TOPICS > Politics

Onstein on Where Things Stand

November 15, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: To find out where things stand now, we’re joined by veteran Congress watcher Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for being with us. So where are we now in this showdown?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute: Well, I would have said before 5 o’clock this evening Eastern Time that nothing much had happened today. The impasse was going on. We have a new offer in the mix, but it’s not going to be resolved. The President will veto this when it passes, probably come back with a counter-offer himself, suggesting maybe that they forego most of the tax cuts, and it will go on on the surface. It is, as Bob Reischauer and Roger Porter suggested, a part of a larger and complex series of tough end-game negotiations. And if viewers want to think of an analogy, in every city we’ve had professional sports teams and their star players go through a contract negotiation, the team says we’ll pay you $6 million a year, the player says I will accept nothing less than $12 million a year, and they go on through the training camp and the pre-season and the invective increases and the threats and into the regular season, and we are all sitting back, saying, what’s wrong with these idiots, we know they’re going to settle at 9, and they do eventually. But in these tough, hard negotiations, you get this kind of difficulty happening. And now each side is trying to turn up the heat and change the focus. What the Republicans did today was to turn the heat up on the President, give him some things, but force him to accept others he doesn’t want and to suggest it’s not a question of our trying to frivolously shut the government down for extreme reasons, we want to balance the budget, and you don’t.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why would the President–why are you so sure that he’ll veto what they have announced they want to do today, which is essentially, they want to have a stop gap spending bill–


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which would not have certain add-ons that the President has rejected but would call for a balanced budget in seven years as scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Why will the President veto it?

MR. ORNSTEIN: We’re heading down the road towards a real negotiation between the President and the Republican Congress, but we’re not there yet. And a temporary spending measure or negotiating in public about these things is not what the President wants to have happening, giving up important things before we get there. We aren’t going to have that until the Republican House and the Republican Senate agree on their overall budget. Beneath the surface here while the center stage is this particular negotiation, the real important negotiation we are watching, and that’s trying to get the Republican House and Senate together to get a budget through, what we call the reconciliation package, which is the larger part of the budget. After that’s done, the President will veto that, and then they’ll negotiate. What they’re asking him to do is to take very important points–he wants to balance it in nine years in his budget, they want seven–he has economic assumptions that suggest 2.5 percent economic growth, which makes it easier to follow that path and not as much spending cut, and they want 2.3 percent growth. He’ll give up some of those, but not until he can get something in return. And what we’re not seeing is the key negotiation, the differences between the Republican House and the Republican Senate, before we can get to the real conflict, which is here on the surface but which will be the more significant one a few weeks from now.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And where are those real negotiations right now, the larger spending bill, where is it?

MR. ORNSTEIN: You know, they had hoped to have this done long before now, and indeed, this confrontation is in part a miscalculation on the part of Republicans. We started the fiscal year October 1. They passed a “no strings” continuing resolution till November 13th, figuring that it would all be done by now. It’s not. They’re scrambling frantically. They hope to have that done by the end of the week. But then it’s going to have to be passed separately again by the House and the Senate before being sent to the President. In the meantime, government will likely stay halted until perhaps the middle of next week if everything goes well when we can get through this part of the Kabuki dance in the negotiations, and then actually sit down at the table.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So there are really two things happening at once. In the more, what you’re considering the more surface problem, which is of course this very important problem of the partial shutdown, are there negotiations scheduled that you know of that could work out some kind of a stop gap spending measure that might get signed?

MR. ORNSTEIN: There are no negotiations going on now, and what’s happening is this negotiation is the public one. Speaker Gingrich, Majority Leader Dole hold a press conference and then they’ll pass a bill based on what they’ve suggested. The President will veto it and probably suggest an alternative, and all of this will be done more in front of the cameras and at podiums than anyplace else. They might sit down, but nothing will happen. There’s a third level. They’re passing some appropriations bills, as we heard, which narrow the scope of what is being shut down in government. But all of this is not the meaningful area. It’s what we’re not seeing, the real budget that is more significant, and I suspect that when the Speaker and the Majority Leader left that podium at 5 o’clock, they sat down to try and figure out how they could sort out their own differences to get a united front to take to the eventual big negotiation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I was interested in what Mr. Porter and Mr. Reischauer said about the difference between this crisis, this impasse and the earlier budget impasses. You’ve watched this very closely for years. What do you think makes this one different?

MR. ORNSTEIN: We’ve had strong purpose of people come to this pass before but they’ve been professionals. They all knew we were going to end up with a negotiation and a pretty clear idea of where we would be in the end. Now we’ve got a lot of people who are drawing lines not in dust, that they could wipe out pretty quickly, but in concrete. And we’ve got high stakes in public with each side dug in and a lot of players on both sides who might feel better off if, in fact, it ended up with a catastrophe. That’s different. The leaders don’t want that. The President, the Speaker, the Majority Leader all want to come together, but what’s different about this one is it’s not clear they can control all their followers when we get to the final end game.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Norm Ornstein, thanks for being with us.

MR. ORNSTEIN: Sure. Thank you, Elizabeth.