Budget talks find no deal, win no cheer After 3 days, #F Clinton, GOP leaders fail to halt federal shutdown

They meet again tomorrow

Negotiations may last to Jan. 20, Dole says

White House agrees

January 01, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Idled federal workers had little to celebrate last night after President Clinton and Republican congressional negotiators failed to strike a budget deal that would end the partial shutdown that has hobbled the government for 16 days.

Three days of intense discussions -- aimed at producing a plan for balancing the budget over seven years -- concluded amicably but inconclusively shortly after noon with a promise to resume tomorrow evening.

The negotiators have concluded a first phase of airing all the issues, and they hope to finally begin serious bargaining at tomorrow night's session, aides for the key players said.

"We're making a little progress, but there's still a way to go," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who went to New Hampshire for a quick round of presidential campaigning immediately after the talks ended.

The Kansas Republican predicted in New Hampshire that the budget negotiations could drag out until Jan. 20. White House officials shared Mr. Dole's assessment.

The challenge is not only to figure out how to cut nearly $1 trillion worth of anticipated federal spending but also to iron out major philosophical disagreements over the role of the federal government in areas such as health care, welfare and environmental regulation.

"My New Year's wish is that we'll get this balanced budget plan and we'll do it in a way that protects the things we care about," Mr. Clinton said as yesterday's meeting began about 9:45 a.m.

"I've been very well pleased, and I think we've been somewhat successful because we haven't said very much about it. We've just got to keep working until we reach an accord."

But as Mr. Clinton took off for his annual New Year's Eve vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., the Senate convened briefly in another failed attempt to pass a plan that would return 280,000 furloughed federal workers to their offices tomorrow.

"It's not going to be a happy new year," said Mr. Dole, who has been unsuccessful in bridging wide disagreements between Senate Democrats and House Republicans on how to end the partial shutdown.

Nine Cabinet departments and many other agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, have been shuttered since Dec. 16 because a bill granting them temporary spending authority expired.

The budget impasse is affecting about 760,000 federal employees; 480,000 are on the job as "emergency" workers, while the rest are furloughed.

Government contractors and businesses, such as restaurants, that depend on federal business are also beginning the new year a financial bind.

Most of the federal agencies involved in the shutdown would have gotten a full year's spending authority under bills passed by the Republican-led Congress. But Mr. Clinton vetoed the bills because he objects to certain elements in the measures.

House GOP leaders won approval Saturday for a plan that would allow federal employees to go to work, but without pay or any authority to spend money.

In return, House Republicans wanted Senate Democrats to agree to anti-filibuster procedures that would speed passage of a seven-year balanced-budget plan if Mr. Clinton and the GOP leaders strike a deal.

Mr. Dole and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and aides to lawmakers in both the House and Senate spent several hours yesterday trying to come up with a compromise plan to end the shutdown, but failed.

Mr. Daschle said the GOP's back-to-work proposal would be meaningless without the authority to spend money.

"This is a facade," he said. Federal workers "would be required to sit on their hands and stare at each other day after day until we pass something that gives them the right to do something."

The budget debate has been going on in one form or another for months. There was still no clear sign yesterday of where the talks are heading.

"It's impossible to say one way or another whether they will actually reach an agreement," said White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

Instead, budget negotiators have tried to identify all areas of agreement so they can more sharply define what types of trade-offs will be required when the big decisions have to be made.

Yesterday's session was mostly devoted to a detailed discussion of proposals to overhaul Medicare, which is likely to be one of the core elements of any plan that emerges.

By tomorrow night, when the negotiators expect to be presented with a staff document that runs through all the issues and the options, the real horse-trading should begin, Mr. McCurry said.

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