With just one week to go before the clock runs out on the GOP’s first 100-day agenda, the Senate skidded to a bitterly partisan halt Friday, its debate over spending cuts ensnared in a complicated political imbroglio involving aid to the poor, the Mexican bailout, defense spending, tax loopholes for the rich and the high stakes of next year’s presidential race.
“Only in the Senate could things get so Byzantine,” lamented a Senate aide as Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., adjourned the gridlocked debate in disgust and went off in huff to New Hampshire to pursue his presidential campaign.
Left behind in legislative limbo were a bill to cut $15 billion from spending programs this year, a GOP effort to scuttle President Clinton’s Mexico aid package and a tax measure to help the self-employed purchase health insurance.
The spending bill was tied up in partisan knots over how much to cut from child care and educational programs aiding the poor, while the tax measure was paralyzed by a dispute over a loophole that allows wealthy Americans to dodge taxes by renouncing their citizenship.
The Mexico bailout got sucked into the political maelstrom over the spending bill at the last minute.
Keenly aware that his presidential aspirations could be hurt by the appearance of a Senate in continual gridlock, Dole railed loudly at Democrats on the floor for their opposition to the spending cuts.
Off the floor, he also quietly fumed at some of his fellow Republicans for their last minute ambush of the Mexican bailout plan, which he supports.
But after two days of trying to loosen the Gordian knot that the Senate had tied itself into, Dole appeared only to pull it tighter by threatening to hold up other legislation, including a defense supplemental urgently sought by the Pentagon, until the Democrats drop their opposition to the spending and tax measures.
Each side blamed the other for creating what they both conceded had become a parliamentary mess.
Debate on the spending cuts, which would divert money from current programs to offset the costs of disaster relief for California and to help reduce the budget deficit, stalled in its tracks on Thursday after Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., introduced an amendment that would block Clinton’s plan to shore up the Mexican peso.
The move appeared to take both the administration and Dole by surprise and Senate Democrats, angered by what they saw as a partisan move to embarrass Clinton, immediately threatened to filibuster it.
The Senate took up a measure, approved by the House on Thursday, to let the nation’s self-employed continue to deduct 25 percent of their health insurance premiums from their taxes by permanently extending a provision in the tax code that expired last year.
But that bill immediately ran into another roadblock when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., objected to the elimination of a provision that would have imposed a punitive tax on multimillionaires who seek to evade their taxes by renouncing their U.S. citizenship.