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Senate panel digs up a victory for mining

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Senate subcommittee is handing a victory to mining interests by restricting a Clinton administration effort to limit waste dumping at hard-rock mines and trimming a White House plan to buy more land for parks.

Both provisions were included in a $13.9 billion bill financing the Interior Department and federal cultural programs for fiscal 2000, which begins Oct. 1. A subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee used a voice vote to approve the legislation, which would give President Clinton $1.2 billion less than he requested.The vote came as Capitol Hill budget experts said Republicans will receive mildly good news next week from the Congressional Budget Office. They said the budget office will project, for the first time in decades, a surplus next year on the non-Social Security side of the federal budget.

That surplus will be between $5 billion and $10 billion, said one congressional analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity. It is important because while Republicans have promised not to use Social Security surpluses for anything but the pension program, they want to use the non-Social Security surplus for extra spending or to help finance a tax cut.

The money would not be enough to provide a dramatic tax reduction or bridge the roughly $30 billion spending gap between what Clinton and Republicans want, but it would help.

Clinton proposed spending $1 billion next year for what he labeled his "lands legacy" initiative, which would finance land purchases by the federal, state and local governments for conservation and recreation. It was one of Clinton's major proposals in his fiscal 2000 budget released in February.

Though not all of that spending was in the jurisdiction of the subcommittee, the bill would trim a $412 million piece of it to $237 million. Subcommittee Chairman Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said the cut was being made so there would be more money "to keep operating what we already have."

Senators also added language that would exempt some mines from a 1997 Interior Department ruling limiting the amount of land that mining operations can use to process or dump waste.