Once-aloof Clinton frantically needs Republicans Effort may fail to end filibuster over jobs bill ON THE POLITICAL SCENE

April 10, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- After 10 days of filibuster took him to the brink of total defeat, President Clinton is now frantically trying to bargain for Republican votes to get his short-term jobs bill through the Senate.

Even Democrats acknowledge that the effort may be too clumsy, too late.

With the Senate now in the middle of a two-week recess that began when the president gave up on a fight he couldn't win, the White House is trying to improve his position before debate resumes April 19.

But Mr. Clinton is using an unusual beg-and-bludgeon technique that could win more enemies than friends.

While his aides privately sound out the senators about what it might take for them to vote to end the filibuster, the president and other top administration officials are trying to publicly shame them into it.

Aiming at those who contend it is foolish to drive the country further in debt to finance "pork" projects like community swimming pools, Mr. Clinton fired this salvo Wednesday: "The Senate's got a swimming pool, doesn't it? Doesn't it? And it was built with taxpayers' money."

Bob Dole, the Senate minority leader who has been given the proxy to negotiate for most if not all of his colleagues, called that a "cheap shot."

There's no evidence that another week of such talk from the president will generate a public groundswell for the $16.3 billion economic stimulus package, which includes money for jobless benefits, highway construction, community development block grants and child immunization, the GOP senators say.

"Most people I hear from want me to vote the other way," said Vermont Republican Sen. James M. Jeffords, whom the local Democratic party has been blasting as "Dr. Gridlock," even though he is probably the most likely of his colleagues to support an end to the filibuster.

Mr. Clinton's lobbying effort is especially difficult because the 13 Republican moderates who are the target of his appeals have already tasted sweet victory over a cocky, young president they say has ignored them. And they are savoring this comeuppance every bit as much as the conservatives.

"They never discussed this with anyone on the Republican side," said Sen. John H. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, who often voted with the Democrats -- even against the wishes of Republican presidents.

On legislation such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, where Mr. Chafee's support was important in the Senate, he said he had a "long history of involvement" in the process. "There was none of that here."

It's not as though the Democrats didn't anticipate problems. They are keenly aware that they have only 57 of the 60 votes needed to break a Senate filibuster, and recall some 48 talkathons launched by the minority GOP during the last two years of the Bush administration.

President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, have both held some much-photographed sessions with Republicans on Capitol Hill as a bow to bipartisanship during the development of the administration's economic program and health care reform plan.

But Republicans say they have not been brought into the back room discussions where the real legislative strategy is made.

One opportunity to have consulted at least a few Republicans came when the White House was considering a compromise proposal offered by conservative Democratic Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Sen. David L. Boren of Oklahoma.

They proposed to delay until fall release of the funds for less urgent projects in the package, which would have had very little practical effect since not all the money can be spent immediately anyway.

Though many Republicans publicly scorned it, the compromise might have won enough Republican votes to end a filibuster from senators such as Mr. Jeffords, who says he can support some of the package but thinks it is larded with items that don't qualify for emergency deficit spending.

White House officials say they had expected Democratic and Republican senators to work out a compromise among themselves after the first attempt to shut off the filibuster failed.

Yet Mr. Dole said Monday night that the Republicans don't see any pressure to act at all, except on the $3.4 billion in unemployment benefits that are included in the package. Jobless benefits will run out sometime the week of April 19 if the Congress does not act.

Beyond that, there is some support in the Republican caucus for various other elements, including highway projects, summer jobs and child immunization.

Most of the controversy surrounds the $2.5 billion earmarked for community development block grants, which would provide cities like Baltimore a quick infusion of cash to launch speedy projects designed to improved the neighborhoods while putting people to work.

Those grants are very important to congressional liberals, including the Black Caucus, who have pressured the White House to hold its ground.

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