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Hints of compromise on budget

Flurry of meetings held as shutdown looms again

December 12, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Candy Crowley

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If progress was measured by the number of meetings held on the balanced budget proposals Tuesday, a unified plan would have emerged by now. But amid the rhetoric, the faint ring of compromise was in the air.

Leon Panetta

First, White House budget people met with congressional budget people. Some seemed upbeat. "I think we have made some progress today, and I hope we can continue to negotiate," said White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. If sufficient progress is shown, there is "no reason and no excuse to shut down the government," he said. (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)

Others were less positive. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, said the two sides were still about $300 billion in expenditures apart. "That is, they spend about $300 billion more than we do, and it looks like the deficit in the final year is still upwards of $100 billion." (179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)

Pete Domenici

Next, Republican representatives and senators met with Republican governors. The governors came to urge their party to stand by their proposal to turn the Medicaid over to the states -- an idea Clinton opposes.

"The Medicaid program today is a Cadillac program," said Gov. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. "You got someone on Medicaid who's going back to the neighborhood and you got a working poor person who's got zero. Or you got somebody in this country working his butt off and they pay for part of their Medicaid." (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)

At about the same time, Democrats met with each other. "We must maintain the explicit guarantee of health care for the most vulnerable. The Republican plan, which could leave almost four million poor children without any health care at all, is unacceptable," said Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri. (162K AIFF sound or 162K WAV sound)

George Voinovich

As dinner time passed, Republicans got together with Democrats.

There was a phone call from President Clinton to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Bob Dole. Dole urged the president to meet soon with him and Gingrich to resolve the budget problems. But with Clinton leaving for Paris Wednesday to attend the signing ceremony for the Bosnia peace accords, there was little time left for him to meet with the leaders.

There were still more meetings, but reporters couldn't get into those.

By the end of the day, it seemed budget negotiators had taken more steps down the hallways of the Capitol than towards a deal. But as meeting room doors endlessly opened and closed Tuesday, some progress was made in two of the toughest sticking points in budget negotiations:

Richard Gephardt

-- With new, healthier economic predictions, Republicans have softened their plans to scale back spending on Medicare and Medicaid.

-- On Medicare, Republicans are now offering a $226 billion cut in projected spending, down from $270 billion. On Medicaid, they offered $133 billion in cuts rather than $163.

There were other hopeful signs as well. The words "agreement on a budget framework" were beginning to pop up in off-the-record conversations with the press. And there's a one-week temporary spending bill in the works which would avoid a government shutdown while talks continue on a permanent budget.

Unless Congress approves a new stop-gap spending bill by midnight Friday, about 300,000 federal workers will be furloughed for a second time. The temporary funding measure that ended the mid-November shutdown expires on that date.

Expect more meetings Wednesday.

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