White House, Congress in 'home stretch' on budget talks
November 7, 1999
Web posted at: 10:22 p.m. EST (0322 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House and Congressional
negotiators met privately Sunday on Capitol Hill, to hammer
out agreement on the remaining contentious issues that have delayed the 2000 fiscal budget for five weeks.
"We have very major issues to resolve: whether we're going
to put more teachers into classrooms to reduce class size and
improve performance in the lowest grades, whether we're going
to put more cops on the street to continue the decline in the
crime rate, whether we're going to pay our debt to the U.N.,"
explained White House Chief of Staff John Podesta on NBC's
"Meet the Press."
Thursday evening the two sides struck a deal on funding for a
$15.3 billion foreign aid bill, offering some hope of compromise on remaining issues that have set the Clinton administration and the Republican-controlled Congress at odds.
"He's the president and I'm the majority leader. We can't
have a fractious relationship that we can't communicate when
the people's interests are at stake," said Senate Majority
Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) on "Fox News Sunday."
President wants federal money for teachers
But high hurdles remain. The most contentious issue appears
to be education funding. President Clinton supports federal
money to hire 100,000 new teachers nationwide, while congressional Republicans want to send the money to local
school districts to let them choose how to spend it.
Podesta said there will be no budget deal unless Congress
adopts the White House plan.
"We're going to keep pressing them to fulfill the commitment
they not only made to the president but to the American
people that this program to put teachers in the classroom
will be funded adequately, and there won't be any gimmicks to
take the money out the back door, as we have now currently in
the current bills," Podesta said.
United Nations dues are overdue
Another bone of contention in the budget talks is whether to
pay more than a billion dollars in unpaid U.N. dues owed by
the United States. Some members of the GOP controlled House
want to attach conditions to the payment.
"After the end of this month, which is November, we lose our
vote in the general assembly of the United Nations," said
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California). "I for one think that is a major problem hanging out there, and I believe this president is going to be very tough and want closure on that issue," she said, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition."
"I think the president has to do some compromising here, not
just the House," replied Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
In addition to U.N. dues and education funding, other issues
also could create an impasse, including a possible minimum-wage hike, a proposed 1 percent across-the-board budget cut, and levels of funding for environmental programs.
Government on borrowed time
But the federal government is currently running on borrowed
time. The 2000 fiscal year began October 1.
Since then, Congress has been funding government by passing budget extensions which prevent a shutdown. The current extension expires Wednesday.
The possibility that either Congress or The White House might block another budget extension, shutting down the government as a way to influence negotiations appears unlikely. "I don't think there'll be a government shutdown. The president certainly doesn't want one, and he said that he will keep (signing the budget extensions) if that's what it takes until we can resolve our differences," Podesta said.
The calendar is providing some incentive for both sides to
wrap up a deal. Congress is scheduled to recess at the end of
this week in honor of Veteran's Day, and Clinton is expected
to depart on a 12-day European trip Friday.
Congressional Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report, written by Thom Patterson.