The Clinton administration and Republican congressional leaders suggested possible common ground in their partisan budget wars Sunday even as the government lurched toward a temporary shutdown on Tuesday.
With both the White House and Republican congressional leaders insisting they would rather let the government close than compromise, a shutdown appeared imminent once the government’s authority to spend money expires at midnight today.
Congress is expected to finish work today on legislation extending the government’s temporary spending authority through the end of the month, but administration officials continued to vow that Clinton would veto the bill because it would make Medicare recipients pay another $11 a month for their medical insurance.
At the same time, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., suggested they would be amenable to a compromise if Clinton, who last summer proposed spending and tax policies designed to balance the budget within 10 years, would only support the Republican goal of seven years.
“He could end it in 30 seconds,” Dole said of the current standoff.
White House chief of staff Leon Panetta indicated Sunday that the president is willing to accept a seven-year target provided that his spending priorities - particularly Medicare and education programs - are retained.
“That’s something, obviously, we’re willing to discuss along with other issues,” Panetta said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
But such a concession must be negotiated separately and could not become part of a resolution specifically dealing with the pending crisis, Panetta insisted.
Clinton renewed his offer late Sunday to meet today with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders - but only if GOP lawmakers first agree to drop their proposed Medicare increase.
The authority to spend money is not the only threat looming over the continued operation of the government. Separately, the federal treasury has just about reached its legal capacity to borrow money to make up the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in.
Without legislation increasing the debt ceiling, said Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the government would have to take “extraordinary actions” to make a $25 billion interest payment due Wednesday.
Such actions, which include using surplus funds in some government trust funds for such programs as pensions for government workers, would have substantial effects on the nation’s economic integrity, Rubin said.
“It is very much like an individual who allows his or her credit rating to be tarnished,” Rubin said on ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley” program.
Congress has completed work on a bill that would extend the government’s borrowing authority, but Clinton has vowed to veto this legislation because it also would prevent the treasury secretary from borrowing from government trust funds to avoid default.