Administration, GOP Bargain On Stopgap Spending Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ In an effort to avoid budget stalemate, White House officials and congressional leaders began face-to-face talks Friday aimed at keeping the government functioning when the new fiscal year begins next weekend.
As they met, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said it would be ``a major mistake″ to let the budget fight trigger a first-ever federal default, which House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., threatened Thursday.
The meeting among Clinton administration and congressional officials, in the Capitol office of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., produced no agreement, participants said. But each side expressed a willingness to find middle ground in their dispute over temporarily financing federal agencies while final budget decisions are made. Bargaining will resume next week.
``Clearly on both sides, this is a good-faith effort to avoid shutting down the government,″ White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said after he and budget chief Alice Rivlin met for an hour with Hatfield and Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
``I think we’ll probably have an agreement″ next week, Livingston said.
With the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 1996 looming, it is certain that some of the 13 annual bills that finance federal agencies will not be signed into law due to disputes between President Clinton and congressional Republicans. Non-essential workers in agencies whose budgets have not become law would have to stay home unless stopgap legislation were enacted.
Both sides say they want to craft a bill keeping agencies operating for several weeks, aware that they have bigger budget clashes ahead over Medicare, tax cuts and other issues. The administration has agreed to hold spending to the levels Congress approved earlier this year in its 1996 budget resolution _ which are below 1995 amounts _ but Republicans want to push the figures even lower to more closely match the cuts they are seeking for next year.
Their dispute reflects a desire by each side to avoid giving in to the other’s budget priorities for fear of signaling weakness that might affect negotiations on other spending and tax issues.
Also complicating the talks is the likelihood that the more concessions the administration wins, the fewer votes there would be for the temporary measure from House conservatives.
Meanwhile, Gingrich’s expressed willingness to precipitate a federal default came under fire from Greenspan, Clinton and a host of Democrats. The speaker had said that when the government’s borrowing authority expires, probably in November, he wouldn’t allow a House vote on legislation extending the debt limit unless Clinton accepted GOP plans to balance the budget over seven years and cut taxes.
``It would be a major mistake to do so,″ Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee. ``I don’t think it will happen. The issue should not be on the table. I urge you to resolve this problem without even a temporary default.″
At a news conference in Santa Monica, Calif., Clinton said Gingrich’s idea would boost interest rates, as many experts say, and do nothing to hold down the deficit. Also, Clinton said defaulting would be ``saying you are a piker.″
Gingrich’s ``arrogant brinksmanship can do irreparable damage to the United States, to its credit-worthiness and to its international standing ... in order to satisfy the political ambitions and hubris of one single individual,″ Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said on the Senate floor.
Amid the negotiations and rhetorical battling, lawmakers did complete some of their spending work:
_House-Senate bargainers agreed to a compromise $243-billion defense spending measure for 1996, the same amount as this year but nearly $7 billion above what Clinton wants. It includes $493 million to build more B-2 stealth bombers than the Pentagon wants and $700 million to start building another Seawolf submarine. It cuts Clinton’s $500 million request for converting defense technology to civilian uses to $195 million. The bill also eliminates House-passed provisions requiring congressional approval before any deployment of U.S. troops in Bosnia, and restricting abortions at overseas military hospitals. Clinton is expected to veto the bill.
_Senators, by voice vote, approved a provision by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and co-sponsored by leaders of both parties that would block the president’s and lawmakers’ salaries if the government’s authority to spend or borrow money lapses for more than a day.
_The Senate gave final congressional approval to a $2.2 billion measure financing Congress’ own operations in 1996, $200 million less than this year. The measure, approved 94-4, is the first of the 13 spending bills to be readied for Clinton’s signature. The president has threatened to veto it because, he says, lawmakers should not finance their own operations when other parts of government may have to close, but Republicans hope he may sign it anyway.
_By voice vote, the Senate approved $712 million in federal aid for Washington’s local government, the same as this year and as Clinton proposed. The measure would establish a panel to oversee the city’s schools. By 88-10, lawmakers added a provision by Byrd that would require community service by suspended students and would prohibit students from wearing street gang symbols.
_The Senate voted 86-14 for an $11.2 billion military construction measure for 1996. Reflecting the GOP’s pro-military sentiments, the bill would provide $2.4 billion more for 1996 than this year, one of the few bills that would see an increase over 1995.