Budget deal remains stalled over teacher funding issue
November 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:20 p.m. EST (2320 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An overall federal budget agreement between congressional Republicans and the White House remains stalled over several key measures, including money the Clinton Administration wants to fund 100,000 new teachers.
President Bill Clinton said Monday that Republicans agreed to fund new teachers last year. But Clinton said the Republicans have "mysteriously changed" their position and now want to use the money as block grants to the states, which he said could be used for voucher programs for private schools.
"The Republicans felt strongly about it when they were facing an election and I think it's wrong for them to abandon a commitment the next year that they were proud of in an election year, so I hope we can work that out," he said.
The funding for teachers is aimed at reducing class sizes in the early grades. Clinton touted a study that said reduced class sizes helps students, saying teachers, educators and evidence support the idea that reduced classes sizes help students.
"Our taxpayer money should go for more teachers and smaller classes in our public schools, not for vouchers for private schools," he said.
Republicans are proposing to spend more than the White House on education, but they want local school districts to control the money.
"We feel that flexibility should be allowed for local teachers and administrators to decide whether that money needs to go just for teachers or can it be used for individuals with disabilities ... or for computers or roof repairs," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Another Republican senator said that Congress is not going to give in easily to White House budget demands.
"If we give up the power of the purse, which is what is at issue here, then it really reduces the Congress to the state of being a eunuch," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). "So that's a fairly sticky point. I've checked with the leadership, and I think that there's going to be a fair-sized battle here.
Clinton also pushed for other White House priorities, including money for more 50,000 police officers, the payment of the country's United Nation's dues, an environmental program that would set aside more areas for protection, pass a federal hate crimes bill and a bill raising the minimum wage.
White House and congressional budget negotiators met privately Sunday night on Capitol Hill. The talks began early Sunday afternoon, as Jack Lew, the head of the White House budget office, and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee took up their differences on spending bills covering funding for the environment, law enforcement and education.
Sunday's meeting was the first time both sides met officially to discuss the remaining spending bills, so there was little expectation of a full agreement Sunday night, Republican congressional aides said.
Disputes remain over four of the 13 annual spending bills for the current fiscal year, funding seven Cabinet departments and other, smaller agencies. A fifth measure dealing with the District of Columbia's budget is all but finished.
Negotiators said Republicans came closer to the White
House position with an offer of an additional $338 million for the Interior Department and land programs. Democrats countered with a request for about $140 million over
the GOP offer.
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 keep the doors of government offices open. The current extension expires Wednesday.
The GOP proposes a 1 percent, across-the-board spending cut to balance the budget without touching the Social Security surplus. The White House continues to say any such cut is unacceptable, but Lott said Republicans would keep their promise not to touch the Social Security surplus.
"We're not going to dip into the trust fund, the way it's been done for the past 16 years or so," Lott (R-Mississippi) told "Fox News Sunday."
White House Chief of Staff John Podesta told NBC's "Meet the Press" there can be no deal without a commitment to hire 100,000 new teachers.
"Realistically, I think we are not prepared to go home until
we do get more teachers and lower class sizes," Podesta said.
Podesta said the White House has two other priorities it will fight for -- getting money to hire 50,000 police officers and pay the back dues the United States owes the United Nations.
Some members of the GOP-controlled Congress want to attach conditions to the dues.
"I think the president has to do some compromising here, not just the House," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Democrats warn, however, that U.S. influence in the world would be reduced without an agreement.
"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 told CNN's "Late Edition."
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.
CNN's Bob Franken and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.