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Senate drug funding dispute threatens money bills

By
STEVE GERSTEL

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas threatened Thursday to attempt to block action on all appropriations bills until settling a dispute with Senate Democrats over paying for the president's anti-drug plan.

'We are not trying to play games,' Dole said. 'We would rather stop the clock for all appropriations.'

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President Bush's anti-drug plan calls for spending $7.8 billion next year, $2.2 billion more than Congress had called for before the president presented his program to fight narcotics at home and abroad.

Congressional leaders consider Bush's proposed funding level inadequate and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for anti-drug spending in the next budget of $10.1 billion.

Bush would raise the additional $2.2 billion from budget cuts in other programs, while the Byrd plan would raise more than $4 billion by an across-the-board budget cut of .575 percent, exempting Social Security.

Byrd is seeking to amend a Transportation Department bill with his proposal, and this has blocked action on the bill.

Dole said the Republicans are willing to negotiate the issue, but since Byrd's proposal has 'derailed' the Transportation Department bill, other spending measures should be held up, too, until the dispute is settled.

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The new federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and Congress is pressing to complete action on all appropriation bills before the deadline. Republicans could block the process with a filibuster.

'We don't believe, because of the issue of funding, we should proceed,' Dole said.

Dole said the negotiations with the Democrats could include such issues as mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty -- sensitive political subjects that could further complicate the issue.

Dole appointed nine Republican senators to negotiate the issue with a team to be appointed by Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell of Maine. They are Sens. Warren Rudman, N.H.; Pete Domenici, N.M.; Phil Gramm, Texas; Ted Stevens, Alaska; John Warner, Va.; Alfonse D'Amato, N.Y.; Mark Hatfield, Ore.; Strom Thurmond, S.C.; and Orrin Hatch, Utah.

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