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Down to the wire on budget stalemate


Clinton, Republicans negotiate over television

November 12, 1995
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It comes down to this: President Clinton says that he'll speak with congressional Republicans about the budget stalemate if they will drop their plans to cancel a decrease in Medicare premiums, while House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole say that could happen, if Clinton will agree to a balanced budget in seven years.

But Clinton, who says that he supports a balanced budget in principle, says that this is not the time to discuss that issue -- not with the government facing a shutdown just after midnight Tuesday morning and a default on a $25 billion interest payment on Wednesday.

A Republican-sponsored measure to extend the debt ceiling and avoid the default reached the White House early Sunday evening, but Clinton has vowed to veto it Monday because of a provision that restrict how the Treasury department can pay the debt and another that limits appeals for death row inmates.

Clinton called for a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders in the Oval Office on Monday to settle the differences. That idea was rejected on Saturday by Gingrich and Dole, who said that the Democratic leadership had nothing to contribute.

Clinton's offer of a meeting was the latest in a day-long marathon of positioning by the opposing sides in the impasse. Gingrich With the deadline fast approaching for avoiding a shutdown of some government operations, key politicos engaged in some last-round high drama. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Gingrich accused President Clinton of refusing to communicate. Gingrich said he and Dole had gotten a monologue from the president during a brief Saturday phone call. Then after promising to call them back, the president had not even bothered, Gingrich said.

"I don't blame the president for wanting to negotiate in a tough way," said the Georgia Republican. "But to not even sit down, to basically walk away and say 'Close the government' down. ... I mean, I don't know how you initiate a conversation in that kind of setting."

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Gingrich said Congress will be sending Clinton a short-term measure, or continuing resolution, Monday to keep the government funded until month's end. Clinton has promised a veto unless the Republicans drop a provision that eliminates a law that calls for a reduction in Medicare premiums.

"The president is not willing to impose an $11 a month premium increase on every single Medicare beneficiary as a condition fo rkeeping the government running," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry on Sunday.

Gingrich said that if the president vetoes the resolution, he should cancel a scheduled trip to Japan next week. "If he vetoes it tomorrow, I don't see how he can go," said Gingrich. "Because, frankly, the government will be closed."

Panetta Weighing in on CBS's "Face the Nation," White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said the president is planning to go ahead with the trip. "The president ought not be held hostage in terms of his foreign policy responsibilities by a Congress or a speaker," Panetta said. But he added the crucial caveat, "If we're in the middle of a crisis here in this country, we would obviously have to adjust."

Panetta reaffirmed that Congress must back off Medicare and then, he said, "We can work out a continuing resolution." Like all the officials who appeared on TV, Panetta said he wants a deal. "I think the time has come to lower our voices, roll up our sleeves and first and foremost avoid this crisis," he said.

Gingrich held out the olive branch that a short-term agreement might be possible if the president accepts the Republicans' bedrock principle: balancing the budget within seven years. Panetta seemed open to the idea in general, but not for this temporary spending bill.

Dole, meanwhile, canceled a campaign appearance scheduled for Monday in Florida, saying his first obligation is to stay here in Washington for the budget fight.

Still, Dole did find time to appear on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley." Saying he was prepared to meet the president "any time, any place," Dole brandished a cellular phone, saying the president was welcome to call him at ABC.

On Saturday, Dole faxed a statement to news organizations saying, "I still hope that the president will come to see that America's interest must take precedence over personal political interests. I hope he will put politics aside and finally shoulder some of the obligations of his office."

The events of the next two days can take a number of routes. (See flow chart) If no agreement is reached by the deadline of midnight Monday, and the government does shut down, all activity would not come to a halt. Essential government functions that would continue include:

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