Government Shutdown: Day Three
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KWAME HOLMAN: This evening, the Senate was on the verge of doing what the House did last night, approve another version of a continuing resolution, a temporary spending bill to end the partial government shutdown and send hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work.
SEN. LAUCH FAIRCLOTH, (R) North Carolina: All that this resolution says is that the federal government can reopen if the President agrees to balance the budget in seven years. It’s that simple.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton doesn’t necessarily object to a balanced budget within seven years. But he objects to making that commitment now. This afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle argued in vain for his proposal to strip the budget language from the bill.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: Our motive is simply to say let’s have that debate tomorrow, let’s have it on Friday when reconciliation comes, let’s get into next week if we have to, but let’s at least agree that the thousands of people, the thousands of people who are not getting the services that they expect from their government, services they have paid for in their hard-earned taxes, that at least that much we can agree on, that we are going to give those services back to the people who expect them.
KWAME HOLMAN: But some Democrats wanted to debate the Republicans’ balanced budget plan in an attempt to discredit it. North Dakota’s Kent Conrad claimed the economic figures Republicans want to use provided by the Congressional Budget Office and the numbers the President prefers provided by the Office of Management & Budget have both been wrong.
SEN. KENT CONRAD, (D) North Dakota: This shows economic growth. The President’s plan projected on the blue line what economic growth would look like. CBO was the red line. The orange line shows what’s actually happened, what’s actually happened, and what’s really happened in the real world is both CBO and OMB have been too conservative. They’ve been wrong.
KWAME HOLMAN: But New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg accused Conrad of trying to sidetrack the real issue before them.
SEN. JUDD GREGG, (R) New Hampshire: This debate is about whether or not the President wishes to participate in balancing the budget, nothing else. Everything has been taken off of this continuing resolution that the President originally objected to. The only thing that is on this continuing resolution that doesn’t involve the day-to-day operation of the government–and remember this resolution only runs for 19 days–the only thing that is on this resolution is a statement that the President will join with the 104th Congress in a commitment to balancing the budget by the year 2002, using CBO numbers. It doesn’t say he has to agree to our approach to balancing the budget.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans say the President should commit to a balanced budget within seven years and leave the elements of how to achieve that balance open to negotiation, and judging from the vote in the House last night, more than a few Democrats agree.
SPOKESMAN: The yeas are 277. The nays are 151. The resolution is agreed to.
KWAME HOLMAN: Forty-eight House Democrats voted for the Republicans’ latest temporary spending bill last night. A week ago, only five did. John Tanner of Tennessee is one of the Democrats who switched.
REP. JOHN TANNER, (D) Tennessee: I want to thank the Republican leadership for bringing forward a better CR than we saw heretofore, and I want to say that I speak for some Democrats who believe that we can balance the budget in seven years and are prepared to support the CR tonight.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, we talked to Tanner and three other Democrats who voted with the Republicans last night: Gary Condit of California, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas. They’re part of a moderate group known as the Coalition, and they’ve proposed their own balanced budget plan. Congressman Condit, what happened on the floor last night, and why?
REP. GARY CONDIT, (D) California: We thought if we could get the seven-year issue out of the way that we could get to the real issue, and that’s the reconciliation bill and the budget, and debate the facets of the budget. We had 48 Democratic votes. It takes 52 to secure an override, and actually from my point of view, we worked, all of us worked very hard to get the 48 votes. I thought we might get thirty to thirty-five votes, but we, we went beyond what my expectations were.
REP. COLLIN PETERSON, (D) Minnesota: There was a lot of lobbying on the other side, a lot of pressure on Democratic members that wanted to support a seven-year balanced budget and wanted to get this impasse over with, a lot of arm twisting. You know, had they not done that arm twisting, I think there’d have been 20 more Democratic votes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Tanner, we understand you spoke to the President last night.
REP. JOHN TANNER, (D) Tennessee: I did. We talked maybe 15 minutes or so on the phone, and he expressed his concern about signing the continuing resolution that was before the body because he felt like that it would tie him into the way the Republicans want to get to a balanced budget in seven years. I told him I held a different view, that I thought in principle we could all agree that we could balance a budget in seven years, and then fight or argue about how we do it on the floor.
KWAME HOLMAN: What did he say to you?
REP. JOHN TANNER: Well, he said, you have a point, and I said, well, I’m sorry we don’t agree on this one, as I would tell anyone. We’ve got to move beyond this stalemate, and I thought this was reasonable.
REP. BLANCHE LAMBERT-LINCOLN, (D) Arkansas: And we can disagree on some of the minutia in terms of how you get to that balanced budget in seven years. We’ve done that amongst ourselves in our group, but we’ve worked out our differences, and we’ve realized that the most important part of that is to come up with a conclusion and more importantly, a solution for the American people, and we’ve done that within our coalition group. We’ve come up with a budget that balances the budget of this nation in seven years. It does it in a very fair and equitable way with a great deal of common sense. We’ve done it without cutting Medicare $270 billion. What we have preached, and many of us taken back to our districts and have found a good bit of support for is the fact that the American people want to be reassured about the future. And one of the ways to do that is to balance the budget, is to eliminate the debt, and to do that first, before you start talking about tax cuts.
REP. COLLIN PETERSON: We’ve got the solution. The President needs to be talking to us, and the Republicans need to be talking to us. We put a balanced budget on the table that I think most sides can live with. We’ve said we’re willing to step up and vote for the CR and a debt limit increase, if they just play the game straight. And so that’s what needs to be done to solve this. We are the solution.
REP. GARY CONDIT: We’ve been working on our balanced budget for months, and we’ve kept the White House totally informed about every aspect of our budget. They have been very complimentary to our approach, but they’ve got to pick door one, two, or three. The President’s got to say yes, I’m for a seven- year balanced budget, and that’s out of the way, and get to the specifics of that budget, or he’s got to say something like, oh, well, I can do a seven-year budget if we don’t have a tax cut right now, or I can do an eight-year budget with the tax cuts, but you got to say something, you got to take a position, and you got to let the American people know that your priority is to balance this budget in a designated period of time.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, President Clinton reiterated his intention to veto the Republicans’ temporary spending bill as soon as it’s delivered to him.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Congress should act responsibly and pass a straightforward legislation to open the government and enable it to meet its financial obligations. They should do it right now.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the President tried not to appear too concerned about the 48 House Democrats who voted against him last night.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No. I would have been concerned if there’d have been enough for a veto override, but they have no intention, those House Democrats, except for maybe just a handful of ‘em, of supporting the Republican budget.
KWAME HOLMAN: But House Speaker Newt Gingrich wasn’t about to dismiss the vote of the 48 Democrats.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: Maybe he should invite the 48 who voted yes to come down to the White House to talk with him about why they voted yes, why Democrats felt last night on the House floor the yes vote was the right vote to put federal employees back to work, and maybe after he talks to those 48 Democrats, he can conclude that he could legitimately sign this, put the federal employees back to work, and then sit down with Sen. Dole and myself and have a serious discussion of how we balance the budget. Thank you all.
KWAME HOLMAN: But with no end to the current crisis in sight, negotiations on a balanced budget seem a long way off.