WORLD

Back to work —for now

The Republicans give Clinton three weeks to settle the budget

CARL MOLLINS January 15 1996
WORLD

Back to work —for now

The Republicans give Clinton three weeks to settle the budget

CARL MOLLINS January 15 1996

Back to work —for now

WORLD

THE UNITED STATES

The Republicans give Clinton three weeks to settle the budget

The new year dawned in Washington with the government of the world’s richest nation crippled by a cashflow crisis. That day, the 1995-1996 U.S. federal financial year entered its fourth month. But much of the government still lacked spending authority because of deadlock in a struggle over the budget between Democrat President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress. New Year’s Day also marked the beginning of the third straight week of a shutdown that, since Dec. 16, had “furloughed” almost two in five of the country’s roughly 760,000 federal employees and postponed all paydays indefinitely. Further-

more, said Clinton in a New Year’s message, “it’s also cut off services for millions of Americans who depend on them.” He cited funding shortages for everything from Meals on Wheels to toxic waste cleanups and student loans. Then, calling on Congress to renew interim spending authority while negotiations proceed, he urged Republicans: “Let’s resolve to reopen the government and do it now.”

The Senate complied promptly on Jan. 2, passing a temporary spending bill at the be hest of Majority Leader Bob Dole, the leading Republican candidate to challenge Clinton in the November presidential election. “Enough is enough,” declared Dole, breaking with Re

publicans in the House of Representatives led by Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hardliners in the House resisted for two days, insisting that government should be restored only after bargaining with Clinton produced a sevenyear budgeting plan to erase the deficit in 2002. But, battered by a barrage of Democrat propaganda that they were sullying America’s reputation abroad and at home, the House Republicans yielded—grudgingly and partially. ‘We had to find a way to pay the federal employees,” said Gingrich.

New legislation, approved reluctantly by Clinton, authorized a return to work by laidoff employees and a full federal payroll for three weeks. But it supplied no money for many operations, and House Democrat Leader Richard Gephardt complained that returning people to work without operating funds made no sense. The bill, he said, “ought to provide people with crossword puzzles so they’ll have something to do in the office.”

But the Republicans withheld full funding— and had the new financing expire on Jan. 26— in a deliberate effort to retain leverage with Clinton in negotiations for their seven-year budget-balancing plan. Unless there is agreement on that scheme, the government could face another cash crisis before the month is out But Clinton has resisted key parts of that plan, which proposes spending curbs on social programs, reduces tax credits for low-income families and cuts capital gains taxes at the same time. The Gingrich Republicans, meanwhile, cling fiercely to that program, a centrepiece of their Contract with America platform.

The Republican budget-balancing drive is based on a philosophy that the power of the federal government should be diminished. After a six-day shutdown in November, the record 21-day slowdown that ended last week and the possibility of further cash crises, the electorate may begin to question that notion. As Clinton said in his New Year’s message: “If ever we needed a reminder that our government is not our enemy, this is it”

CARL MOLLINS