‘An Unnatural Disaster’ Clinton Scolds Republicans Who Refuse To Consider Bill To Reopen Government

Money for food, drugs and supplies at Veterans’ hospitals ran out Wednesday. Six states have run out of federal funds to pay unemployment benefits. Thousands of federal workers are struggling to pay their bills.

“I’ve got people coming crying to me,” said Bill Edmonds, a 36-year-old federal prison guard and union official in Fort Dix, N.J. “They don’t know what will happen.”

The impact of the 19-day partial shutdown of the federal government is continuing to widen, affecting more and more Americans who before had been largely untouched by the budget impasse.

In Washington, there were signs of growing unease among House Republicans about the wisdom of continuing the shutdown as a way of pressuring President Clinton to balance the budget.

But there was no evidence of an end to the longest shutdown in history.

Instead, there were these developments Wednesday:

House Republicans blocked consideration of a Senate-passed bill to reopen the government temporarily while Clinton and congressional leaders continue their budget talks.

Minutes before sitting down for his fifth budget session in six days with congressional leaders, Clinton accused the House Republicans of perpetuating “an unnatural disaster born of a cynical political strategy.”

One potentially significant twist was the growing discomfort in House GOP ranks with the hard-line stance about continuing the shutdown.

“I think our strategy is a very flawed strategy,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., whose district includes a heavy concentration of federal workers. “I think there are cracks and fissures (among House Republicans).”

Davis predicted that if GOP leaders try to adjourn the House and go home for three weeks, as the Republican leadership had planned to do Thursday, there would be a rebellion.

A number of House Republicans also softened their condition for an end to the shutdown. Earlier, many members had insisted that the shutdown continue until Clinton agrees to a balanced-budget plan. On Wednesday, some Republicans indicated they would consider ending the shutdown if Clinton presents a balanced-budget plan.

As the impasse continued, the impact grew:

Three non-elderly people died in Nebraska from an influenza outbreak sweeping the Midwest, prompting Nebraska health officials to beg for help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But CDC could not respond because of the shutdown.

Kansas became the first state in 60 years Tuesday to run out of money to pay unemployment benefits to up to 19,000 jobless workers. Five other states also have run out of federal funds for that purpose; five more expect to by Friday.

Most hope to keep paying the benefits temporarily from state funds alone, but “they don’t know how long they’ll be able to go on,” said Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

The Meals on Wheels program that delivers hot food daily to 600,000 elderly people will run out of federal money Friday, although local funds may keep the program going awhile in many areas.

Clinton blasted Republicans in the White House press room shortly after the House voted 206-167 along party lines to block consideration of a measure that would have ended the shutdown through Jan. 12. The GOP-led Senate had approved the bill by unanimous voice vote Tuesday.

“The overwhelming opinion of our members is that we should stay the course,” said GOP caucus chairman Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. “We desperately want to change the way things are done here, and now is the time to do it - not next week, not next year.”

But Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said that when it met behind closed doors the GOP caucus had split earlier over whether to reopen the government, voting 111-54 to reject Wolf’s call to follow the Senate’s lead and reopen the government through Jan. 12.

Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., said the House would have voted to reopen the government if House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., had permitted a straight vote on the question.

House GOP leaders also later blocked a motion by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to suspend House salaries during the shutdown.

Clinton detailed these other conse quences of the shutdown:

The Environmental Protection Agency shut down toxic-waste cleanups at 32 sites Tuesday and has stopped anti-pollution enforcement efforts everywhere.

260 small businesses on average are being denied $40 million in federal loans daily.

95 percent of all federal work-place safety inspections have stopped, including all enforcement against “sweatshops.”

2,500 mortgage insurance applications a day are going unprocessed.

Several federal workers told a news conference in Washington how much the shutdown is disrupting their lives.

“We are not a bunch of bureaucrats,” said Ruth Scott, a single mother of three who earns $22,000 a year at the Commerce Department. “My car has been threatened with repossession. I don’t know where my next payment is going to come from. Come November, I will remember this.”


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