January 6, 1996
Web posted at: 12:50 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After weeks of stiff resistance, Republicans Friday pushed legislation through the House and Senate to temporarily return idling federal workers to work and restore funding for some agencies, brightening prospects for ending the record three-week partial government shutdown.
President Clinton signed the measure into law just after midnight Saturday morning.
In a concurrent break in the standoff, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Clinton may present over the weekend a seven-year balanced-budget plan based on congressional economic calculations -- a pivotal GOP demand. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)
"I think they're serious," Dole said of the White House. "Are we going to get an agreement? We're going to try."
On a voice vote, the Senate passed the bill without dissent. Earlier Friday, the House overwhelmingly approved it by a 401-17 vote.
The funding bill will pay federal employees through January 26. They will also receive back pay for the last three weeks. Some 280,000 employees have been furloughed and more than 480,000 who have worked without pay since the shutdown began on December 16.
Many agencies, though, won't be fully funded, so some employees may go to work but have nothing to do.
The measure restores funding for certain politically sensitive programs like Meals on Wheels, a nutrition programs for senior citizens, veterans' benefits, and agencies administering the national parks and museums and passport services.
The president said the action was a step in the right direction, but that Congress should have gone all the way. "It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment not only for all the people who need these services, but for all the rest of the people in this country who pay the taxes for them," he said.
But Dole saw it differently. "We have a resolution now to a very thorny problem and one that unfairly punished a lot of good people," the GOP presidential front-runner said shortly after the Senate passed the measure.
Senate Democratic leader Thomas Daschle, D-South Dakota, voted for the measure, but said he wasn't pleased with it. "This isn't the way to run a government," he said. "Now we're picking and choosing. Now we're picking winners and losers. Now, we're still leaving unfunded many major programs, including Head Start and cops on the street."
Rep. Dick Gephardt called the measure a "new Republican version of welfare: Pay people to twiddle their thumbs." (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)
Gingrich said the House was doing its job by passing a temporary spending bill, and sought to deflect the responsibility for ending the budget crisis on the president. "The challenge now is for the president to submit a balanced budget," he said.
The passage of the measure in the House represented a dramatic about-turn by Gingrich and other House GOP leaders, who were until now bitterly opposed to keeping government closed until the president presented a seven-year balanced budget plan. Polls have shown that the public has mostly blamed the GOP for the impasse.
But participants at Friday evening's budget talks at the White House described it as a productive one -- one that swung from issue analysis to hard bargaining. The two sides apparently still faced big gaps over cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and taxes.
White House spokesperson Mike McCurry said the two sides have pledged to intensify talks and work through the weekend, with meetings set for Saturday evening, all day Sunday, and Monday afternoon.
Clinton aides said they're now increasingly encouraged that a budget deal is possible -- perhaps, as early as by the end of next week.
Congress also approved two other measures Friday related to the budget:
Among the programs protected by the measure were Medicaid payments to states, Medicare administrative costs, the FBI and aid to miners suffering from black lung disease.
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