Signaling retreat, congressional Republicans said Wednesday they stand ready to scrap or soften provisions that sparked President Clinton’s veto of an $8.6 billion disaster aid bill.
Determined to prevail, Democrats brought the Senate to a standstill for the second straight day. “We want people to know we’re not going to give up” until there is agreement on a replacement bill, said the party’s leader, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in comments backed by House leadership aides, said he was ready to drop a provision designed to avert a government shutdown and handle it in separate legislation.
On a second contested provision, House Republicans said they were hoping to reach a compromise with the White House on a proposal to ban sampling in the 2000 census, but it wasn’t clear whether that issue would survive in any form in the replacement measure.
Negotiations were also under way on the price tag of a new bill. Lott at one point suggested $3.9 billion, but White House officials, publicly at least, were holding out for the entire $8.6 billion contained in the vetoed bill.
Whatever the outcome, there were unmistakable signs of restlessness in the GOP ranks over their leadership’s handling of an issue that Democrats have gleefully likened to the two government shutdowns of two winters ago.
“Finally, I think they’re getting the message that this isn’t serving anybody’s interests,” South Dakota Republican Rep. John Thune said of his own party’s leadership.
Twenty moderate House Republicans signed a letter, written on Delaware Rep. Mike Castle’s letterhead, calling on Speaker Newt Gingrich to allow a disaster-aid measure to come to the floor without the disputed items.
“There is another time, another bill, for these provisions,” they wrote of the anti-shutdown and census controversies. They added that disaster victims were “losing faith in the federal government’s ability to respond to their emergency needs.”
With a majority of only 11 seats, the GOP would lose if Castle and his 19 co-signers joined with Democrats to try and force passage of a bill stripped of the contested issues.
At the White House, press secretary Mike McCurry said, “We just are waiting for the Republicans to come to their senses and present to the president a good, clean bill that gets the funding where it needs to go and doesn’t gum up the works with extraneous measures.”
Lott and Gingrich both said they hoped for a swift resolution of the issue.
Gingrich said he hoped for agreement by the end of the day, although he coupled his comments with a denunciation of Clinton’s veto.