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$3,000 pay raise on track in Congress

A $3,000 boost in congressional pay is on track, and so is continued federal support for the arts as lawmakers work through a stack of overdue spending bills needed to fund the government in the new fiscal year.

To give themselves breathing room, the House and Senate shipped President Clinton a stopgap measure Tuesday to keep federal agencies going without disruption for the next three weeks.Clinton signed the measure promptly - but coupled his approval with a warning that veto confrontations lie ahead unless the Republican leadership changes course. "In a number of instances, the Congress has failed to address matters specifically called for" in this spring's balanced-budget agreement, the president said in a statement. "In certain other instances, the Congress has addressed policy issues in ways that make the pending appropriations bills unacceptable."

The interim measure was necessary because lawmakers have cleared only four of the 13 regular spending bills. And as Clinton's statement indicated, controversy dogs numerous others.

One of the most contentious bills, a measure financing the Treasury Department and other agencies, barely made it through the House on Tuesday on a vote of 220-207 after opponents complained it would pave the way for a $3,000 cost-of-living increase in the congressional pay of $133,600. In fact, the measure makes no mention of a raise but has customarily been used in the past to block such increases. Clinton has not made an issue of the cost-of-living increase.

An amendment accepted in the Treasury spending bill would bar the imports of any products manufactured by children working as indentured servants.

The sponsor of the measure, Vermont independent Rep. Bernard Sanders, said it made clear that a 1931 law prohibiting the importing of goods made by forced labor also applied to children. He said it would compel the customs service, which has rarely enforced the law in the past, to take a close look at imported soccer balls, oriental rugs, clothes and other products often made by children.

The Senate arranged a final vote on the measure Wednesday.

In another controversy, Republicans flinched in the face of a veto threat and agreed to provide $98 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. The House had earlier voted to eliminate all funding, and the compromise - virtually all the money the White House asked for - was a defeat for the GOP leadership.

A veto threat loomed on another measure, though, as the House pushed through legislation that bars the use of statistical sampling in the Census in the year 2000 until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on its constitutionality. The Census Bureau wants to use sampling to correct for an anticipated undercount in minorities and others in hard-to-count areas.