Republican leaders moved closer to President Clinton in budget talks Monday with lower savings figures for Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers, one GOP negotiator said, “are essentially a last offer.”
Congressional Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, arrived at the White House with a plan that would scale back $63 billion from their proposed savings on Medicare and Medicaid over seven years.
After they had met for more than two hours, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the talks were “at a point where they’re either going to get an agreement or they’re not. It’s not going to drag on for another number of weeks.”
The talks broke up after more than four hours. Dole, Gingrich and other negotiators left the White House without commenting. All sides agreed to resume negotiations this morning, McCurry said.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, said of the new GOP offer: “These numbers are essentially a last offer. There is virtually no flexibility left in any of these numbers.”
Dole broke away from the negotiations briefly and returned to the Senate, where he said “there’s a spirit of cooperation and credible negotiation” at the White House meeting that Republican leaders found encouraging.
Dole later said negotiators should know by this evening whether a deal was possible. Asked about Clinton’s balanced budget proposal, Dole said it was interesting but “clearly not his bottom line.”
The budget talks resumed Monday, the same day furloughed government workers headed back to their offices, except those in Washington and elsewhere stranded by snowstorms.
The return to work resulted from Clinton’s weekend announcement that he would meet GOP demands for his own new outline of how to balance the budget by 2002 using accounting by the Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans welcomed Clinton’s decision to submit a plan, but were critical of its contents.
“We were asking the president to put something on his plate, and we’re glad he did,” Kasich said. “Unfortunately, what he put on his plate is a turkey.”
The GOP proposal calls for $168 billion in Medicare savings, $33 billion less than in previous GOP plans, and $85 billion in savings from Medicaid, $30 billion less than they asked earlier, Kasich said.
On welfare, Republicans proposed savings of $60 billion, Kasich said. The Clinton administration proposed $40 billion in savings.
The president’s plan calls for restraining Medicare spending by $102 billion and Medicaid spending by $33 billion, and would cut only $87 billion in taxes, compared with $241 billion in the GOP plan.
Kasich was present at the White House for Monday’s talks, as was Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. Kasich and Domenici remained in a nearby room and did not participate in the discussions, McCurry said.