Senate stalls latest effort on shutdown GOP wants to recall 85,000 workers at VA, Social Security

'Increasingly serious'

Clinton to consider Republican plan on stopgap funding

November 19, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Republicans tried yesterday to ease some distress from the partial shutdown of the government by seeking to recall -- with pay -- 85,000 federal workers who serve the elderly and veterans.

But the effort stalled, caught in the same standoff over the budget that has snarled part of the government in the longest federal shutdown in history -- with no end in sight.

The House approved a bill to reopen the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs and the Health Care Financing Administration. But Democrats in the Senate blocked speedy action on the bill, which would recall some federal workers, including 6,400 Baltimore area employees of the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration.

Early last night, meanwhile, Republican leaders made a new proposal to the White House for a stopgap spending bill that would reopen the government and keep it running while broader budget issues are resolved.

The Republicans stuck with their demand that President Clinton commit himself to balancing the budget over seven years, based on economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office. This Republican plan, however, would compel the CBO to consult with White House budget officials and other experts.

Mr. Clinton has said that the CBO projections are too pessimistic and would require shrinking social programs too painfully.

Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said administration officials would consider the offer overnight. But Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said he held out little hope that the White House would accept the offer. "I doubt it," he told reporters.

Thus, the widespread anxieties, inconveniences and personal losses caused by the impasse continued.

"This is becoming increasingly serious for a lot of innocent

people," said Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican.

The impasse not only has shut down part of the government, but it has also escalated tensions on Capitol Hill, with shouting matches, temper tantrums, and even fisticuffs on Friday night.

In one of the angriest exchanges yesterday, Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican, was scolded by colleagues for calling Mr. Clinton "a little bugger" on the House floor.

As the House broke into chaos over a Republican plan to adjourn for the weekend without resolving the plight of federal employees, Rep. Tim Roemer, an Indiana Democrat, said, "We have lost all civility and comity."

House Democrats chanted "Work, work, work!" and coaxed most Republicans to join them on a 361-32 vote to reject a move to adjourn. Republican leaders then simply recessed the chamber with the understanding that members would probably not be called back until tomorrow.

"This is not a time to leave on recess," Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, who had made little headway in talks with Republican leaders, said earlier. "This is not a time to cut out of this town when we are trying to resolve a very real crisis in the country."

In a calmer moment earlier, the House unanimously approved a stopgap spending bill that would provide money through the end of the year for the VA and for the two Baltimore-based agencies, SSA and HCFA. HCFA runs the Medicare program.

The rest of more than 700,000 furloughed federal workers would remain off the job. And the 1 million or so "essential" employees who are working still would receive no pay for now.

Social Security and HCFA are thought to have been given special treatment because their services, such as handling benefit claims and applications, are vital to two politically powerful voter groups: the elderly and veterans.

The Republican measure would benefit more people than would Mr. Clinton's move Thursday to recall 1,700 Veterans Affairs workers and 54,000 Social Security employees by tomorrow. And unlike the president's action, which requires those employees to resume work without pay until the crisis is resolved, the legislation being pushed by Republicans would restore salaries and benefits.

Hours after the House approved the bill, though, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle objected to speedy Senate action on the measure, which Republicans had hoped to complete yesterday.

Mr. Daschle said he was protesting the Republicans' refusal to approve a stopgap spending bill to reopen the entire government unless Mr. Clinton accepted a Republican condition: balancing the budget in seven years by using the CBO projections.

At the core of the dispute is the seven-year plan to balance the budget that the Republicans moved through the House and Senate Friday. It would squeeze nearly $1 trillion in savings, mostly from the benefit programs of Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, student loans and tax breaks for the working poor.

In his radio address yesterday, Mr. Clinton restated his intention to veto the balanced-budget bill.

"This budget's dead on arrival when it comes to the White House," said Mr. Clinton, who contends that the belt-tightening puts too heavy a burden on the sick, the poor, the elderly and children.

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