October 29, 1995
Web posted at: 9:06 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Claire Shipman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A House-Senate conference committee meets this week to hammer out a final budget bill while GOP legislators are working under the shadow of a veto threat from President Clinton.
The federal debt is almost $5 trillion and climbing. Republican lawmakers, now facing the task of merging House and Senate balanced budget plans, say their labors would hold that figure steady by the year 2002.
On Sunday, the chairman of the Senate budget committee again challenged Mr. Clinton to join their efforts. "So what I'm saying to the president, come to the table, bring something to the table that's real, that shows a balanced budget in seven years, and you might be surprised, we'll get a budget," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
White House officials also expect an eventual compromise, but not before a presidential veto. They see it as the best path to winning the changes Clinton is after and an important gesture of support for congressional Democrats who are predicting rocky negotiations.
"If they show some real willingness to compromise on those areas, I think we could put together a program pretty quickly. But I heard today, no compromise on taxes, no compromise on these other issues so I think it's going to be difficult," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
The first showdown probably won't be the presidential veto though. Instead, it will be a battle over extending the nation's debt ceiling. It's a routine procedure which allows the nation to continue to borrow to meet its payments due at home and abroad. The United States has never defaulted on its obligations and earlier this year, Republicans and Democrats had agreed to the increase. But GOP approval is turning into a budget bargaining chip.
"We feel very strongly that the president is not going to get a long-term debt extension unless, until we have a program really on track to make us balance the budget," said Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican.
On CNN's Late Edition, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin called that move, among other things, blackmail.
"This creates an uncertainty which is not desirable, could have adverse effects on markets and most importantly, is totally unnecessary," said Rubin.
By borrowing money from the Social Security coffers or other funds, Rubin might be able to avoid immediate default. But all agree those are very short-term and uncertain solutions.
In a sign of just how seriously the administration is taking Republican threats, some aides say if a debt ceiling crisis is still looming in mid-November, the president may have to cancel, or shorten the upcoming Asian economic summit and state visit to Japan.
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