Federal Workers Cool Heels As Politicians Dig Theirs In
As President Clinton and Republican leaders traded insults and threats, 800,000 federal workers across the country were ordered home Tuesday morning when the budget standoff between the White House and the Congress left much of the government without funds to operate all but essential services.
Both sides dug in and made almost no progress in resolving their differences as harsh rain pelted the Capitol and overnight polls indicated that Republicans may have taken a dangerous gamble in challenging Clinton.
After White House officials and congressional budget leaders held a gloomy meeting on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning that offered little hope for a breakthrough, Clinton infuriated Republicans by strolling into the White House briefing room and delivering a confrontational, seven-minute statement.
“Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Washington have put ideology ahead of common sense and shared values in their pursuit of a budget plan,” Clinton said, taking no questions from the press.
Clinton’s remarks - and the Republicans’ angry response - suggested that the shutdown could last for days. A second Capitol Hill meeting late Tuesday also made little progress.
“We are at an impasse,” White House chief of staff Leon Panetta told reporters as he left the meeting.
Indeed, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Republicans would not send a new stopgap spending bill until later this week when they complete work on a seven-year balanced budget that the president has also promised to veto. The budget plan is the crux of the dispute between the White House and Congress, with Republicans hoping to gain a commitment to balance the budget in seven years as the price for letting the government continue operating.
Pushing every partisan hot button likely to rile the congressional leaders, and quickly succeeding in doing so, Clinton blamed the impasse squarely on Republican intransigence and misguided budget-balancing ideas.
Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., stormed into the Senate news studio just minutes after Clinton’s speech and delivered equally barbed attacks on the president.
Gingrich, who has publicly said all year that he relished a fight with Clinton that would lead to a shutdown, complained, “It is very difficult to know how to proceed with so many factual errors in one statement.” He added that it was “tragic to have a president of the United States so misinformed.”
The two leaders then refused to take questions as well. Gingrich later told reporters that there was no chance he would agree to meet with the president Tuesday after his televised attack.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the chairman of the Budget Committee who unsuccessfully tried to broker a compromise before Clinton vetoed the stopgap funding bill Monday night, turned to the cameras and said, “Mr. President, you make things very difficult with the speech you just made.”At the Capitol, many cafeterias were closed, but the congressional franking operation carried on as usual.
An overnight ABC News poll found that 46 percent of those surveyed blamed the Republicans for the stalemate and 27 percent faulted Clinton. While lawmakers in the more ideological House appeared thrilled with the dispute, Dole and many other senators looked like they had been invited to the wrong costume ball. “I’m sick and tired of this,” one GOP senator said. “We look like babies, and the president is scoring points.”