Clinton jobs bill put in jeopardy by GOP filibuster 'It's just real sad,' says president of failure in Senate

April 06, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans dealt a blow yesterday to President Clinton's economic program when they forced the White House into a retreat that may mean the demise of Mr. Clinton's short-term economic stimulus package.

Democratic leaders, who had delayed a two-week congressional recess in hopes of breaking a GOP filibuster on the $16.3 billion stimulus package, yielded last night and sent the senators home until next week.

Before adjourning, the Democrats put aside the jobs bill to get Senate action on a measure to extend the federal government's borrowing authority, which would have run out by tomorrow. That amounted to giving up what could have been a powerful, although politically risky, lever to force a compromise on the stimulus bill.

"It's just real sad," Mr. Clinton said of the stall on his stimulus bill as he headed to Baltimore yesterday for the Orioles' season opener against the Texas Rangers. "In a time when no new jobs are being created . . . it means that for political purposes they are willing to deny jobs to places like Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and Cleveland and Seattle."

The Senate Democratic leaders negotiated among themselves late last night over an amendment to be offered when they return. It would reduce the stimulus package by one-quarter, Democratic sources said.

But there was no indication that the GOP would accept that plan or that the stalemate would be broken.

White House officials said the Republican terms for a compromise would strip the package down to little more than the $4 billion in unemployment benefits that have already been approved.

Anything additional would have to be offset with cuts or revenue increases elsewhere in the budget -- a demand that was unacceptable to Mr. Clinton.

"Our choice was either to cave or fight, and some felt it was better to fight," a senior White House aide said.

The Republicans, who say they've been made to feel like odd men out in the Clinton era, delighted at watching the White House squirm.

"The longer we drag this out, the more it's becoming apparent that Republicans will have to be dealt with on everything," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a Republican from Indiana. "Maybe this will make them realize they ought to take the Republicans more seriously."

But Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, a Democratic ally of Mr. Clinton, said the episode threatened prospects for the president's entire five-year plan to reorder the nation's priorities from defense to social spending and to begin tackling the budget deficit by raising taxes.

"We might as well give up," he said. "They won't let us get a tax bill through. That's dead. The health care package, no chance. They don't want this president to succeed at one single thing."

During the next two weeks, President Clinton and senators from both parties are likely to try to sway public opinion to their side.

"This gives us time to make our case to the American people," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine.

The Democrats' decision to send the Senate home came after they failed yesterday morning on their third attempt to cut off the 11-day filibuster, and both sides acknowledged there was no chance of passing the $16.3 billion stimulus package without some compromise.

Even though the Democrats hold a 57-43 edge, 60 votes are required to shut down a filibuster, and Republican ranks held firm.

Negotiations aimed at producing a smaller, less expensive version of the package began in earnest yesterday afternoon between Senator Mitchell and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. But neither leader ever formally offered a substitute proposal, they said.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen and Leon E. Panetta, director of the Office of Management and Budget, were each called into the talks.

White House lobbyists hovered nearby and House leaders, whose cooperation would be required to sell any compromise to their members, were being consulted. President Clinton talked by phone to Mr. Mitchell and other participants in the discussions at least three times.

The White House had already offered to drop more than $1 billion in Pell grants and other relatively small items that Republican Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island called "trivia."

But the talks foundered on what the Republicans described as a fundamental, ideological difference.

They didn't want to vote for any new spending that wasn't offset by spending cuts or new revenues elsewhere in the budget. The GOP was holding out for a package that would include only the $4 billion already approved for unemployment benefits and whatever other items the administration would agree to finance without adding to the budget deficit.

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