No end seen to shutdown, furloughs Republicans propose amended stopgap bill

Clinton promises veto

'This is moment of choice'

GOP drops increase in Medicare premiums

800,000 workers idled

The Government Shutdown

November 16, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders in Congress made a small concession yesterday to President Clinton in their high-stakes budget showdown, but there was no sign of an end to the partial shutdown of the government that has caused 800,000 federal workers to be furloughed.

The Republicans proposed an amended stopgap spending bill that would resume full government operations and return furloughed workers to their jobs. The bill is similar to the measure the president vetoed Monday night, but drops the increase in Medicare premiums to which Mr. Clinton had objected.

Even before the Republicans sought House and Senate approval, Mr. Clinton vowed that he would veto the second bill, saying it still would commit him to shrinking government social programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, much more than he believes necessary.

"I am not going to be blackmailed, pressured or shoved into the corner," Mr. Clinton said in a CBS television interview.

"I don't care how long it takes," he said. "Even if it's 90 days, or 120 days or 180 days. If it takes right into the next election, let the American people decide."

In remarks to reporters, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was equally unyielding. "I am willing to say to the American people: 'This is the moment of choice. You want to run a deficit and dump it all on your kids, then call the president and tell him to hang tough. You want to balance the budget, then call the Congress and tell us to hang tough. This is your moment of choice. But if you call the president, don't ever again tell us to balance the budget.' "

About 800,000 of the 2.1 million civilian federal workers have been furloughed because of the shutdown, including many of Maryland's 300,000 federal employees. Essential services, including defense, air traffic control and federal prisons, are operating normally.

For many Americans, inconvenience caused by the furloughs has mounted. Travelers could not get passports yesterday, pensioners could not apply for Social Security benefits, tourists could not visit parks and museums, and recruits could not enlist in the military. Phone lines on Capitol Hill were jammed with complaints.

In view of what the White House called "irreconcilable differences" with Congress over how to end the budget crisis, the president canceled a trip to Japan scheduled for this week. He will send Vice President Al Gore in his place.

The Republicans' new stopgap spending bill drops their original proposal to raise Medicare premiums. But it tacks on the additional requirement that the president commit himself to balancing the budget over seven years, rather than than nine or 10, as the president says he would prefer.

"This is not a battle about how we get there; it's a battle about whether we get there," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, the Republican chairman of the Budget Committee. "We are confident that if we don't get this now, we will never negotiate out a balanced budget."

The Republican strategy is to remove the sensitive issue of Medicare premiums that has enabled Mr. Clinton to argue that Republicans are making a cruel attack on the elderly. Republicans hope to force the president to accept or reject publicly their timetable for balancing the budget.

"If he vetoes that, his true colors will show," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a freshman Republican from Baltimore County.

But the White House and many congressional Democrats argue that Mr. Clinton cannot accept the seven-year timetable as long as the Republicans insist on using economic projections the White House believes are too pessimistic. Those projections, the White House says, would require squeezing Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs too painfully.

"You're trying to get the president to buy in ahead of time to the idea that he will make huge cuts in Medicare in order to meet your timetable for the budget," Rep. David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, declared on the House floor.

The Republican plan to reach a balanced budget by 2002 would require savings of nearly $1 trillion, most of it from benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, farm subsidies and tax breaks for the working poor.

Republicans also have fashioned a $245 billion package of tax cuts, which includes a $500 per-child tax credit and a 50 percent reduction in the tax on capital gains.

Twenty conservative Democrats in the House, who proposed their own plan to balance the budget in seven years but allow more spending by eliminating the Republican tax cuts, urged Mr. Clinton yesterday to support the seven-year goal.

"We do not make this request lightly, but such a step is warranted given the magnitude of the current budget crisis," members of the conservative coalition wrote.

The coalition's budget won the support of 68 Democrats in the House -- including Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland -- and 19 Senate Democrats. But Mr. Clinton opposed it, partly because it also was based on the more pessimistic revenue estimates.

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