As the government shutdown headed into an unprecedented fourth day, President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders suggested they would find ways to recall some furloughed workers even as the White House and Congress remained mired in a stalemate over the budget.
Otherwise no progress was made in resolving the crisis as the sides communicated by dueling news conferences. After a daylong debate, the Senate approved a new stopgap spending bill passed Wednesday night by the House that would keep the government open until Dec. 5. But Clinton once again said he would veto it because it would bind him to accepting a seven-year balanced budget with more pessimistic congressional economic forecasts.
Clinton, who sent Congress his own bill to reopen government with no strings attached, charged that Republicans were insisting on the congressional estimates - which require more cuts to reach a theoretical balanced budget - to further their ideological agenda.
“Why, then, would you estimate that?” Clinton demanded. “Because that enables you to cut more. I do believe that there is a controlling element with an ideological bias toward cutting education and the environment and making as many cuts as possible in Medicaid and Medicare, and I think that’s wrong.”
Clinton announced that thousands of employees would return to their desks Monday to resume processing new applications for Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits. “I believe we are permitted to do better under the law,” said Clinton, who has been accused by some Republicans of too narrowly interpreting existing law to furlough excessive numbers of federal workers.
Moments later, at their own news conference, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said they may begin offering bills to provide money for certain functions now without funds, such as veterans’ compensation checks that must be mailed by the end of the month.
Gingrich suggested there was a new category of federal worker beyond those essential to health and safety - “very important for the public but not as essential” - who would be covered by the bills. Otherwise he said there would be no backing down by Congress if Clinton vetoed the new stopgap measure and Congress failed to muster the votes to override the veto.
“I think it may take us a little longer than we had hoped it would to get to a resolution,” he said.
Meanwhile, Congress is moving quickly to pass some of the spending bills that have been bottled up because of disputes among Republicans. That would help open up the government piecemeal. But some of the bills - such as a defense spending bill passed by both houses Thursday that would return 258,000 civilian employees to work - also face presidential vetoes, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of workers in the lurch past Thanksgiving.
While government funding has lapsed during budget disputes nine times since 1981, no shutdown has lasted more than three days, and most occurred over weekends and holidays.