WASHINGTON (AP) â€” A huge restoration project for Florida's Everglades that figures to be the last major piece of legislation passed by Congress before Election Day is also a way for House Republicans to blunt Democratic claims of a do-nothing Congress.
``There's still some work to do here, and we're going to get it done,'' said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Amid stalemate with President Clinton over the budget, the Senate recessed until a lame-duck session to begin Nov. 14. House GOP leaders decided to keep working to prevent Democrats from accusing them of shutting the Capitol down just before Election Day with the nation's business unfinished.
Yet the scheduling of the Everglades bill was infused with politics. Votes were scheduled Friday to ensure the attendance of GOP Rep. E. Clay Shaw of Florida, who faces a tough re-election battle and will have a powerful new tool for the final weekend of the campaign. The vote also gives Republicans a major environmental issue to promote in a hotly contested state in the presidential campaign.
The measure, part of a broader water resources bill that has already passed the Senate, would authorize $1.4 billion for the first phase of an eventual $7.8 billion federal-state project intended to restore the Everglades' natural sheet of water flow after decades of human interference and pollution from agricultural runoff. The southern Everglades is a protected national park.
Behind the scenes, House leaders were trying to decide how much longer to stay in session with no bargaining planned on budget issues. GOP leaders were meeting in private Friday with rank-and-file Republicans to plot their next moves.
More than a month after the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, the House voted 310-7 Thursday â€” more than 100 members were absent â€” for another 24-hour stopgap spending bill to keep federal programs running and avoid a government shutdown.
That measure also included $7.1 million to open a transition office next week for use by the new president-elect. The money was originally contained in a spending bill that Clinton vetoed.
The Senate, which is technically still in session until the House leaves, followed on a voice vote with only GOP Sens. Frank Murkowski of Alaska and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in the chamber. The Senate also approved a resolution deeming as passed any further one-day spending bills sent over by the House.
Democrats scoffed at the idea that anything of significance could be accomplished in the waning days before the election. ``The Republicans' goal seems to be to stay longer, and do less, than any Congress in history,'' said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Clinton had previously insisted that stopgap spending measures be approved only one day at a time to assure that Congress continue to concentrate on unfinished business.
But with no hope of finishing before the election â€” six of the 13 annual spending bills are still unsigned by the president â€” the White House has indicated the president will not stand in the way of a longer spending extension.
White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said that after GOP leaders rejected a negotiated compromise Monday on a $350 billion labor, education and health spending bill, there was ``no useful purpose'' in keeping Congress in session. ``We're not interested in doing this as a stunt,'' Podesta said.
The bill is S. 2796.
On the Net: Bill text available: http://thomas.loc.gov
Everglades database: http://everglades.fiu.edu/eol/about.html