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Congress okays budget plan

Faced with the biggest vote of the year, Washington lawmakers took their cue from the college kids. They stayed up all night arguing over something else.

Fueled by coffee and bitter partisan politics, the House of Representatives pulled its first all-nighter of 1995, napping in chairs, quoting Haitian proverbs, telling off-color jokes and listening to rock 'n' roll. One took a swim.

"They dimmed the lights in the cloakroom; there were bodies all over, some of them were covered," Rep. Henry Bonilla, a Texas Republican, said Thursday. "I slept on that bench right over there."

They fought over the flag, the Ottoman Empire, party-switchers and parliamentary procedure. At midnight Wednesday, more than 150 Democrats met in the Capitol basement for a rabble-rousing meeting.

Then, in a sleep-deprived stupor Thursday afternoon, the House made history, passing the first balanced budget plan in 25 years.

Overall, the deal would cut projected spending by $1-trillion and carry out the GOP vision of a more limited federal government.

When the gavel banged in the House at 4:20 p.m., it all seemed so predictable and routine. Who would have known the final tally, 239-194, came after the longest and most contentious night in the six-month tenure of this Republican-led Congress.

"We're so tired we won't know until tomorrow what we really did," said Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio.

Almost as an afterthought, the Senate, after a night's sleep, followed suit. In time for the evening news, the Senate voted along party lines, 54-46, for the plan to balance the budget by 2002. In both chambers, the Florida delegation split along party lines.

"On this Independence Day, the American taxpayer will have the freedom to save and spend more of their hard-earned money," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

It is the first time in 25 years, Congress has adopted a road map for wiping out the federal deficit.

"We'll sleep well tonight knowing we made a down payment on the future of this country," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich.

The Republican-crafted plan offers tax cuts to many Americans while dramatically scaling back government services for the nation's neediest people.

The government's two health programs for the poor and elderly, Medicaid and Medicare, bear the brunt of savings. The plan calls for reducing them $450-billion over the next seven years, largely by moving recipients into managed-care programs such as HMOs.

The spending outline does not require President Clinton's signature. But he can still veto the bills on spending and tax cuts that carry out the specifics of the plan.

The landmark budget was pro forma compared to the palace intrigue transpiring in the House. The political soap opera cast a shadow on the otherwise smooth sailing of Speaker Newt Gingrich's conservative revolution.

"The general impression outside the Beltway when they see a lot of uproar and ruckus, it looks like badly orchestrated imbecility," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Sanibel. "Voters think, "They're squabbling instead of doing their work.'

"

The legislative food fight broke out over one man _ Texan Greg Laughlin _ who picked this week to abandon the Democratic Party and join the GOP. When word leaked out that Republicans plan to reward Laughlin with a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Democrats cried foul.

"He sold out to the highest bidder," complained Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas.

Yet even Laughlin became a sidelight to the marathon stall Democrats pulled off through an array of parliamentary maneuvers.

"We need to slow this process down so the American people know what these cuts mean," said Rep. Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House.

It appears Democrats have finally learned what their GOP colleagues have known for years: when in doubt, gum up the works.

Gingrich, acknowledging that he and GOP Rep. Robert Walker frequently engaged in such tactics when in the minority, said the overnight delay was amusing.

"The liberal Democrats are allowed one temper tantrum per switch," said Gingrich, who switched to eyeglasses early Thursday morning after his contact lenses dried out. "Walker and I are connoisseurs of this; it was reasonably well done. I thought it was adequate; I'd give them an A-minus."

Veteran lawmakers such as Rep. Sam Gibbons brushed off the all-nighter.

"I remember when (Speaker John) McCormack locked us in the chamber," boasted the Tampa Democrat who came to Congress in 1963. He napped sitting in a chair and changed his clothes in the morning.

But some younger members found the experience more than a little unpleasant.

"Between 4 and 4:30 in the morning, it sort of reached a very sublime stage; I was losing focus, everything blurred," said Panhandle Rep. Joe Scarborough. "It was a night of many old men snoring in the Capitol."

As the night wore on, the freshman Republican swapped jokes with his buddies and listened to Bruce Springsteen.

Some lawmakers tried to make good use of the time.

GOP Rep. Scott McInnis returned constituent calls until about 1 a.m., figuring the folks in Colorado were still awake.

Logistics became a challenge, said Dunnellon Rep. Karen Thurman, a Democrat, because they never knew when another roll-call vote would be called.

"At 5:30 I started looking for a place to lay my head," she said. "I was afraid if I went to my office to sleep I would never wake up."

She found an open couch in a Capitol corridor and curled up with someone's suit coat.

After spending almost the entire night debating on the floor, Goss urged speedy passage of the budget blueprint.

"This should not be subjected to foolish partisan politics," he said shortly before noon, sporting the same suit he wore all night.

In the end, Goss got his wish. But there was little rest for the weary politicians. They worked into the night Thursday, dreaming of next week's July 4th recess.

_ Times staff writer Jennifer Thomas contributed to this report.

Congress' budget

APPROVED IN 7-YEAR BUDGET BLUEPRINT

_ Federal budget is balanced by 2002.

_ Provides $245-billion worth of tax cuts, including cutting the capital gains tax in half, eliminating the marriage penalty and giving a $500/child credit for most families.

_ Medicare, which has been growing at more than 10 percent annually, would be capped at 6.4 percent growth. The cap translates into saving $270-billion over seven years.

_ Caps Medicaid growth at 7 percent next year and 4 percent beginning in 1988.

_ Charges veterans $5 for prescription drugs beginning in 1996 and $8 beginning in 1999.

_ Increases defense spending.

_ Caps government contribution for health insurance for federal workers.

_ Encourages policy-makers to switch from the paper dollar bill to a coin.

_ Charges graduate and professional students interest on student loans while in school.

UNDER THE AX

_ Kills the Department of Commerce

_ Reduces job training programs 20 percent.

_ Eliminates the surgeon general's office.

_ Sells the federal air traffic control system, the U.S. Enrichment Corp. and naval petroleum reserves.

_ Phases out operating subsidies for Amtrak and mass transit.

_ Cuts the National Park Service budget 5 percent.

_ Opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration.

_ Slashes community development block grants by 28 percent.

SPARED SO FAR

_ No final decision on the fate of the departments of Energy and Education.

_ Restores about $2-billion for NASA

_ Maintain federal aid for Howard University in the District of Columbia.

_ Housing subsidies for the elderly, disabled and people with AIDS.

_ The Presidio national park in San Francisco.

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