December 27, 1995
Web posted at: 11:15 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Low-level budget talks were set to resume Wednesday as the partial federal government shutdown entered its 12th day, making it the longest in U.S. history.
Congressional and White House aides were scheduled to meet to discuss the budget impasse.
Press Secretary Mike McCurry Wednesday morning called it an "urgent situation" and said President Clinton wants to get federal workers back on the job. But McCurry told reporters the differences are "deep and fundamental and not easily bridged. It's not just theatrics."
The prospect of talks offered little solace to furloughed federal workers. The number of federal employees out of work jumped by 20,000 to 280,000 last week after two agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ran out of carryover funds.
Those 280,000 employees, as well as 480,000 others in unfunded agencies, will have to pay their holiday bills with only partial paychecks for the duration of the impasse. The Office of Management and Budget said checks to be issued on Friday or next week -- covering December 10 to 23 -- will pay only for days worked prior to the December 16 shutdown.
Another 1.2 million federal employees, whose agencies received their full appropriations, will still receive full pay.
Meanwhile, a unique exhibit of Johannes Vermeer paintings reopened Wednesday at the National Gallery of Art. The museum found money in a private fund to cover operations through January 3. More thab 4,000 visitors came to see the exhibit each day before it was closed down for budgetary reasons. The rest of the National Gallery will be closed.
"We are able to open just one exhibition," said Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery. "We are able to open the Vermeer exhibition, which is a very rare event in the annals of art history. It may never happen again in a lifetime."
The Smithsonian's Museum of American History also found enough money to operate on a limited basis this week. It reopened Tuesday.
The Treasury Department said Tuesday it would continue to thwart congressional Republican attempts to use the federal debt limit to make the president give in to GOP budgetary demands.
A spokesman for Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said the Republicans had forced Rubin to take extraordinary measures to avoid a U.S. default on its debt. It was in response to a highly critical letter from House Ways and Means chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, who warned of a looming constitutional crisis if federal borrowing continued despite Congress' refusal to raise the debt ceiling.
Rubin has kept the Treasury from bumping against the $4.9 trillion debt ceiling by "disinvesting" two retirement funds administered by the Treasury on behalf of federal workers by about $76 billion.
The lack of appropriations caused a six-day partial shutdown of the federal government in November and the ongoing record-length second closure that started December 16.
Higher level budget talks are scheduled for Thursday. President Clinton and congressional leaders are scheduled to resume their negotiations Friday.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report.
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