Spending talks hit bottleneck Clinton targets GOP for failing to fund education initiatives

Hundreds of issues remain

Top Republican says stalemate caused by 'do-nothing president'

October 10, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In the shadow of imminent impeachment proceedings, President Clinton sought the solace of familiar turf yesterday, chastising the Republican Congress over a federal budget that is nowhere near passage 10 days into the fiscal year.

The outbreak of belligerence portends a long and difficult weekend, as congressional and White House negotiators struggle to reconcile their differences over at least six of the 13 annual spending bills that must be passed to keep the government running.

Just one day after the House voted to convene the third impeachment proceedings in history, Clinton stood in the Rose Garden with Democratic leaders, buoyed by the budget battle and declaring himself the guardian of the nation's schoolchildren. At issue is the Republicans' failure to fund Clinton's request for 100,000 new teachers and to subsidize school construction nationwide.

For the president, the Rose Garden rebuke may also have served as a way to change the subject away from the embarrassing prospect of an impeachment related to the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The scene offered a stark paradox: a president both imperiled and empowered by his foils in the Republican Congress.

"This budget is purely and simply a test of whether, after nine months of doing nothing, we are going to do the right thing about our children's future," Clinton declared. "Members of Congress should not go home until they pass a budget that will strengthen our public schoolsfor the 21st century."

Congress had been set to recess yesterday, with many members eager to return home to campaign before the Nov. 3 congressional elections. But House and Senate members had yet to agree among themselves on most of the spending bills, let alone send the measures to the president for his signature.

Many unresolved issues

After Congress passed a stopgap resolution last night to keep the government operating through Monday, Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, declared that more than 300 disputes are unresolved.

"There's not a chance of a snowball in Hades that we can reach all the agreements that have to be reached by Monday," Obey said. "We're going to need every second of this extension and then some."

Clinton signed the interim spending bill late last night.

"The president tonight signed a clean, continuing resolution to keep the government operating until Monday at midnight," a White House spokesman said.

Lawmakers must now struggle to roll as many as eight spending bills into one mammoth package that could exceed $300 billion, a daunting prospect because numerous provisions can be slipped in without notice, Democrats said.

"By the time we vote on this," said Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, "nobody will have read it."

Clinton chose yesterday to single out the Republicans' refusal to fund his education priorities, including money for new teachers, school construction and after-school programs.

But there were any number of items he could have chosen to highlight in a budget fight that burst into the open yesterday. Differences range from how to conduct the 2000 Census to funding for the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, from demanding insurance coverage for federal workers' contraception to insisting that parents be informed before teen-agers could receive contraceptives.

Democrats hopeful

Democrats, driven to despair this fall by the Lewinsky scandal, were practically exuberant about their prospects in the budget battle. Both parties had wanted to return to their districts to campaign full time in the 3 1/2 weeks left before the elections.

Democrats believe they have the most to win if they are marooned in Washington, where the media's attention would shift from the president's possible impeachment to a war of words over education funding and policy disputes over the environment, birth control and international finance. Democrats believe they're on the public's side on such issues.

Both parties have vowed to prevent a government shutdown like the episodes in late 1995 and early 1996 that proved politically disastrous for the Republicans. Emboldened, the Democrats are demanding that Republicans pay a high price if they want to avoid another shutdown.

"They're suing for peace," Kerrey said of the Republicans. "They have to get the president to sign the [spending bills]. He's in a position to say 'I will not sign without that education money.' "

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who joined yesterday's meeting at the White House, said: "We're not just going to roll over to cut deals to get out."

'It comes down to money'

Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington state, the fifth-ranking House Republican, voiced her concerns.

"We're disappointed the president has put us on the defensive," she said.

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