GOP Crafts New Stopgap Bill, but Clinton Vows Veto : Budget: President cancels Japan trip and pledges to stand fast as government shutdown continues. Revised spending measure keeps seven-year timetable on deficit.
Congressional Republicans began work Wednesday night on a new temporary spending measure intended to end the government shutdown, but President Clinton vowed to veto it even before it took final shape, saying he was prepared to hold firm in the budget standoff “even if it’s 90 days, 120 days or 180 days.”
To underline his position, Clinton canceled a diplomatic mission to Japan later this week, sending Vice President Al Gore in his place. And in another reflection of the intensifying budget impasse, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin announced he had borrowed from two civil service trust funds to avoid defaulting on the national debt.
Both the House and the Senate planned to complete action by today on a new version of the stopgap spending measure that Clinton vetoed Monday. That impasse triggered a partial shutdown of government operations and sent some 800,000 federal workers home on indefinite furloughs.
The new measure--which would restore normal operations to the government while the Congress completes its work on various budget bills--omits a proposed Medicare premium increase that Clinton said he could not accept. But it also would commit the President to a firm seven-year time frame for balancing the federal budget. Clinton so far has refused to embrace a budget-balancing timetable in the absence of a broader budget agreement.
“If the American people want the budget that they [Republicans] have proposed to be the law of the land, they’re entitled to another President, and that’s the only way they’re going to get it,” Clinton said in an interview on CBS television.
Clinton said the GOP was demanding “a level of cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, in education, in the environment and a tax increase on working people, all of which I find objectionable.”
Congressional Republicans said they decided to remove the proposed Medicare premium provision from the temporary funding bill in an effort to underscore Clinton’s reluctance to commit himself to a specific timetable for eliminating the federal deficit. Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the White House had been using the Medicare issue as a “mask” to cover up its opposition to a seven-year timetable.
“We’re going to give him a chance to sign up for a balanced budget,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told reporters.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said that if Clinton rejects the new measure, “the burden dramatically” shifts to him for preventing government workers from going back to work.
The White House flatly rejected the terms contained in the revised funding bill when they were proposed during closed-door negotiations earlier this week, according to Administration officials, and GOP leaders said that they expected the President to veto it.
As the suspension of government services extended through a second day, Treasury Secretary Rubin reported that he had been forced to borrow from two civil service trust funds for the first time in history to avoid defaulting on the national debt.
Rubin said the extraordinary actions were taken because the United States had reached the $4.9-trillion debt limit imposed by law but was obliged to make $24.8 billion in interest payments Wednesday to holders of U.S. securities, in addition to other obligations.
“I have taken actions to prevent a default for the first tine in our history on the full faith and credit of the United States,” Rubin said, adding: “This is no way for a great nation to manage its financial affairs.”
Until Wednesday, White House aides had insisted that Clinton would make the trip to Japan, combined with attendance at the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Osaka. Diplomats on both sides of the Pacific had viewed Clinton’s participation as essential, and the White House said earlier in the day that canceling the trip would be an “appalling” development.
“It is regrettable that Congress’ failure to pass a budget that protects the American people, keeps our government open and keeps our country out of default has compelled the President to cancel his trip,” White House spokesman Mike McCurry said in announcing the decision to send Gore in Clinton’s place.
McCurry said the President changed his mind about the Asia trip because of “hardening attitudes” in Congress, particularly the decision by GOP leaders to send the President a funding measure the White House has “repeatedly made clear is unacceptable.”
“So clearly the lines in this battle are being frozen,” McCurry said. “There’s not any indication of movement on the part of the Republican leadership. So that means that we have to prepare ourselves for the reality of a fairly long duration now.” The day’s developments dramatized the depth of the discomfort felt by both sides and the lengths to which they are willing to go to try to deflect blame.
In a candid acknowledgment of the personal tensions fueling the crisis, Gingrich told reporters that the GOP position had hardened in part because he and Dole felt they were snubbed by the White House during their trip this week to Israel for the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Both sides are so entrenched in the positions, Gingrich added, that the government shutdown “could well last 90 days.”
Assessing the impact of the government shutdown, White House spokesman McCurry acknowledged that both the Administration and Congress were “feeling the heat.”
McCurry estimated that during the first full day of the shutdown, 28,000 Americans lost a chance to apply for Social Security benefits, 22,000 were unable to get overseas visas, 726,000 lost a chance to visit national parks, 1,613 couldn’t apply for government compensation or pension benefits, and 700 were unable to enlist in the military.
Parks to Close
The National Park Service announced that it would begin closing parks and asking visitors to leave Wednesday night. Campgrounds, lodgings, restaurants and other concession services were all to be shut down by 3 p.m. Friday and remain closed until the budget impasse is resolved.
Roads through parks would also be closed, except for through routes, such as the Tioga Pass across the high country of Yosemite National Park. Charter flights to the Grand Canyon from Los Angeles and Las Vegas were also canceled.
Republican leaders said that the overwhelming majority of phone calls flooding congressional offices were from constituents urging them to “stay the course” and not accede to the President’s demands to scale back the budget priorities embodied in their temporary funding bill.
Gingrich called a meeting of Senate and House GOP press secretaries to try to unify their message around the theme that the conflict with the White House is a result of the President’s reluctance to commit to a balanced budget.
Gingrich showed the press secretaries a preview of a GOP television commercial that pieces together sound bites in which Clinton at various times has endorsed the idea of balancing the budget in five, seven, nine and 10 years.
Scott Brenner, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Speaker told them “this could go on for a very long time.”
During a breakfast session with reporters, Gingrich indicated that the White House had intensified the budget fight by slighting congressional leaders during the trip to Israel for Rabin’s funeral.
He complained bitterly about the treatment that he and Dole received from Clinton during the trip.