November 17, 1995
Web posted at: 11 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Disregarding President Clinton's threats of a veto, Republicans muscled a sweeping balanced-budget bill through the Senate, and chewed on a compromise offer from Democrats to end the budget face-off which has closed parts of the government since Tuesday.
A few hours after the House passed the bill, the Senate voted for it, 52-47. They amended it on one count, and that means the House will have to vote on it again Saturday.
"This is truly a historic accomplishment," said Speaker Newt Gingrich of the bill's passage. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole called it "the most important" vote of his career.
While the Senate was voting, key GOP lawmakers reviewed a proposal to end a four-day impasse that has idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and closed facilities from the Smithsonian museums to the Grand Canyon.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who took the offer to the Republicans, said the talks will continue.
"They're talking about goals, timeframes and a lot of ambiguous language," Dole said about the offer. "We'll just have to look at it. It's going to take awhile."
Clinton administration officials told CNN that the momentum was changing, and that Senate Republicans favored the compromise package. Leon Panetta described the bill as a "bottom-line" offer.
A key question in the budget dispute has been which organization's economic forecasts will be used. While Democrats are prepared to make the language on economic assumptions in a compromise interim spending bill vague, House Republicans want to use the forecasts of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which Clinton opposes.
Panetta attended a meeting with congressional Democrats, and apparently met later with House Budget Chairman John Kasich.
McCurry said he thought the meetings were a positive development. "It reflects the determination by the president, by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, to try to figure out a way out of this crisis that we're now in."
The pressure on both sides to end the face-off had increased as the week wore on. Dozens of moderate Democrats either abandoned the president or were thinking about it, and Republicans were aware that polls show more Americans blame GOP leaders, rather than Clinton, for the impasse.
"I hope we can have some resolution," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. "I understand that there are different people talking to different people about different things." (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)
Earlier in the day, Republicans forged ahead with approval a sweeping budget package that aims to balance the budget by 2002, ignoring President Clinton's threat to veto it.
Clinton said he will not approve any measure that requires "crippling" cuts in Medicare, weakens the environment, reduces educational opportunity or raises taxes on working families.
Republicans closed three hours of debate with a standing ovation as Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, presented the budget package. The bill cleared the House on a mostly party-line vote, 237-189. The Senate was expected to pass it by Saturday morning.
The bill, the cornerstone of GOP efforts to shrink the government, would cut taxes by $245 billion over seven years, while reducing spending on Medicare, welfare, and Medicaid benefits; reducing subsidies to farmers; and cutting back or eliminating hundreds of federal programs.
"This bill will lower interest rates, lower taxes and provide more freedom for the American people," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "It's up to the president to sign it; frankly, he has no alternative plan, and he is morally required to come up with a detailed plan of his own if he doesn't sign this."
But House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, said the balanced-budget bill was unbalanced in its priorities.
"It asks too much of people in the middle class and people trying to get into the middle class -- people who have almost given up on the American dream," he said. (120K AIFF sound or 120K WAV sound)
More from Gephardt - (632 QuickTime movie)
The budget crisis began four days ago when Clinton vetoed bills that would raise the debt ceiling and provide funds to keep the government running until the final budget was passed. Clinton said the bills contained provisions that would have forced him to accept the Republican budget plan.
The latest stopgap spending bill passed the Senate early Thursday by a vote of 60 to 37, with seven Democrats voting for it. Republican leaders said they might not send it to the White House for at least two days to put more pressure on the president.
Gingrich, who said Thursday he was tougher during budget negotiations because he felt slighted by the president on a trip to Israel, on Friday tried to recast his complaint.
"I am just saying there has been day after day, week after week now of lost opportunity for us to get together to sit in a room and work this thing out between the legislative and executive branches," Gingrich said.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole also lamented that no progress is being made toward settling the budget crisis. "I wish there was a better way in trying to resolve this than these public salvos back and forth," Dole said. "The president says something. We respond. Why aren't we talking to each other?"
But the personal rancor between the president and the speaker seemed to be easing. The White House agreed to give the Speaker's Office M&M's with the presidential seal on them in return for Georgia peanuts.
Talking about that goodwill gesture caused McCurry to smile as he said, "I think, finally now, we have a deal that the speaker and the president can accept."
The budget impasse has caused parts of government to remain closed since Tuesday, and to furlough nearly 750,000 federal employees.
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