WASHINGTON -- Facing a second shutdown of many government agencies at midnight tonight, negotiators for President Clinton and the Republican leaders of Congress said yesterday that they would offer new proposals today for narrowing their differences over how to balance the budget in seven years.
"I'm going to make another good-faith effort," Mr. Clinton said yesterday from Paris. "I expect [the Republicans] to make a good-faith effort. We've cut about half the difference between us, I think, and now we have to go the rest of the way."
Republican leaders have said that Mr. Clinton's latest budget offer would spend $385 billion too much to eliminate the deficit by the target date of 2002. They say his effort today will determine whether negotiations continue.
The Republicans said they would not discuss a short-term spending bill to keep the government open past midnight until they have determined how serious the president is about reaching a budget deal.
"We're going to wait and see what happens [Friday] morning," said Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio, House Budget Committee chairman.
Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, told reporters yesterday that he could not guarantee the new White House proposal would bridge the entire $385 billion gap -- a calculation that administration budgeters dispute.
"We'll make an effort to try to come as close as we can," he said.
If budget talks proceed in earnest, a small group of negotiators will meet through the weekend and into next week. Meanwhile, Congress would pass and send to Mr. Clinton today a temporary spending bill to finance, at least through the middle of next week, the Cabinet departments and major agencies that would be affected by a partial shutdown.
After a partial shutdown last month, 800,000 federal workers were sent home for a record six days. A second shutdown tonight would affect fewer than half that number -- about 280,000 workers -- but Republicans have used the threat as leverage to force Mr. Clinton to the bargaining table.
The president said he would not yield to such tactics.
"There is no ground for shutting the government down," he said. "If they shut it down a hundred times, it still wouldn't force me to accept a seven-year plan that I think will hurt America."
Even so, the new deadline -- combined with the onset of the Christmas season -- has heightened the urgency with which both sides are approaching the task of finding common ground.
Until this week, the budget negotiations, ostensibly under way since before Thanksgiving, have been a matter of rhetorical posturing and jockeying for position by both sides. The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, said yesterday that he expects the talks this weekend to put the budget debate into "a new phase."
Much of the difference between the two approaches could be resolved, the South Dakota senator said, if the Republicans would shrink their $245 billion tax cut for families and businesses.
Mr. Clinton has proposed his own package of $98 billion in tax reductions, mostly for families. But Mr. Daschle said the administration was prepared to make its proposed tax cut even smaller as it seeks additional savings.
Republicans plan to revise their seven-year plan, which Mr. Clinton vetoed last month, by using $185 billion in unexpected savings to allow more spending in Medicaid and other social programs that the president has identified as priorities.
A bipartisan group of governors met in Washington yesterday to seek a compromise in the dispute over whether to maintain the federal guarantee of health care for the poor through Medicaid.