For the 12th time this deadlocked budget year, President Clinton signed a stopgap bill Friday to keep government running - and to let lawmakers begin a two-week spring break.
By voice vote in the House and a 64-24 Senate roll call, lawmakers agreed to temporarily let dozens of agencies function while the two sides continue their relentless battle over the size of job training, health and many other programs for 1996. Without the temporary legislation, large parts of many agencies would have been forced into an election-year closure at midnight that neither party wanted to see.
The White House said Clinton signed the bill in early evening. The resolution keeps the agencies in funds through April 24 - when there will be a bit over five months left in the fiscal year. Clinton also signed another budget measure extending the government’s ability to borrow money and letting working Social Security recipients receive higher benefits.
“I hope this will be the final continuing resolution for fiscal 1996, and I intend to continue working with Congress to see that it is,” Clinton said in a statement.
He said the long uncertainty over the budget this year has left school districts with the prospect of laying off teachers, has delayed environmental cleanups, and has left states, local governments and government contractors uncertain if they will have the money they need to perform vital services.
“It is time for Congress to do its job,” Clinton said.
Legislators had hoped to complete their 1996 budget business before their Easter-Passover break, which began Friday afternoon. None was more eager to do so than Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the GOP presidential candidate who wants this Congress to build a record of Republican achievements. Instead, chagrined lawmakers will return in mid-April facing unresolved spending questions about this year, and having to start work on the 1997 measures.
“I think we’re 85 percent there, maybe 90 percent,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., said of the 1996 legislation. “We’re solving issues that have been lingering for nine months.”
“Both sides want an agreement,” said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the committee. “We’re heading there, but it’s two steps forward and one step back.”