Moves Fail to Crack Lock on Budget : Spending: Shutdown continues as Clinton seeks ‘legal way’ to get federal workers back on the job. Dole points to revised GOP plan, but Congress adjourns until Monday.
The partial shutdown of the government continued for a fifth day Saturday despite a Republican effort to return some furloughed federal workers to their jobs and a Clinton Administration admonition to Congress to do everything possible to resolve the budget stalemate this weekend.
“We are examining every possible opportunity we have to get people back to work on Monday . . . if I can find the legal way to get them back to work,” Clinton said in an interview with NBC News.
Late Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said the Republicans had put forth a new proposal to end the impasse. The proposal is similar to previous GOP positions but defers slightly to the White House on the issue of which economic projections would be used in calculations to balance the budget in seven years.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said the Administration had agreed to review the offer and expected “there will most likely be further conversations [this afternoon].”
Throughout the day, the White House and congressional Republicans had maneuvered for partisan advantage amid increasing anxiety and acrimonious outbreaks on Capitol Hill over the potential political repercussions of the budget deadlock.
Meeting in a rare Saturday session, the House voted, 416 to 0, to approve a temporary funding measure that would end the furloughs for 85,000 workers who process Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefit applications. But Senate Democrats, hoping to turn up the political pressure on Republicans, blocked consideration of the bill later in the day.
Clinton has already called many of these employees back to work to limit the nationwide disruption caused by the shutdown, but congressional authorization is necessary for them to be paid.
The House was unable to follow through on its plan to complete action on the GOP’s massive seven-year balanced-budget plan, which will become the focal point of the budget debate if and when the short-term funding crisis is resolved.
The GOP blueprint to cut taxes by $245 billion, limit spending on social programs and balance the budget by the year 2002 had passed both the House and Senate on Friday, with the Senate making minor changes that necessitated a second and presumably final House vote. But the bill became mired in partisan bickering, and the vote was deferred until early this week.
The House became bogged down after Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) used an abusive term to describe Clinton during floor debate. Chastising the President for repeatedly shifting gears on a time frame for wiping out the federal budget deficit, Mica said: “Well, my colleagues, we’re here to nail the little bugger down.”
Democrats demanded that Mica be prohibited from speaking for the rest of the day for violating House rules of decorum. He was spared the sanction by a largely party-line vote of 199 to 189.
Mica, a two-term lawmaker, apologized to the House for the “inconvenience” he had caused and acknowledged: “I probably should choose better words.” He blamed his unfelicitous phrasing on the pressure of the budget impasse.
Addressing the budget showdown in his weekly radio talk, Clinton said he would veto the Republican budget-balancing plan--the heart of the GOP’s 1994 campaign promise to shrink the size of government and reshape its priorities--as soon as it arrives on his desk. He said the measure would bestow tax breaks on the wealthy and inflict “extreme cuts” on Medicare, education and environmental programs.
“This budget’s dead on arrival when it comes to the White House,” Clinton said. “And if the price of any deal is cuts like these, my message is: No deal. The effort to make the American people swallow a budget that will hurt our country is over.”
Emerging from a two-hour meeting with the House Democratic caucus, White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta insisted that the partial government shutdown is part of a deliberate political strategy by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to create a crisis that would force Clinton to make concessions.
Even as the House Democratic leaders insisted that their members were unified, GOP leaders got an uncharacteristic rebuke from an anxious rank-and-file.
The Republicans had planned to adjourn Congress until Monday afternoon. Democrats sought to capitalize on the prospect of the Republican-led House taking a break today while hundreds of thousands of government workers face another week without pay. Clinton canceled a planned trip to Japan because of the conflict.
“This is not the time to leave . . . when we are trying to resolve a very real crisis in this country,” Panetta said.
When GOP House leaders moved to adjourn late Saturday afternoon, they were voted down, 361 to 32. Jubilant Democrats chanted: “Work, work, work.”
But Republican leaders subsequently used their parliamentary authority to unilaterally declare a recess. Angry Democrats then took over the chamber, declaring that Gingrich had opted to close down the House rather than risk a vote on the Clinton compromise proposal to break the budget deadlock.
The shutdown has occurred because of the failure of the White House and Congress to agree on an interim spending bill--known as a continuing resolution--to fund government operations until the 13 annual appropriation bills are passed for the 1996 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Clinton has signed four of the bills, and Panetta indicated he will sign two more. But Congress has not completed work on the others.
In the absence of completed appropriations, a total of 800,000 employees, or 40% of the civilian federal work force, were furloughed Tuesday. At five days and running, the furlough is already the longest ever.
The dispute is now focused on two primary issues: Congressional Republicans are willing to provide temporary funding to end the shutdown only if Clinton will commit himself to negotiate a plan to balance the federal budget in seven years. In addition, they want to base the budget-balancing arithmetic on the relatively conservative economic projections of the Congressional Budget Office.
Although Clinton has pledged to work toward a balanced budget, the White House has refused to commit itself to such preconditions--which it says could lock it into unpalatable tax and spending decisions later--until the overall budget negotiations take place.
Clinton told NBC that Republicans in Congress “need to send some signal to us that they’re willing to work in good faith on this, on the common goal, which is balancing the budget.”
Heading into the weekend, intense negotiations took place over an Administration proposal to adopt a compromise that would establish a “goal” of balancing the budget in seven years based on CBO economic assumptions--or under an alternative time frame and economic assumptions agreed to by negotiators.
Panetta said the Administration offer had been well received by Republican Senate leaders. But Gingrich and House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) reiterated Saturday that it was unacceptable to them.
During a carefully staged “town hall” meeting with about 50 tourists in the Capitol, Gingrich said: “The one person standing between the balanced budget and the American people is Bill Clinton.”
Referring to the dispute over the economic projections, Gingrich said the issue is: “Are you going to find some way to fake it? . . . Or are you going to use an honest yardstick and insist that it is real?”
Gingrich said he and Dole were prepared to meet with Clinton through the weekend.
The new short-term funding proposal offered by the Republicans continues to call for a balanced budget in seven years based on CBO figures. But the process used to estimate future government revenue and spending would include “a thorough consultation with, and review with, the [White House] Office of Management and Budget and other government and private experts.”
The White House has wanted to base the budget calculations on more optimistic OMB projections, which would require smaller cuts in federal spending.
* HOLDING THE LINE: California’s GOP freshmen are adamant about not compromising on the budget. A3