In another display of division between President Clinton and congressional Democrats, two liberal senators on Friday stalled a White House-backed compromise to cut more than $16 billion from current federal spending and provide almost $7 billion in emergency aid to California, Oklahoma and other states.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., cut off debate on the spending bill, a revised version of legislation vetoed by Clinton in early June, after Sens. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., objected to proposed cuts in social spending and demanded more time to debate and vote on amendments.
Their opposition scuttled plans by GOP leaders and the White House to whisk the bill through both the House and Senate before Congress’ week-long Fourth of July recess. The result is another delay for a longstalled bill that includes almost $5 billion to help California recover from the Northridge earthquake, as well aid to Oklahoma City in the wake of the April 19 bombing.
The bill, the product of long, painstaking negotiations between the administration and congressional Republicans, was approved by the House Thursday night, and Clinton said he was ready to sign it.
But the changes proved not enough to satisfy some Democrats, who argued that it still cut too much from energy assistance for the poor and other social programs.
“It’s a matter of distorted priorities,” said Wellstone. “So many of these cuts seem to be going down the path of least political resistance.”
The bitter fight over $16 billion in spending cuts bodes badly for the budget fights to come this summer, when Congress will consider far bigger cuts in projected future spending needed to carry out Republican plans to balance the budget.
“If this is a glimpse of what’s to come,” Wellstone said, “I’m not going to be silent.”
The dispute also highlights continuing differences in budget strategies between Clinton and his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill. Earlier, Clinton angered congressional Democrats when he unveiled a 10-year balanced budget plan that included cuts in health care and other programs - just as Democrats thought they were making political headway by criticizing Republican budget cuts.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said the president is disappointed that the Senate did not approve the spending cut bill before the recess.
“This is essential legislation, and it is our hope that the Senate will take it up immediately following the recess,” Panetta said.
At issue is legislation that would produce net savings of $9 billion in the current fiscal year.
The bill packages $16.3 billion in spending cuts with $7 billion in supplemental spending, including $6.6 billion in disaster assistance, $144 million for Oklahoma City, $145 million for anti-terrorism initiatives and $275 million Clinton requested to relieve debts owed by Jordan to the United States.