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Treasurer In Middle Of Budget Crossfire

Any further moves by the Clinton administration to juggle the books to permit additional federal borrowing without congressional approval may be unconstitutional, a House GOP leader warned Tuesday.

But the administration said it was left with no other options to avoid throwing the government into default on its debts.

With budget negotiations in recess, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, urged Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin not to go beyond the measures he has taken to extend borrowing.

“I have been advised that any additional steps that you may take will raise significant and perhaps insurmountable legal and constitutional questions,” Archer said in a two-page letter to Rubin.

The letter did not mention any specific counter-measures Congress could take, such as a lawsuit, if Rubin fails to heed the warning.

The administration said in response that it has been forced into the extraordinary maneuvers by the Republicans.

“These measures, all of which are provided for in existing law, have been made necessary only because of the majority’s insistence on using the debt limit as leverage to force the president to accept their budget priorities,” said Treasury spokesman Howard Schloss. He said it is Rubin’s “duty and intention to take all legal steps necessary to assure that the nation’s financial obligations … are honored.”

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said there were no post-Christmas developments to report on the budget impasse. The talks, recessed on Friday, are scheduled to resume at the staff level today with White House chief of staff Leon Panetta likely to join in on Thursday.

The Office of Management and Budget said that about 760,000 federal workers in unfunded agencies will receive only a partial paycheck either Dec. 29 or the first week in January. This will affect the 280,000 workers on furlough and another 480,000 who remain on the job.

One of those agencies is the Department of Veterans Affairs, where agency chief Jesse Brown wrote employees Tuesday, “I know this is bad news, coming just after Christmas, when you are already working in a stressful emergency situation, with many of your co-workers furloughed.”

VA spokesman Jim Holley said that full deductions for benefits will be subtracted from paychecks, leaving some workers with virtually no pay.

In his letter to Rubin, Archer said, “Based on your announcements to date, you will have effectively increased the indebtedness of the federal government by $76 billion above the statutory debt limit of $4.9 trillion.”

Continuing on that course “would seriously undermine the constitutional balance of power,” Archer said.

The Republican-controlled Congress has refused to raise the debt limit, a tactic designed to pressure President Clinton to agree to a GOP seven-year balanced budget deal.

Rubin countered with a series of bookkeeping moves that Treasury officials privately said could be extended as long as the stalemate lasts.