White House issues plan for shutdown Agencies will close Tuesday if president vetoes stopgap bill

Budget impasse

Clinton, Congress trade accusations of politicking

November 10, 1995|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- With Congress and President Clinton at an impasse over the budget, the administration warned yesterday that the nation should prepare for an "orderly" shutting down of the federal government Tuesday.

Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin is to disclose tomorrow precisely what such a shutdown of the government would entail.

But Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, said yesterday that 800,000 federal workers would be furloughed immediately, Social Security claims or veterans' claims would not be processed, and offices such as the Environmental Protection Agency would close most of their operations.

These steps would be required because the stopgap funding device that has kept agencies running with no budget -- called a "continuing resolution" -- expires at midnight Monday.

A day after the House approved legislation that would provide stopgap funds through Dec. 1, the Senate last night adopted the measure, making only minor changes. It is expected to be sent to the president today.

But the White House said the money it provides in such areas as Medicare and education is so low that accepting it would be tantamount to signing a GOP version of the budget that Mr. Clinton has vowed to veto.

"The Republicans are now obviously resorting to a form of blackmail in order to push their agenda onto the country," Mr. Panetta said. "The president has made clear that he will not allow that to happen, that neither he or the country should be forced to decide between whether we destroy Medicare or whether we shut down the government."

On Capitol Hill, incensed Republican leaders dismissed this talk as political posturing. By vetoing their bills, they said, it was the president who would be precipitating a crisis.

They also asserted that it was Mr. Clinton who was putting politics first.

"It's up to the president of the United States," said Sen. Bob Dole, the majority leader and leading Republican presidential contender. "If the government shuts down, his fingerprints are going to be all over it."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich added: "It's very difficult to work with a president who seems to be primarily driven by his political advisers to engage in public relations stunts instead of having serious negotiations to do the things the country needs to get the balanced budget."

Meanwhile, another budgetary matter -- the possibility the Treasury would default on its debts for the first time -- could, according to administration officials, undermine the nation's credibility in world financial markets.

The government is on the verge of exceeding its debt ceiling. Congress was working on emergency legislation to fix this as well, but the president and his advisers denounced the Republican solution.

They complained that it improperly includes unrelated legislation that the president opposes.

Although the Republican bill would extend the debt ceiling of $4.9 trillion by $67 billion -- and would avert an immediate default -- it also would restrict the authority of the Treasury secretary to manage fiscal affairs.

And it includes other measures the White House finds unacceptable, from proposing to balance the budget in seven years to abolishing the Commerce Department to curbing the appeal rights of death row inmates.

"The president will veto the House debt limit," Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin said. "It is crafted to coerce the president into signing a budget that he has already said he will not sign."

Mr. Rubin stressed that never in more than 200 years had the nation defaulted on its obligations. To do so now, he said, would send the wrong message to other nations in debt.

"The debt limit is not about deficit reduction; it is about meeting past obligations," Mr. Rubin said. "Progress on balancing the budget will occur only by making the difficult decisions about spending cuts."

But threatening default and closing down the government are not new weapons in the long-standing Republican-Democratic budget wars. In fact, the government has been closed down -- briefly -- seven times in the past 15 years, each time because a Democratic Congress wanted to spend more money than did a Republican president.

This time the dynamic is reversed, however, and neutral observers said it was difficult to predict how this would play out.

The urgent question is who will back down first, said Stephen J. Entin, an economist with the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation.

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