes for some farmers, fishermen, and adoptive parents.


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