Focus: Budget Crunch
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KWAME HOLMAN: Lawmakers in Washington are fast approaching two critical deadlines. The first is midnight, November 13th, four days from now. That’s when the federal government officially runs out of money. The government’s 1996 fiscal year began October 1st, but to date, only two of the thirteen spending bills required to fund government operations for the year have been approved by Congress and signed by the President. And so, as in the past, Congress is relying on the so-called continuing resolution, temporary resolution that continues to fund government operations while Congress and the President work out a long-term budget deal. It would be a simple matter if it weren’t so political. Congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the President were able to agree quickly on the first continuing resolution, or CR, as it’s called, in late September, just before the new fiscal year began.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (September 1995) That’s a good omen for our, our efforts to successfully conclude an effort to balance the budget.
KWAME HOLMAN: But agreement on a second CR is proving much more difficult to achieve. That’s because the President has since announced his opposition to many of the budget cuts and spending priorities contained in the Republicans’ seven year balanced budget plan and has vowed to veto it as soon as it’s delivered to him.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: (Yesterday) I call up HJ Res. 115, a bill making further continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 1996.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, House Republicans responded to the President’s veto threat by bringing the new CR to the floor with additional provisions, eliminating six government agencies and setting spending at no more than 60 percent of last year’s levels.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Mr. Speaker, this second continuing resolution is necessary to keep a large part of the government operating for a very short period of time. It is restrictive, and it will keep the necessary pressure on both the Congress and the President to work out their differences on the remaining regular bills and get them enacted into law.
KWAME HOLMAN: The additional provisions infuriated Democrats.
REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, (D) Colorado: This is unbelievable. Here we are, 39 days after we were supposed to have this done, we’re nowhere close to done, government is hanging by its fingernails, and they want all these special things that they can’t get the front door way through the back door.
REP. STENY HOYER, (D) Maryland: This is a blatant, irresponsible attempt to bulldoze the President of the United States into signing something that he vigorously disagrees and he will not do it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, however, tried to make it sound like business as usual.
REP. PORTER GOSS, (R) Florida: Mr. Speaker, Congress faces a simple choice. Pass this limited extension of the CR, or allow a partial and a necessary shutdown of the federal government. It’s an easy choice. The clear and responsible path is to approve this measure and get on with our pressing business.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House approved the continuing resolution which would keep the government operating through December 1st, but this morning, White House Press Sec. Mike McCurry said like the Republican budget, the new CR is unacceptable to the President and said he’ll veto it even if it means the government shuts down.
MIKE McCURRY, White House Press Secretary: They are one way or another trying to force the President to accept their priorities on the budget, and the President will not accept it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But a brief shutdown of the government would pale in comparison to the financial catastrophe some are predicting if the debt ceiling isn’t extended. It allows the government to borrow more money and make good on its next interest payment. That deadline is November 15th, less than a week away.
SPOKESMAN: The committee meets today to consider HR 2586, a bill to temporarily extend the debt ceiling.
KWAME HOLMAN: But on Tuesday, as the House Ways & Means Committee met to write legislation elevating the debt ceiling, Republicans threatened add-ons to that bill as well, sure to attract another Presidential veto.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) New York: (Tuesday) I think it’s fair play when you have the majority to do what you have to do. But for God’s sake, think about what you’re doing to the Constitution when you take these legislative tools and you have the votes, and you put a political gun to the President’s head and say that the whole pile of cards in terms of what has taken years for us to build, in terms of credibility, and that’s what our republic stands for in every country throughout the world, we pay our debts.
REP. BILL ARCHER, Chairman, Ways and Means Committee: We are here today precisely to do the reverse of jeopardizing the full faith and credit of this country. On November the 15th, if we don’t act today, this country will not be able to sell the securities necessary for it to be able to pay its bills. We are here to try to expedite that and to see that the business is conducted on an orderly basis.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Republicans’ bill extending the debt ceiling arrived on the House floor today, with its controversial add-ons. Republicans say the budget-cutting add-ons give them leverage in negotiating an overall budget deal with the White House.
REP. SCOTT McINNIS, (R) Colorado: But talk about the habeas corpus reform, Americans all across this country are crying for reform in death penalty cases in this country. We’re not going to get it otherwise. You’ve got to go into your negotiations with strength.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats countered the add-ons really are designed to get reluctant Republicans to vote to raise the debt ceiling.
REP. SAM GIBBONS, (D) Florida: Our constituents want to know what bribery looks like. This is a picture of it, right here, these 400 pages. Who are they trying to bribe? They’re trying to bribe their own Republican members of voting for two lines. Strike out figure for the debt ceiling and insert a new figure, and all the rest of this bill is pure bribery, nothing else.
KWAME HOLMAN: As expected, the debt ceiling, with its add-ons, was approved by the House. Attention now turns to the Senate, where action on both the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution began today. There, may lie the last hope of averting a government shut-down and an unprecedented default on its debt.