Stepped-up negotiations between the White House and Republicans to balance the budget by 2002 ended in acrimony only hours after they began Friday, with each side angrily criticizing the other’s proposal.
Within hours of the breakdown, efforts to work out a deal for a temporary spending bill to replace one that was to expire at midnight Friday also fell apart, and various government agencies prepared to shut down for the second time in a month.
Both sides said they hoped to return to the negotiating table and were willing to do so at any time over the weekend. But neither side said when that might be and each blamed the other for the impasse.
The Republicans said the White House did not present a balanced budget, and the Democrats said the Republicans were demanding cuts in Medicare and Medicaid as a condition of the talks.
Both sides took to the microphones to unleash a war of words. On the floor of the Senate, there was angry partisan sniping, with several Republicans coming close to calling President Clinton a liar and Democrats leaping to their feet to defend him.
In a late-afternoon appearance in the White House press room, Clinton blamed the Republicans for breaking off the talks.
“They wanted us to agree to deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid just as a condition to talk,” Clinton said. “Once again, they are threatening to shut the government down if I do not accept their deep cuts.
“The idea that we should abandon the commitment we made and they agreed to as a condition of talking is wrong and we will not do that.”
The president’s comments brought an irritated response from Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the Republican majority leader.
“I don’t think he’s telling the American people the truth,” Dole said on the Senate floor, “and if he thinks he is engaged in serious budget negotiations, he ought to look at the budget.”
Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democrat leader, rose to challenge Dole’s account of the negotiations.
“His version of the truth and mine could not be more different,” he said. “My version is that it was the Republicans this afternoon who got up and walked out of the room.”
The Republicans said at midafternoon that they would step up separate budget negotiations over the weekend with conservative Democrats in the House and in the Senate.
These informal talks have been under way for a week.
As for a new temporary spending bill, called a continuing resolution, to keep the government operating, the Republicans set a condition.
They said it would come only when Clinton called to say that he was ready to offer a budget that would be brought into balance over seven years, based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the country’s financial picture.
“The minute we get that call we will voice-vote a CR,” said Rep. John Kasich, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. “After midnight tonight it is up to the president to come to us in good faith.”