Congress works overtime on spending bills Partisan struggles delay longed-for break to campaign at home

October 11, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- In a campaign-style effort to regain their political footing after last week's impeachment vote, President Clinton and congressional Democrats challenged Republicans yesterday to enact broad education initiatives in the new budget.

"I do not want to see this Congress walk away from America's schoolchildren," the president said in his weekly radio address, delivered as Republicans and White House officials remained far apart on numerous spending matters that must be resolved before members of Congress can leave town for their re-election campaigns.

One major issue that did appear headed toward a compromise was financing for the International Monetary Fund.

Republicans said they were willing to provide the $18 billion requested by the president to shore up the fund's reserves, but only if the administration agreed to impose certain conditions on the fund.

Both sides said last night that they were close to an agreement.

But education was on the front burner. Republicans indicated yesterday that they would accede to the president's request for $1.1 billion next year to hire 100,000 teachers, on condition that the administration identify cuts of an equal amount elsewhere in the budget.

Erskine Bowles, the president's chief of staff and top negotiator on Capitol Hill, emerged from a meeting last night with Speaker Newt Gingrich, saying: "I think we have made some progress. I think they clearly have heard what we were saying on education, and I'm optimistic in that regard."

Gingrich agreed. "I don't currently see anything which is impossible to bridge," he said, adding that he hoped negotiations could be concluded by tomorrow.

Such pushing and pulling marked the nation's 10th day without a federal budget beyond the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

The president signed a second stopgap spending bill Friday night to keep the government running through midnight tomorrow. Congress has cleared only six of the 13 spending bills needed to keep the government open and is negotiating with the White House over what to include in one big omnibus package to present to the president.

There was little chance of action before tomorrow because the Senate and the House have postponed all recorded votes until tomorrow afternoon, and many members have left town for the weekend.

Both Republicans and Democrats have insisted they do not want to shut down the government, and, with the Nov. 3 elections looming, they are eager to set their broad campaign themes.

Republicans wanted to leave town with the focus on the enduring image of a wounded president subjected to an impeachment inquiry over a sex scandal.

Democrats demonstrated yesterday that they wanted additional time to change the subject to education, an issue that voters have said is of prime importance.

The president's two major education proposals call for hiring 100,000 teachers for hard-to-recruit schools in inner cities and rural areas, to reduce the size of the average class to 18 students, and for upgrading old schools and making them Internet-compatible by 2000.

Republicans have criticized the programs as pork-barrel spending that offers a big-government solution to problems that should be solved locally.

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader, said that the Democrats' emphasis on education was "pure politics, pure demagoguery."

He said the White House had not identified where to find the $4 billion for its education package because that would cut into other programs sought by liberals.

He also cast doubt on Clinton's engagement in the process, noting that the president would be out of town tomorrow and Tuesday, when negotiators might be stitching together their final budget package.

Clinton plans to be in New York on a fund-raising trip tomorrow, but his planned departure was delayed until until late in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, Clinton plans to visit Florida for fund raising and to xTC join senior citizens and declare that he is protecting the budget surplus to shore up Social Security.

Republicans returned throughout the day yesterday to the president's troubles.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the Democratic leader, said at a news conference, "Having spent four weeks talking about impeachment, surely we can spend four hours on the president's education initiatives."

He criticized House Republicans for spending "not one minute, not one second" debating the president's education proposals.

One of the biggest items on the table -- how much to give to the IMF -- appeared close to resolution. Republicans said they would provide the full $18 billion under conditions that curbed what they called the fund's profligate lending practices. They want the fund to stop lending money at below-market rates and to operate more openly.

"We've come a long way," said Rep. Sonny Callahan of Alabama, a Republican and the chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. "We're in a position to reach some type of agreement."

The administration also sounded optimistic.

"I think it's too early to tell, but I think there are more hopeful signs than there have been in quite some time," said Gene Sperling, Clinton's national economic adviser.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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