TOPICS > Politics

Balancing Act

November 20, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Judging by the traffic on the roadways leading into the nation’s capital this morning, most of the area’s 150,000 furloughed federal workers got the word. They were expected back at work today, thanks to an agreement reached last evening between the President and the Congress. It temporarily funds the government through December 15th, ending the six-day partial shutdown, and promises paychecks to furloughed workers. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt personally welcomed back his employees.

SEC. BRUCE BABBITT: I’m delighted to have you back.

KWAME HOLMAN: The agreement was the result of weekend negotiations between Republican Congressional leaders and Congressional Democrats and White House officials, led by Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. President Clinton announced the end of the impasse last night.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: The bill I have agreed to sign will allow our government to once again begin to serve the American people, while broader discussions about how best to balance the budget take place. I have made clear from the beginning my principles in this budget debate. We must balance the budget, but we must do it in a way that is good for our economy and that maintains our values.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House of Representatives immediately followed quick action by the Senate and passed the first of two temporary spending bills needed to end the government shutdown, and they did it without the kind of harsh partisan, often personal, attacks that have characterized the budget debate. In fact, they did it with no debate at all.

SPOKESMAN: Mr. Speaker, I’d be happy to yield back the balance of my time if the gentleman will do the same so we can pass this thing and put people back to work.

SPOKESMAN: Mr. Speaker, I look forward to people going back to work, and I yield back the balance of my time.

SPOKESMAN: All those in favor, say aye.

ALL: Aye.

SPOKESMAN: Those opposed, no. (silence) The ayes have it. The motion is agreed to, and without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

KWAME HOLMAN: As part of the agreement, Republicans got the President to commit to a seven-year balanced budget plan using the economic forecasting of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: (Last Night) The fact that we now have a commitment by the President, a commitment by the minority leaders that they will work with us to get to a balanced budget in seven years and that it’ll be scored in an honest way with honest numbers I think is one of the great historic achievements in modern America.

KWAME HOLMAN: For their part, the President and Congressional Democrats got Republicans to agree to protect many of the President’s spending priorities.

LEON PANETTA, White House Chief of Staff: (Last Night) The key words in this agreement are that the President and the Congress must agree on an agreement that protects those priorities that we have been fighting for time and time again on Medicare, on Medicaid, on education, on the environment, on working families. And the President has always said that our fundamental goal here is to protect those priorities; if we can achieve it in seven years, fine, if it’s eight years, fine, but let us fundamentally protect those priorities.

KWAME HOLMAN: If it sounds like Chief of Staff Leon Panetta is fudging a bit between seven and eight years, that’s certainly how House Majority Leader Dick Armey took it, and after Panetta repeated the phrase “seven or eight years” this morning, Armey fired off and distributed to the press a letter to Panetta criticizing him for his choice of words. It reads, in part, “Words have meaning, Leon. Seven years is seven years, not seven or eight years.” And on the floor of the House today, Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston said he also understood the commitment was to seven years.

REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Chairman, House Appropriations: Seven years is not going up. Seven years means seven years. The President committed to seven years, not eight, nine, ten, twelve, anything else. He committed to seven years last night, and we’re going to hold him to it.

KWAME HOLMAN: But most members of the House chose to speak positively about the agreement, even though the sides are far apart on the details of a balanced budget plan.

REP. SANFORD BISHOP, (D) Georgia: Mr. Speaker, I applaud the agreement finally reached by the President and Republican leaders to end the shutdown and put government back to work again for the American people.

REP. TOM DeLAY, (R) Texas: And I am just absolutely thrilled that for the first time in recent history the President of the United States and the Congress has agreed to balance the budget and balance the budget in seven years.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) California: I’m particularly grateful to President Clinton for holding firm to his commitment to protect Medicare, the environment, and education, and to scale back the tax breaks for the wealthiest people in our country.

KWAME HOLMAN: And there was even an apology issues this afternoon for a shoving match that occurred during the height of the emotional budget debate on Saturday.

REP. JAMES MORGAN, (D) Virginia: If this were an athletic ring, a top gun Navy fighter pilot the size of Duke Cunningham would certainly have made for a fair fight, but we’re supposed to be engaged in a battle of ideas, demonstrating to the American people and other countries how we settle our differences in a non-violent way. And so Mr. Cunningham deserves an apology from me, and I hereby offer one.

KWAME HOLMAN: Early this evening by a nearly unanimous vote, the House approved the bill extending government funding through December 15th. The House will adjourn tonight and return after Thanksgiving to begin what promises to be contentious negotiations over a balanced budget plan.