WASHINGTON -- Denying holiday cheer to federal workers, President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders recessed budget talks for a week yesterday, and Congress went home until after New Year's.
As a result, the partial shutdown of the federal government, already a record seven days, was extended indefinitely.
Before Congress left town for its holiday break, the lawmakers approved a stopgap spending bill permitting emergency payments for veterans benefits, welfare checks, foster care and adoption assistance. Short-term spending also was approved for the Washington, D.C., government.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole also won approval from his colleagues last night of a bill that would allow federal workers to volunteer and confirmed earlier assurances that none would lose pay during the shutdown. House backing for the bill was uncertain, however, and a vote probably will not be scheduled until early January.
After a 2 1/2 -hour negotiating session with Mr. Clinton at the White House yesterday, the legislative participants said they did not expect a speedy deal.
Republicans are demanding a seven-year balanced budget plan before they agree to reopen the rest of the government.
"We believe we have reason to be optimistic, but we don't necessarily expect something to be completed soon," House Majority Leader Dick Armey told his colleagues after the meeting.
"I think there is a very healthy rapport being established," Mr. Armey said.
Mr. Clinton and the top congressional leaders are not scheduled to meet again until Friday. Second-tier negotiators representing Congress and the White House have no plans to assemble again until Thursday.
"Obviously, today the biggest issues remain, but the process seems to be working, and I'm encouraged and I want to continue to do it until we reach agreement on a balanced budget," Mr. Clinton said before yesterday's session. "That's what I think clearly we all want."
Mr. Dole said the negotiators had agreed to confine most of their comments on the talks to written joint statements, "so we don't have any problems about somebody saying something that might be misinterpreted."
The Senate leader was alluding to comments made by Vice President Al Gore after budget talks Tuesday that sent the House Republicans into an uproar.
Even so, Mr. Dole reported to his colleagues: "We had a good session, very positive. I felt people wanted to get something done. We discussed some very difficult issues."
"The hard decisions haven't been made yet," Mr. Dole said.
House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt, who also took part in the meeting, said he did not know when the budget talks would produce an agreement.
The Missouri Democrat acknowledged, though, that the nine Cabinet departments and other agencies shut down because they have not yet been authorized to spend money likely will remain so for at least another two weeks.
"That seems to be the Republican majority's choice," Mr. Gephardt said.
Technically, Congress has simply recessed, subject to recall to Washington on 12 hours' notice. GOP leaders said such a recall would come only if they reach a budget deal with the White House.
House Republicans reiterated yesterday their determination not to allow the government to fully reopen until a budget accord is reached. They see the pressure of a partial shutdown as necessary to keep Mr. Clinton at the bargaining table.
"Until we get that budget agreement, we have no choice but to keep up the fight, to keep the faith, to make sure that we stay on track and we tell the American people we are not going to back down," Robert L. Livingston Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told his colleagues in a fiery floor speech.
"We mean the seven-year balanced budget," the Louisiana Republican said. "As Winston Churchill said, 'We will never, never, never, never give in.' We will stay until doomsday and Merry Christmas."
While Mr. Livingston's address was intended in part to be humorous, it didn't go over well with some lawmakers who represent federal workers and contractors losing pay during the shutdown.
"With no prospects of anything happening next week, I am most discouraged,' said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Northern Virginia Republican.
Mr. Davis noted that none of the employees working for the affected agencies -- even those who have been on the job during the shutdown -- will get their pay until the crisis ends.
"Hundreds of thousands of people are not going to receive their paychecks by Jan. 1," he said.
Senator Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich have promised Mr. Davis and other lawmakers that no federal workers -- even those who stay off the job -- will lose pay during the government shutdown.
They won't get their money, though, until a bargain is struck with Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Dole told his colleagues yesterday that he is getting complaints from taxpayers about paying federal employees who are not working.
The shutdown is costing the government an extra "$40 million a day," said the Senate leader, who has disagreed with the House tactic of keeping the government shut down.
He said his proposal allowing furloughed workers to volunteer would remove a legal obstacle to encouraging employees to come back to the job.
It appeared unlikely, however, that the House Republicans would back such a plan. And barring some budget breakthrough, the full House isn't scheduled to return to Washington to vote on anything until Jan. 3.