High Noon for the Budget Stand-Off
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, it appeared lawmakers in Washington didn’t have a prayer of resolving their budget impasse, but in a sense, that’s all they had.
DR. LLOYD OGILVIE, Senate Chaplain: Almighty God, we ask you to bless the negotiations of this day, help the President and the leaders of the House and Senate to combine confrontation and compromise as they work together to find a solution to the present deadlock.
KWAME HOLMAN: And it appeared nothing short of divine guidance would do the trick. President Clinton set the tone early in the day when he flatly rejected the Republicans’ proposal for extending the debt ceiling. That legislation would allow the government to borrow money and ensure it wouldn’t default on upcoming loan obligations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It would allow the United States to pay its debts for another month, but only at a price too high for the American people to pay.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President said he was rejecting the legislation because it would prevent the Treasury Secretary from using government trust funds to avoid future borrowing crises. He said he also would veto a second piece of legislation that would fund the government past midnight tonight because it contains a provision cancelling a reduction in Medicare Part B premiums scheduled to take effect January 1st.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This legislation is part of an overall back-door effort by the Congressional Republicans to impose their priorities on our nation. Here is what is really going on. Last Spring, Speaker Gingrich said he and his new Republican Congressional majority would force me, the Congressional Democrats, and the American people to accept their budget and their contract by bringing about a crisis in the Fall, by shutting down the government and pushing American in default unless I accepted their extreme proposals. In this way, the Congressional Republicans sought to get around the United States Constitution, which gives the President the power to veto measures not in the public interest. They are now implementing the strategy Speaker Gingrich told us about last Spring, and because I refuse to go along with it, they say I am refusing with them to solve these short-term problems.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not respond directly to the President. In fact, he sounded somewhat optimistic when he spoke this afternoon at a Washington conference.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: Over the next few weeks we are going to get this government back on the right track, and we’re going to give our children a better country, with lower interest rates, with lower taxes, with more jobs, with greater take-home pay, and with better opportunities. That’s what this is all about, and we need your help to get that message across. Thank you, good luck, and God bless you.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the doomsday predictions of a government default, Treasury Sec. Rubin says he’s taken interim steps that will allow the government to meet $102 billion in interest payments due Wednesday and Thursday, but as of this evening, it appeared that a midnight shutdown of some government operations is inevitable. On the Senate floor late this afternoon, Republican Leader Robert Dole said the President keeps adding to his list of objections.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: It seems to me we have no other choice. We passed the resolution. I want to thank my colleagues on the other side for clearing the resolution, and we would hope that as we speak, it’s on the way to the House and will soon be on the way to the White House, and if the President should deem it necessary to veto it, that then he would be willing to sit down with us. We are the leaders, and we would be happy to try to work it out before midnight to avoid a shutdown.
SPOKESMAN: The House will be in order.
KWAME HOLMAN: And on the floor of the House, members tried their best to show they were on the side of the people.
REP. THOMAS DAVIS, (R) Virginia: Mr. Speaker, I’m as frustrated as members, I think, on both sides of the aisle with the impasse we’re currently facing between the President and the Congressional leadership. They have an old saying that when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. In this case, people getting trampled are your federal employees who’ve been out there every day, doing the job that the President and the Congress have asked them to do. And in no way should they be the ones to pay the price, just because we in the Congress and the President can’t get our acts together and get on with the business of governing.
REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, (D) Colorado: This is tragic. This makes me terribly angry. But, of course, members of Congress will get paid. That is outrageous too. I mean, I can’t believe that the leadership of this House has not stopped that nonsense and done it fast.
REP. RICHARD DURBIN, (D) Illinois: I’ve got a solution to this problem, and the solution is very simple. It’s HR 2281, doesn’t even take up two pages. It’s a bill I introduced in the House, Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced in the Senate. It’s very simple. It says, no budget, no pay. It basically says to members of Congress if you can’t keep government in operation, if you want America to default on its national debt, why should you be paid? You have failed in your responsibility as members of Congress elected to this body.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, federal workers in Washington and around the country left work this evening knowing they’re expected back tomorrow morning but understanding they might be asked to turn around and go right back home.