House Republican leaders failed Thursday night to immediately sell the GOP rank-and-file on a plan to end the record 20-day partial federal shutdown by returning laid-off civilian workers to their jobs with pay.
Speaker Newt Gingrich and co-leaders in the House Republican hierarchy sought backing from fellow GOP lawmakers for the plan, which party sources said would have immediately returned all 280,000 furloughed employees. But the proposal got only mixed reviews at a stormy, closed-door party evening faceoff in a House office caucus room.
“It’s like herding cats and everybody has their own idea about how to save Western civilization,” Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., said of the meeting. He said that Gingrich told the lawmakers that “as a former … Army brat, I believe it is morally wrong and indefensible to have federal workers in the crossfire.”
“There is no resolution,” Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, a member of the House GOP leadership, told reporters at the conclusion of a roughly two-hour party caucus.
Boehner said there were “a lot of options put on the together a new plan that would keep the civil servants at work only through Jan. 26, said House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y. He said the House would vote on the measure today.
“We did not want the federal employees held hostage,” Gingrich told reporters.
The new measure would finance a handful of programs in the nine Cabinet departments and dozens of other agencies whose spending bills have not been completed. These include funds to administer unemployment benefits, for foster care and adoption help, to keep national parks and museums open, for many veterans benefits, and for Meals on Wheels, which provides dinners for needy senior citizens.
The bulk of programs in the affected departments would not be financed, however, which could leave many workers with little to do.
House leaders predicted passage of the bill today. “I expect to receive overwhelming support on the floor tomorrow,” Solomon said.
But, in response to angry conservatives, the leaders also prepared a second measure that the House might consider today.
It would restore all workers’ jobs and pay through Jan. 26, plus finance all programs in the affected agencies - but only if Clinton submits a seven-year balanced budget plan as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.
The budget-balancing packages Clinton has proposed this year have not used CBO figures, because they rely on economic projections that the president says make deficits look unrealistically large.
Some Republicans, especially conservatives, have insisted that Clinton should be forced to submit a balanced-budget using CBO figures as a price for bringing the government back to full force.
After the House rank-and-file rejected their leaders’ initial plan, administration officials pointed their fingers anew at the chamber’s Republicans and said Clinton was troubled by “the repudiation of the House leadership.”
But it seemed likely that Clinton would sign the measure if it reached him after the White House had said earlier he would have signed the first version lasting through March 15.
Just a day earlier, the House had rejected a Senate-approved plan, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., that would have unconditionally restored all workers’ jobs and salaries through Jan. 12.
“There is a majority in the Senate, and apparently the House as well, prepared to reopen much of our government …,” McCurry said. “But a willful, extreme minority in the House Republican caucus is apparently holding common sense and the American people hostage.”
The bill unconditionally bringing workers back through Jan. 26 indicated that they were willing to abandon their insistence that legislation ending the impasse be tied to an agreement with Clinton on a new seven-year balanced-budget plan. New polls that show the GOP is taking more blame from the public than Clinton for the stalemate but that margin was narrowing.
“Our message is a balanced budget over seven years,” Senate Majority Bob Dole, R-Kan., said on the Senate floor. “Our message is not some government shutdown. … Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten off message.”
Dole has opposed the shutdown openly in recent days and split with more militant House GOP leaders who have insisted it was the only way to keep Clinton negotiating seriously over eliminating federal deficits.
The development came on a day that Republicans cancelled a White House bargaining session on balancing the budget. Dole said he expected further sessions, however, today and Saturday.
A common Republican theme Thursday was a desire to convince voters that Clinton is at fault for the standoff, which has affected untold numbers of people dependent on federal contracts and services in addition to those on the government’s payroll.