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THE BUDGET IMPASSE : Democrats Take Gingrich to Task : Congress: Speaker’s claim of Air Force One snub becomes fodder for ridicule on House floor. Republicans try to stifle critics with a vote.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As concerns mounted that personal animosity between House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the White House was impeding chances for a resolution of the government shutdown, House Democrats did their best Thursday to fan the flames of the conflict.

One after another, they took to the floor in the House to mock Gingrich for telling reporters that the impasse was partially the result of President Clinton snubbing him on Air Force One on the way home last week from the funeral of Israel’s slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said that Gingrich’s complaint to journalists at a breakfast Wednesday “gives new meaning to the phrase whine and dine.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), holding up an Oscar statue, said Gingrich had “sewn up the category of best performance by a child actor this year.”

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And several Democratic representatives displayed a blown-up cover of Thursday’s edition of the New York Daily News, which depicted Gingrich as a sobbing baby in diapers next to the headline: “Cry Baby. Newt’s tantrum: He closed down the government because Clinton made him sit at back of plane.”

Republicans sought to come to their leader’s rescue, voting 231-173 to prohibit Democrats to bring the enlarged cover of the newspaper into the chamber.

This was not the first such personal jab between Democrats and Republicans during the budget battles.

Last week, Gingrich used a golf club as a prop as he ridiculed Clinton for taking to the links while congressional leaders were seeking a meeting about the impending government shutdown.

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At a White House meeting earlier this week, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and Clinton exchanged harsh comments, with the President bitterly referring back to some nasty comments Armey made about First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton more than a year ago during her testimony on health care reform.

On Thursday, spokesman Mike McCurry ran through a long list of disruptions caused by the government shutdown, adding: “And all of this, apparently, at least in part, because the Speaker of the House . . . feels like the President of the United States didn’t pay enough attention to him on Air Force One. That’s a pretty sad story.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Gingrich’s gaffe will strengthen the President’s hand in negotiations with GOP leaders because it reinforces the perception, reflected in public opinion polls, that the White House has the political high ground in the stalemate. Republicans have tried to refocus the dispute on whether the President will agree to a timetable for balancing the budget.

Some Republicans said the nature of the Democratic attacks proved that the party cannot win on issues.

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Othershowever, admitted that the Speaker’s behavior has hurt the GOP’s image. “He got a little out of hand,” Rep. Sonny Bono (R-La Quinta) said of Gingrich. “We don’t need this.”


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