On the verge of resuming top-level negotiations, House Speaker Newt Gingrich ruled out reopening the entire government Thursday until a seven-year budget deal is forged with the president.
“If there’s a will do get it done, that’s a two or three day negotiation,” Gingrich told a news conference. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, appearing with the speaker, said the talks to begin today at the White House should go into the weekend.
Gingrich said he understood the personal cost of the partial shutdown to federal employees, who beginning today will receive truncated paychecks if they work for an unfunded agency.
To prepare for today’s meeting between President Clinton, the Republican leaders and top congressional Democrats, White House and congressional staffers worked through the day Thursday - assessing negotiating positions and grounds for a compromise.
House Republican freshmen have been the driving force for keeping the partial shutdown going until there’s a seven-year balanced budget deal using Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Gingrich said that was a fair position, and pointed out that House Republican leaders other than himself staunchly backed the freshmen.
“The minute we have a budget agreement we should be able to get something through the House in hours,” Gingrich said. “The key is, we have to be in a position … to have something for members to look at.”
Gingrich, after initially meeting with the president, had broached the idea of reopening government while talks continued. The freshmen rebelled, and Clinton implied that the speaker had lost control of his troops.
Dole, asked about a comment by Senate GOP Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., that the two sides could split the difference on Medicare and get an agreement, responded: “There’s going to have to be give and take on both sides. It’s certainly the direction it’s going to go.”
Five House Republican freshmen demanded that Clinton, Dole and Gingrich be locked in a room and not let out until there’s an agreement.
“I’d want to know the duration,” joked Dole, who is both running the Senate and campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.
“People aren’t bashing the president. People aren’t bashing Congress. They’re bashing everybody,” said freshman Rep. Joe Scarborough of Florida, who addressed a news conference along with Reps. Jerry Weller of Illinois; Andrea Seastrand of California; Phil English of Pennsylvania and David Funderburk of North Carolina.
The freshmen said all issues were on the table, including the Republican-proposed $240 billion tax cut. “We are willing to negotiate on the size of the tax cut but we want to see where the president is willing to go on other issues,” English said.
While Americans who needed passports, or who were forced to alter vacation plans, were indignant over the partial government shutdown that began Dec. 16, nobody was more anxious than 760,000 federal workers in agencies that have not yet been funded.
Even quick passage of an emergency spending bill would not save most of them from receiving partial pay today or next week, because the checks have been processed. Full amounts will be deducted for health insurance and other benefits from many paychecks, leaving some workers with virtually no net pay. The Department of Health and Human Services, however, said it would lower deductions by basing them on one week’s pay.
The paychecks cover the period Dec. 10-23, and workers will be paid for their work before the partial shutdown began. The 760,000 includes 480,000 “excepted” workers who remain on the job in unfunded agencies, and 280,000 on furlough. About 230,000 will receive partial checks today.
The affected federal employees are “like most working Americans, the majority of whom live paycheck to paycheck,” said John Koskinen, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
But the news for these employees can get much worse. If no temporary spending bill is passed by Jan. 8, they face the prospect of no paycheck in two weeks, Koskinen said.