Senate breaks ranks on budget In split with House, Dole pushes bill to reopen government

January 03, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon and Karen Hosler | Carl M. Cannon and Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Lyle Denniston and John O'Donnell contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans, buckling under the strain of 760,000 unpaid federal workers, shuttered unemployment offices, and a lack of money to pay bills, broke yesterday with House Republicans over the partial government shutdown.

The split constitutes the first public rift between the nation's two most powerful Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who ushered a stopgap spending bill through the Senate last night, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who insists that closing down the government is the only leverage the GOP has to force a balanced budget.

It was unclear how the Republican split would alter the dynamics the budget talks with President Clinton, which resumed last night for more than three hours but recessed without an agreement. The principals are to reconvene this afternoon.

After last night's session, Vice President Al Gore said in a statement read to reporters on behalf of the bargainers: "Our talks continued to make constructive progress." There was no comment from the other participants.

The high-level negotiating sessions -- which have taken on the trappings of a domestic policy summit -- had produced no tangible agreements in earlier meetings and there was no indication they did so last night.

The evening gathering began shortly after 6 p.m. in the Oval Office but later moved to the family quarters where deliberations continued over a dinner of soup and pasta.

The group included only eight people: Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore, Mr. Dole, Mr. Gingrich, Democratic congressional leaders Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta.

As the session began, Mr. Clinton told reporters: "I hope we can reach an agreement." He called the Senate vote to return workers to their jobs "a very good sign" and urged the House to follow suit.

Looking for trade-offs

Earlier, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said of the high-level negotiators: "They are now at a point where they need to start making some trade-offs if there is going to be an agreement."

But it was not clear where the trade-offs might materialize. White House officials said privately, for example, that Mr. Clinton was not going to give much more on scaling back entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid, as demanded by the GOP.

However, there may be some maneuvering room on taxes. A key Clinton aide said the president realizes the Republicans "need" to leave the negotiations with a tax cut -- but that they don't need the full $245 billion array of cuts that passed the House and the Senate.

The aide indicated that the White House is operating on the belief that the Republicans -- at least some of them -- are tired of the impasse and could accept almost any deal provided it had tax cuts and a seven-year balanced budget deal.

For weeks, the president and his aides have pursued a strategy of dividing the Republicans in Congress. Mr. McCurry has said that if Mr. Dole was all the White House had to worry about, the two sides could end the partial government shutdown and hammer out a balanced budget agreement quickly. Standing in the way of such a solution, say White House officials, are House Republicans.

Until now, the Republicans' united front had held, but yesterday several Senate Republicans, led by Mr. Dole, indicated they'd had enough of Mr. Gingrich's -- and Mr. Clinton's -- intransigence.

In a floor speech, Mr. Dole invoked everything from the 3,000 foster children on Indian reservations who can't get their stipends to windows he said were shot out of an unemployment office in his home state of Kansas to the dire personal straits of federal workers who make less than $25,000 a year.

"There are not too many wealthy people working for the government," he said.

Mr. Dole's colleagues -- regardless of party -- added similar sentiments.

The shutdown "is disrupting the lives of millions of people, not only the federal employees, but ordinary citizens who depend upon the federal employees to provide them with important services," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. "There seems to be an assumption on the part of many members of the Congress -- maybe it reflects their own particular financial situation -- that people somehow have money stashed away that they can simply draw down on. That is not true."

Senate actions

The Senate passed two bills intended to get the government functioning. The first was a stopgap spending bill that would fund all the normal government activities until Jan. 12.

The second, a smaller step, would simply declare all federal workers "essential," require them to return to work, but guarantee that they be paid at a later date with no strings attached.

House Republicans held fast, reiterating their view that the partial shutdown is the only medicine that forced Mr. Clinton to the bargaining table.

"If the president wants to end this shutdown, he can get serious and agree to a balanced budget," said Mr. Armey, a Texas Republican.

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