Political leaders failed once again Sunday to break the budget deadlock or lift the shutdown which has idled parts of the federal government for 16 days, and then left the capital for a brief New Year’s holiday.
A last-minute bid to return 280,000 government employees to their jobs - a goal held by a growing share of Congress - bogged down amid partisan accusations and is not likely to be considered again until Tuesday.
“It’s not going to be a happy new year, but we will meet the day after New Year’s” to try to return furloughed employees to their jobs, said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who made no attempt to conceal his displeasure with the shutdown. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s a little ridiculous as far as this senator is concerned.”
At the White House, President Clinton and GOP leaders met for more than two hours Sunday in a session devoted to Medicare spending and other issues. The talks were characterized more by cautious exchanges of views than breakthroughs.
“We’ve made some good progress on a lot of fronts,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., as he left the White House after the third straight day of high-level meetings on balancing the budget by 2002.
Later, the president; his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton; and daughter, Chelsea, 15, flew to South Carolina to attend an intellectual family retreat called Renaissance Weekend.
Clinton, Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., plan to resume budget talks Tuesday evening while aides continue discussions in the meantime.
Negotiators will grapple with “the trade-offs that have to occur,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry, who downplayed reports that the two sides have agreed on $100 billion in cumulative savings from various programs. The real number, he said, “could be considerably bigger.”
The Republican plan would yield $350 billion more in savings toward the goal of a balanced budget over seven years than the White House plan would, according to one recent analysis.
Although participants have described the talks as constructive, the failure Sunday to end the partial government shutdown underscores the political crosscurrents that imperil a sweeping budget compromise.
Sunday, Senate Democrats torpedoed a GOP-backed proposal to recall furloughed workers because the plan also would have imposed restrictions on debate about the budget when it reaches the Senate floor. This would tie the hands of dissenters in the Republican-controlled Senate who might want to obstruct or amend a budget proposal.
The ill-fated recall proposal, supported by Gingrich and Dole, would have restricted debate on a broader budget-balancing plan to 12 hours, a softer position than the 10 hours offered by Republicans the previous day but a substantial departure from the virtually unlimited debate routinely allowed in the Senate.
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