Clinton, GOP Leaders Trade Attacks As They Try to Resolve Budget Impasse
WASHINGTON (AP) _ With the Smithsonian’s splendid museums shuttered and federal workers sent home in droves, President Clinton and Republican leaders sharply attacked each other Tuesday over a partial government shutdown even as they searched for a way out of their budget impasse.
``Let’s say, `Yes,′ to balancing the budget, but let us together say, `No,′ to these deep and unwise cuts in education, technology, the environment, Medicare and Medicaid,″ Clinton said in a strenuous assault on the GOP budget priorities.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly retaliated, saying Clinton was accusing the GOP of ``phony cuts that do not exist.″ He said the president’s own balanced-budget proposal would perpetuate deficits forever, and he challenged Clinton to help negotiate a seven-year plan to erase deficits ``without baloney.″
Senior White House aides met at midday with key lawmakers, the two sides arranging themselves around a green, felt-covered table in one of the Senate’s committee meeting rooms. They announced nothing afterward except agreement to meet again later in the day.
The first effects of the shutdown were being felt, although essential services such as the nation’s defense, air traffic control system and prison operations were maintained without interruption.
``Due to the federal government shutdown, the Smithsonian Institution must be closed,″ read signs posted up and down Washington’s Mall, home to museums where millions flock annually to gaze at exhibits of art, space exploration, natural history and more.
Mary Jo Kampe, visiting from Williamston, Mich., missed a long-awaited White House tour and was turned away at the nearby Holocaust Museum as well. ``I have waited a very long time for this so I’m very upset, disappointed,″ she said.
Some 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal civilian workers in Washington and around the world had a place to go _ home from their offices after reporting to work and being told their services were nonessential.
The American Federation of Government Employees filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s handling of the situation, including its definition of essential workers and its authority to require them to work without knowing when they would be paid.
The inconvenience penetrated even the Senate’s private preserve. Republicans gathering for their weekly senators’ lunch dined on Domino’s pizza _ cheese, vegetable and sausage toppings, they said _ because the Senate’s restaurants were closed.
The shutdown was triggered Monday night when Clinton vetoed legislation necessary to maintain regular government spending, saying he did so because it would have raised Medicare premiums. A White House meeting that lasted until the midnight hour failed to resolve the impasse.
Earlier, he vetoed a measure necessary to extend government borrowing authority, citing provisions he said would restrict Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s ability to manage the government’s finances. Despite the uncertainty, the financial markets reacted calmly to the events in Washington.
At the White House, spokesman Mike McCurry replied with an abrupt ``Yes,″ when asked if he thought the government would remain shut down Wednesday, and he said the standoff could be lengthy.
``It may be ... because the president has just now told you that those priorities reflected in that budget will not be accepted and he has point-blank told them that this president is willing to give up his presidency on that proposition rather than accept those budget priorities,″ McCurry said.
Republicans struggled to shift the focus from Medicare to their own seven-year balanced budget plan. After more than two weeks of House-Senate compromise talks, they were racing to wrap up the measure and send it to Clinton by week’s end.
That bill, too, faces a presidential veto, since it would curtail spending on Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and other issues, and would seek a large tax cut that Democrats charge is targeted to the rich.
But Republicans were hoping that veto would give them political leverage that they lost when Clinton cited Medicare premiums as the reason for his veto of the stopgap spending bill.
Republicans said their bottom-line demand for restoring the government’s spending authority was a pledge from Clinton to negotiate a comprehensive, seven-year balanced budget.
``We want to know what stands in the way of the president making a commitment that we can get a balanced budget in seven years as we proposed,″ said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
McCurry suggested that Clinton would be open to the idea of a balanced budget, but not one that reflected GOP spending priorities, and under different economic assumptions than Republicans are using.
Each side probed the other for internal dissent.
Democrats suggested Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., was willing to make a deal, but had been held up by Gingrich, R-Ga., and the 73 conservative freshmen House members.
Republicans countered that Clinton was ready to make an agreement but liberal Democrats were holding him back.
To which Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, perhaps reflecting his South Dakota roots, replied with a barnyard epithet.