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Signs hopeful for budget agreement

budget battle

But big gap remains between Clinton, GOP

Claire Shipman

December 11, 1995
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EST

From White House Correspondent Claire Shipman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta was meeting Monday with Republican budget negotiators amid some hopeful signs a second government shutdown might be avoided. The White House praised the decision by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to revise its economic forecast to a more optimistic assessment. Under the change, the gap between the budget proposed by Republicans, which is based on the CBO estimate, and that put forward by the president, which uses numbers from the Office and Management and Budget (OMB), is narrowed by about $100 billion.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry praised the change as "a step in the right direction." However, Congress and the White House remain about $300 billion apart as they remain unable to agree on an economic forecast to serve as the basis for fiscal projections.

Dole and Gingrich

Another reason for hope in the dispute was a mile-high telephone call Sunday between President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders. Hours after blasting GOP budget plans, the president talked with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole by telephone from Air Force One while returning from a weekend in Arkansas. The White House called it a positive discussion, but cautioned that major differences still exist between Republican and Democratic positions. "They agreed they ought to continue good-faith discussion," McCurry said Monday.

Republicans also showed a glint of optimism. "The president has assured us once again that he would like to be involved before he leaves for Paris in the next two or three days," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said. Clinton plans to witness the Bosnia treaty signing in France on Thursday. "I have an idea we'll have a budget that the president will agree to by my wedding anniversary on Wednesday," Armey said during an appearance on CNN's "Late Edition."

A senior White House official described the conversation Sunday as "very positive, very cordial" but said a breakthrough was not imminent. The White House said Clinton had not committed to a meeting with Dole and Gingrich, although one was possible as early as Tuesday. And McCurry cautioned reporters not to expect a meeting between Clinton and GOP leaders unless some progress was made on the negotiations.

printed money

Amidst the budget rhetoric, economists say balancing the budget would prove a much easier task if either side had the political courage to put two of the biggest ticket items -- defense and Social Security -- on the table.

Many government agencies are operating under temporary funding that runs out on Friday. Up to 800,000 federal workers were idled by a six-day shutdown in mid-November.

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