House OKs Bill Keeping Agencies Open While Agreement on Funds for Schools, Defense Nears

With the new fiscal year a week away, a united House approved legislation Monday keeping federal agencies open until mid-October while the Bush administration and lawmakers nail down a deal on next year's spending for education, defense and other programs.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have left the White House and most members of Congress eager to minimize the partisan rancor that characterizes their work on spending bills every fall.

As a result, the House passed the temporary spending measure by 392-0; Senate approval and Bush's signature are considered certain.

The bill would have government operating through Oct. 16 while Congress tries to complete the 13 annual spending bills needed to keep the federal workforce on the job in the 2002 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. None has yet been sent to President Bush for his signature.

Meanwhile, White House officials and legislators were close to agreement on starting next year's spending bills at a total of about $686 billion.

That would be about an 8 percent increase over this year's $635 billion. It excludes the $40 billion in emergency money Congress approved three days after the attacks, plus additional billions of dollars lawmakers are likely to approve in coming months for defense, intelligence, economic aid and other items.

The deal the two sides were discussing would boost next year's education spending by about $3.3 billion over Bush's request for $44.5 billion, with much of the money going for elementary and secondary education. An agreement could ease the way for House-Senate bargainers to reach compromise on a separate measure revamping federal education programs, a bill that has been among Bush's top domestic priorities.

The budget pact would also include Bush's proposal to add $18.4 billion to his original plan to spend $325 billion for defense next year.

There was still no final agreement, however, over the exact amount of spending and over an administration request to pay for the education increase with an across-the-board cut in other programs.

Leaders hope to finish the spending work, and perhaps adjourn for the year, by the end of October.

The spending bills cover about one-third of the $2 trillion federal budget. The rest of the money is for automatically paid benefits such as Social Security and interest payments to owners of federal bonds.