The government skidded toward a shutdown that would send 800,000 federal workers home today after President Clinton and Republican leaders failed to reach a budget deal in late-night talks Monday.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry said it is virtually certain the government will begin closing down this morning. As much as 40 percent of the federal work force could be idled in the first government shutdown in five years.
“There’s no continuing resolution and no funding authority to keep the United States government operating,” McCurry said. He dismissed any suggestion that Republicans could rush a bill through early in the day to avert a shutdown. “There’s no basis to believe that’s going to happen.”
In the effort to avoid a shutdown, Clinton met with lawmakers for an hour and 40 minutes Monday night in the Cabinet Room at the request of GOP leaders. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said they “went around and around, but we don’t have an agreement.”
Dole said the talks would continue this morning, with White House chief of staff Leon Panetta meeting with House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich and his Senate counterpart, Pete Domenici.
Democratic leaders emerging from the White House meeting were pessimistic that a short-term extension of spending and borrowing authority could be worked out in less than 24 hours. “There was no progress at all,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Even so, Dole said, “the fact we’re going to meet tomorrow is progress.” House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “We laid out in a pretty candid way where we feel different in terms of principle.”
The White House meeting came after Clinton vetoed twin spending and borrowing bills, insisting that Republicans drop provisions that would raise Medicare premiums and cut education and environmental spending. Republicans urgently requested to see Clinton, and went to the White House at 10 p.m.
“This could last for awhile,” said House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, adding that Republicans had rejected the idea of extending for 48 hours the spending authority that expired at midnight.
“… A lot of innocent people will be hurt,” he added. “We should not be facing this kind of blackmail.”
The key stumbling remained GOP insistence on Medicare premium increase. “This cannot be resolved as long as Medicare is on the table,” Gephardt said.
Clinton argued that Medicare increases were not necessary to meet Republican demands for a balanced budget.
“If America must close down access to quality education, a clean environment and affordable health care for our seniors in order to keep the government open, then that price is too high,” he said in vetoing a temporary spending bill.
Alice Rivlin, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told heads of federal agencies to have their employees report for work as usual this morning. If it looked like a temporary budget measure acceptable to the president could clear Congress today, agencies will operate normally, she said.
That appeared unlikely, however, as both bills contained provisions Clinton opposes, such as higher Medicare costs for the elderly and restrictions on future anti-pollution rules. The president pledged to block those items, despite the havoc it would wreak on federal services and borrowing plans.
“Ordinary Americans don’t like pressure tactics, and I would be wrong to permit these kind of pressure tactics to dramatically change the course of American life,” Clinton said as he vetoed the borrowing legislation. “I cannot do it and I will not do it.”
For their part, Republicans sought to portray themselves as responsibly doing Congress’ job of completing needed legislation and of being willing to seek compromise.
“We hope at some point the president will decide to talk with us and have a discussion about how to get this solved,” said House Speaker Gingrich.