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Senate postpones national testing plan

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Congress voted Saturday to block President Clinton's national testing plan for now and plowed through a pile of other bills as Cabinet members scoured the Capitol for the decisive votes for the White House's teetering trade initiative.

In their first weekend session of 1997, the House and Senate tidied up lingering business large and small in hopes of adjourning for the year Sunday night.Hoping to break a logjam that has stalled the last three spending bills for the new fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to combine them into a single $44 billion measure. The bill would finance the departments of Commerce, Justice and State, plus foreign aid and the District of Columbia's local government.

But Republicans and Democrats alike in the House said they were unhappy with its provisions on overseas abortions and procedures for the 2000 census, and gridlock remained. Fearing that the administration would cut deals with Republicans on abortion and the census to win their support on trade, House Democratic leaders asked Clinton to halt such bargaining until after the trade vote.

"We know you share our concerns" on abortion and the census, the top Democrats wrote Clinton in a letter.

Saturday's main action was behind the scenes, where Republican leaders were cooperating with Clinton in the trade fight.

Amid opposition by House Democratic leaders, they were backing the president's request for "fast-track" powers that would make it easier for him to win congressional approval of trade treaties. A climactic House vote was planned for Sunday, and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Commerce Secretary William Daley and other top administration officials prowled the corridors seeking support before the House adjourned Saturday evening.

"All the focus now is how do we get the votes for that," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

Real work proceeded on the House and Senate floors as well, often by lawmakers in more casual dress than usual. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., voted clad in blue jeans and sneakers, while Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, sported a denim shirt and string tie.

Both the House and Senate worked well into the night before adjourning, putting over the rest of their work for what lawmakers hoped would be the final day of the 1997 session.

Senators voted 91-4 to ship Clinton an $80 billion measure financing education and health programs that boosts spending for Head Start and biomedical research but gives Republicans a victory by postponing at least until 2000 the president's proposed tests of fourth- and eighth-graders.