Clinton appears headed for defeat today on jobs bill Grim finale in Senate is major setback to president's plan to stimulate economy

April 21, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A monthlong Senate struggle over President Clinton's jobs bill headed toward a finale today amid growing indications that Mr. Clinton will suffer a major defeat.

Senate Democrats rejected yesterday a bare-bones Republican alternative to Mr. Clinton's package to boost the economy, but few held out hope that much more of the $16.3 billion measure could be salvaged.

"There are lots of discussions, lots of talks going on," said Sen. Dale Bumpers, an Arkansas Democrat."But if they are not more fruitful than in the past, that's likely to be the end of it."

If the Senate leaders fail today as expected to win the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster, the White House will probably have to decide whether to accept a lesser proposal or give up and blame the Republicans for refusing to help the ailing economy.

Either way, the outcome will be a setback for the president, who has spent a great deal of political capital on trying to keep his stimulus package intact.

The only element of the package that seems certain to survive is a $4 billion emergency appropriation to extend unemployment benefits that are due to run out in the next few days. Both the House and Senate have already approved the extension without providing the money.

Mr. Clinton's plan also calls for the separate release of $3.2 billionfrom the highway trust fund, bringing the total amount of new spending to $19.5 billion.

The Senate voted 53 to 45 yesterday to turn down a Republican plan that would have slashed that package by more than two-thirds -- with four Democrats defecting.

But no Republicans were lured by a Clinton compromise that reduced the $16.3 billion proposal to $12 billion while retaining the $2.9 billion in highway spending.

Although the Clinton compromise was endorsed yesterday by a 52-46 majority, five Democrats defected.And the White House was still working last night to find the three or more Republicans it will need today in a renewed attempt to break the GOP filibuster.

Patience is running thin on both sides of the aisle after nearly a month of wrangling over this small but symbolically important element of Mr. Clinton's overall program to rebuild the U.S. economy with money for highway construction, summer jobs for young people, child immunization and other programs.

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine has made clear he is determined to settle the issue this week. But neither the White House nor Senate Democratic leaders would say last night what approach they might take if they fail again today to break the filibuster that began before the two-week Easter break.

"We'll roll our britches up when we get to the creek," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Appropriations Committee.

The Republicans, who have taken advantage of Senate rules to parlay their 43 votes into a commanding position on this issue, offered yesterday to give Mr. Clinton less than two-thirds of what he's asked for.

In their first counterproposal after nearly a month of debate, the Republicans included the $4 billion the president wants to extend unemployment benefits, plus $1 billion in highway construction money and a combined total of $1 billion for summer jobs, child immunization and small business loans.

The Republicans also insisted that the $2 billion in spending beyond the jobless benefits be offset by administrative cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"It's just not a good idea" to add to the deficit to finance programs that don't constitute an emergency," said Senate Republican Leader Robert J. Dole, of Kansas. He said he had made a mistake in voting for similar legislation sponsored by President Reagan in 1983 that cost $5 billion but created only 35,000 jobs.

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