WASHINGTON - Congressional leaders have decided to drop language from a massive federal spending bill that would have exempted Alaska from the Clinton administration's roadless ban. But the compromise bill will contain language that would block legal challenges to a forthcoming Forest Service decision on whether to designate any of the Tongass National Forest as wilderness areas.
Republicans on Wednesday shaped the final details of a $397.4 billion spending package financing nearly every federal agency and said they would push the compromise through the House today and the Senate by Friday.
GOP leaders said the goal was to clear the decks for new issues such as a fresh round of tax cuts and a possible war with Iraq - and to prevent the measure from lingering and its price tag growing even larger.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the president will sign the bill into law.
The bill, for the budget year that began Oct. 1, would increase spending over last year for schools, extra border and immigration agents, biomedical research, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and battling AIDS in Africa and elsewhere overseas.
Democrats complained that it would cut spending for land conservation and job training, and shortchange domestic security programs like protecting dams and nuclear power facilities.
Bargainers retained language barring opponents from using legal means to block the Forest Service's decision on wilderness areas in the Tongass National Forest.
It also retained language sought by timber companies allowing the U.S. Forest Service to expand its use of logging companies to manage its lands and pay them by letting them remove lumber.
Alaska lawmakers and timber representatives said the measures would boost Southeast Alaska's shrinking logging and wood-processing industry. The provision "would effectively allow unlimited clearcutting of forests throughout the United States by commercial logging companies," House Democrats said in a summary of their objections to the bill.
Dropped, though, was a provision that would have exempted Alaska's Tongass and Chugach national forests from the ban imposed by former President Clinton on roads and other development in many large parcels of federal land.
The budget bill was expected to win congressional approval, powered by momentum from its increases for many programs, its billions of dollars worth of projects for lawmakers' home districts and $10 billion Republicans added for the Pentagon and intelligence programs.
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