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White House could raise stakes in budget battle with Republicans

GOP leaders welcome challenge

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House plans to implement a tougher strategy against Republicans on the already overdue federal budget, announcing Tuesday that the president will no longer sign week-long temporary measures to keep the government funded.

Earlier this month, Clinton signed an emergency spending measure, which expires October 14, in order to avoid the prospect of a government shutdown and allow Republicans to finish work on a host of budget and other domestic issues. Items still on the table include measures to raise the minimum wage and a series of tax breaks for small business.


But only five of the 13 spending measures for the fiscal year that began October 1 have cleared Congress. And Clinton has already vetoed one of those -- a measure that finances energy and water projects -- because of a dispute over water levels and environmental concerns on the Missouri River.

The White House intends to reverse the current dynamic by forcing Republicans to pass shorter stop-gap spending bills. The White House will likely sign a measure to keep the government funded through next Monday, but will only agree to bills lasting a day or two at a time after that, White House officials told CNN.

The new strategy is designed to force Republicans to speed up work on the budget -- or risk a government shutdown less than a month before the November elections. The GOP holds a narrow five-seat advantage in the House of Representatives.

Although many regard an actual shutdown as an unlikely scenario during this election year, officials are hoping that mentioning a politically perilous face-off between Clinton and congressional Republicans will speed up the pace of work on Capitol Hill.

The new plan -- which White House Chief of Staff John Podesta shared with congressional Democrats on Tuesday -- is also designed to keep vulnerable Republicans at work in Washington instead of campaigning for re-election in their home districts.

"We're not going to let them stay out there and campaign while work needs to be done here," a senior administration official told CNN.

Another official told CNN that the White House has become increasingly frustrated at the pace in which budget talks have proceeded, as well as the fact that a number of Republicans have left for the campaign trail with Congress still in session.

"We want them to focus on the task at hand," another senior official told CNN. "We're trying to increase the pressure."

Eager to head home

But Republican congressional leaders welcomed Clinton's move on Tuesday, expressing eagerness to get back to their districts less than a month before election day.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert  

"It's great. We'd like to get things over with," said John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois.

John Czwartacki, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Republican leaders are hoping to finish work on legislation by Saturday. That would leave only a need for a continuing resolution of a few days' duration to allow for the paperwork to be completed.

The president's deadline will help appropriators "focus" on finishing their work, Czwartacki added.

The White House has already indicated it will sign a $58 billion transportation spending bill, which also sets a national standard for drunken driving at the .O8 blood alcohol level.

But the administration has expressed concern about language on an Agriculture bill that would allow the re-importation of prescription drugs. Disputes also remain over education funding, as the GOP remains steadfastly opposed to additional federal spending that the administration wants for new school construction and hiring additional teachers.

However, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew has reached several agreements with Republicans on the Veterans Administration and Housing and Urban Development spending bill, where several riders dealing with housing policy were eliminated. But passage is still pending.

Lew also plans to continue meetings Tuesday on passage of the Commerce, State and Justice spending bill, over which the administration continues to argue for additional funding for community policing and increased prosecution of gun crimes.





Tuesday, October 10, 2000


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