White House. Republicans closer to budget deal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican congressional leaders and the Democratic White House said Monday they were closer to a deal on the $1.8 trillion federal budget that could end the lame-duck 106th Congress by Friday.
"It was a good meeting. Everyone in the room agreed they'd like to wrap up the outstanding issues by the end of the week," White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said after Republican and Democratic congressional leaders met with President Clinton for about an hour. This was their third meeting in a week.
"We believe we have agreement on a framework for health and education funding," Diringer said of the $350 billion bill for labor, health and education that has been the main stumbling block to completing the overdue budget.
"I would hope we'll be done this week," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.
"We're moving towards an agreement but we're not there yet. We need to go back and check with our troops," Hastert said, adding he planned to update Republican lawmakers on the talks.
Republicans, anxious to trim budget bills that have swelled by some $30 billion above limits they set last spring, said the final deal might include small across-the-board cuts in federal programs, although likely excluding defense.
"I think there's a possibility that there might be some kind of across-the-board cut," Hastert said, but he offered no details of the potential agreement to finally finish the fiscal 2001 budget that was due Oct. 1.
'Parameter' for health and education spending
Hastert said the two sides had agreed on "parameters" for health and education spending, which conservative Republicans wanted rolled back from a proposed $18 billion increase.
Conservative House Republicans wanted that increase trimmed by at least $6 billion, which the White House said was unacceptable.
Once the two sides agree on an overall spending level for the labor, health and education bill, lawmakers and congressional aides said they expected the rest of the budget deal to fall into place in just a few hours.
House Republican Whip Tom DeLay, who last week in combative news conference called on Clinton to abandon all of the proposed increase for schools or risk closing the government in a budget impasse, on Monday sounded far more conciliatory.
"There's been some movement," said DeLay, who did not attend the White House meeting. He said he was encouraged by talk of an across-the-board cut in federal programs, as long as defense was not touched.
Hastert said there also was some progress toward a compromise on immigration reforms Democrats say are needed to treat many Central American illegal immigrants more fairly.
Congressional sources said Clinton has backed off demands for amnesty for about 1 million long-term illegal immigrants.
White House spokesman Diringer said the the two sides also were still discussing how to distribute more than $30 billion in Medicare money to health care providers such as hospitals, managed health care plans and nursing homes. That would restore money cut from from the program in 1997 efforts to balance the budget.
Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.