WASHINGTON - A $37 billion spending cut bill that would allow the bond-financed sale of Alaska Power Administration hydroelectric facilities to Alaska was approved nearly unanimously by the House Monday night.
Senate action on the bill, which is sponsored by the White House, will not be scheduled until the chamber returns from Christmas recess early next year.
The House bill, which passed 429-1, would authorize the Alaska Power Administration to sell its two federal hydroelectric projects to state and municipal power authorities for an anticipated $83 million. The state, which is expected to acquire the bulk of the projects, has considered financing the sale with tax-exempt bonds.
The bill also would require the Bonneville Power Administration and three other federal power authorities to study options for privately refinancing more than $4 billion of loans they have received from the Treasury. The study requirements replace debt refinancing provisions originally included in the bill presented by the administration and recommended in Vice President Al Gore's "Reinventing Government" report.
In action on the bill in an end-of-the-session marathon late Monday. the House narrowly rejected by 219 to 213 a $90 billion spending cut amendment sponsored by Rep. Tim Penny, D-Minn., and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio.
The Penny-Kasich amendment also would have authorized the Alaska power agency sale, but contained no debt refinancing provisions. The amendment had been gaining momentum this fall until it was stopped by a frenzied last-minute lobbying campaign by the White House and the House Democratic leadership.
The defeated amendment contained about $34 billion in Medicare spending cuts and $70 billion of defense and domestic discretionary cuts, which the White House feared would undermine its military restructuring and health care reform plans. House Democrats cited these fears in declaring their intent to vote against the amendment.
The lion's share of the $37 billion in spending cuts approved in the House bill - $32.5 billion - would come from eliminating 252,000 federal civilian jobs, as recommended in the Gore report.
House leaders said the expect at least a portion of the job savings to be used to underwrite a crime prevention bill pending in Congress, as well as another extension of unemployment benefits.