Clintons begin 1996 with quick getaway Budget negotiations to resume today

January 02, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HILTON HEAD, S.C. -- With the budget breakdown unfixed and federal workers still uneasy, President Clinton opened the new year by tackling nothing more difficult than driving golf balls through the rain after staying up until 2 a.m. yesterday talking with friends.

In a somewhat frantic one-day sojourn, Mr. Clinton flew with his family to this coastal playland to take part in the high-achievers retreat called Renaissance Weekend and indulge his love of golf.

Some 280,000 federal workers remained on furlough, and the budget talks, stalled for months, were poised at what could be a climactic stage, but Mr. Clinton had agreed with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole on a 48-hour break until today, and that opened up just enough time for the Clintons to make their 12th consecutive appearance at the retreat.

"It's one day," he called to reporters, sounding somewhat apologetic, as he left the Hilton Head Hyatt Regency yesterday morning for the sodden, Spanish moss-draped links. He thrust one finger into the air to emphasize the brief duration of this break.

Not that he was really able to banish thoughts of the budget fight, the biggest domestic issue of the new year and the old one, too. Far from it.

The president spent New Year's Eve at a crowded banquet hall with 1,200 others at the Renaissance Weekend, an event at which accomplished people of diverse backgrounds are supposed to share deepest thoughts about themselves, their families and the state of the republic.

Mr. Clinton got up to speak shortly before midnight, rambled through his usual oration on the state of the country, but promised his audience that they would be proud if they knew what was going on behind closed doors in the budget talks.

He didn't leave it there. After midnight, when the group sang "Auld Lang Syne" and "God Bless America" to a piano accompaniment, Mr. Clinton waded out into the center of the room and carried on for 90 more minutes or so on the budget issues with a group of journalists, business people, economists and others.

While Mr. Clinton revealed no secrets, he said it was clear the talks have moved beyond a sloganeering stage.

The weekend is generally viewed as leaning toward the liberal end of the political spectrum. Conservatives staged a "Dark Ages Weekend" in Miami as a spoof of the Renaissance Weekend.

But the Renaissance organizers sprinkled in a few more conservative voices and non-Democratic points of view this year: conservative columnist John Leo, "Bell Curve" author Charles Murray, Jersey City (N.J.) Mayor Brent Schundler, a Republican, and Citizens for Colin Powell founder Charles Kelly.

Mr. Murray said the seminar on "The Bell Curve," about race and intelligence, went "much more civilly than these things usually go."

This year's participants also included Olympic track star Edwin Moses, former Wimbledon champ Stan Smith, "Star Trek" actor George Takei and linguist Deborah Tannen.

Mr. Clinton did not attend any of the discussion sessions offered at the Renaissance Weekend, but first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, sat in on the closing session titled "A Final Word; If These Were My Last Remarks," according to event spokesman Guy Smith.

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