December 19, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the first meaningful discussion since Friday's budget negotiations exploded in acrimony, President Clinton and Republican leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole began a singular attempt Tuesday to surmount their differences. By the end of the day, both parties saw hope of ending the budget stalemate before the start of the new year.
After a lengthy Oval Office meeting Tuesday, the three leaders agreed they would meet again Wednesday to try to work out a seven-year balanced budget agreement.
Dole and Gingrich called the two-hour meeting with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore "constructive," and said they will decide Wednesday whether to act on a temporary spending measure to return 260,000 idled federal workers to their jobs.
Dole said Congress might agree to fund the government through December 27 or 28.
Clinton's talks with the Republican leaders was followed up by a meeting between White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich of Ohio and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Panetta said the talks would continue Wednesday.
"If we continue to make progress tomorrow morning we'll talk about a CR," Gingrich said. A CR is an abbreviated term for a temporary spending bill that could reopen government agencies forced to close down at midnight Friday when the last stopgap bill expired. (60K AIFF sound or 60K WAV sound)
"The bottom line is: We'd like to get a balanced budget by the end of this year," Dole said after the meeting. "We know there are some major decisions that the president, the speaker, the majority leader are going to have to make," he said.
But the two sides offered slightly different interpretations of Clinton's meeting with the Republican leaders.
Gingrich said that everyone agreed to use conservative economic estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, which would mean deeper spending cuts than would be required by the White House's more optimistic estimates. He also said there was agreement to strike a deal by December 31.
But Gore said the deadline to end negotiations would be set at Wednesday's meeting, and that they would use CBO numbers in consultation with other economists. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)
Gore maintained that they would make "every effort" to come to a seven-year balanced budget "as quickly as possible." "We want to do it quicker rather than later," he said.
Despite the apparent discrepancies in each side's understanding of the negotiation terms and their deep divisions over key issues like tax cuts and health and welfare programs, the White House and the Republicans put a positive spin on the discussions.
While Republicans hailed the meeting as "constructive," Senate Democratic leader Thomas Daschle, D-South Dakota, said he believed it was a "very positive development." (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)
Daschle said a Senate Democratic seven-year budget plan that uses the conservative CBO estimates but protects Clinton's spending priorities, especially Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor, would form the basis of negotiations, along with the budget passed by the Republican-led Congress and rejected by Clinton.
Tuesday's tentative steps toward a resolution came as the latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed that nearly half of the American public said Clinton has acted more responsibly on the budget than have the Republicans. Only 34 percent believe the GOP has been more responsible.
Perhaps sensing some progress toward a balanced budget, the Federal Reserve announced a quarter point drop in interest rates, causing the stock market to rebound dramatically from Monday's 100 point drop, the lowest in four years.
Several dozen top CEOs bought newspaper ads urging the president and Congress to balance the budget. "Without a balanced budget, the party's over. No matter which party you're in," said the two-page ad.
"If the country is in gridlock and the financial markets aren't healthy and balmy, that's gonna turn out to be bad politics," said Peter Peterson, chairman of The Blackstone Group.
The shutdown was the second in a month, and left roughly a quarter-million federal employees furloughed. Nine Cabinet departments were affected, since several regular spending bills remain unsigned.
Republicans have refused to renew a temporary spending measure to keep the government fully operational until the administration offers a seven-year, balanced-budget plan that would eliminate the deficit under based on Congressional economic calculations.
The temporary spending bill is necessary because the White House and Congress have not yet agreed on all 13 of the regular spending bills that finance the government.
So far, Clinton has signed seven into law, and three are still in Congress. Clinton has vetoed the other three -- two on Monday and the third less than an hour before he greeted Gingrich and Dole.
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