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KWAME HOLMAN: The Commerce Department has 25,000 employees around the country. At noon today, most were sent home.
MALE EMPLOYEE: I’m going to go home and take the rest of the day off by order.
FEMALE EMPLOYEE: Terrible thing so close to Christmas. (laughing) Hopefully, though, I’m hoping that it’s going to be really, really, really, really short.
KWAME HOLMAN: Technically, the Commerce Department has no money to operate, and so most of these federal workers, the so-called non-essential ones, won’t return to work until Congress approves and the President signs another continuing resolution, a temporary spending bill to keep all unfunded agencies up and running until permanent solutions can be worked out.
MALE EMPLOYEE ON STREET: We go home. We sit and we wait until we hear something.
KWAME HOLMAN: The old continuing resolution expired at midnight on Friday, so these workers weren’t too surprised to be asked to go home just hours after they got to work this morning.
BOB GRANT, Commerce Department: Well, I’m tired of seeing government shutdown. It’s very disruptive, very wasteful, demoralizing. I don’t think it’s a good thing.
GARRETT MEHL, Commerce Department: I have a lot of work to do. I’ve got to get back and do it. And this is not going to help. I’ve schedules to maintain and deadlines to meet, and just throwing us out on the street like this is not going to help us any.
KWAME HOLMAN: A spending bill to fund the Commerce Department, along with the Justice and State Departments, is on the President’s desk, but he vows to veto it tomorrow, just as he vetoed two other spending bills today containing money for NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Veterans Administration, the Departments of Interior, and Housing & Urban Development.
The President’s signature would have sent most furloughed federal workers back to work, but the President blames the Republicans.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The Republican Congress has shut down the federal government because they haven’t passed a budget for this year, and because they want to make the price of opening the government up my acceptance of seven long years of unacceptable cuts in health care, education, and the environment and research and technology, cuts that are not necessary to balancing the budget and will have an adverse effect on our way of life and on the strength of our economy.
Let me be clear, it is time to finish the job of passing the budget for this year, and I am eager to work with the Congress to reach agreement on a balanced budget plan. We should be able quickly to reach agreement on how to fund the government for the months to come. I have made a specific compromise offer to finish this year’s budget so we can get the government working for the people. Then we can resolve our larger differences over how best to balance the budget consistent with our values.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole responded immediately to the President’s remarks.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: He had the bills, could have signed the bills, and the people would have been working and assured nothing would happen until the end of the fiscal year next October. So I’m disappointed that President Clinton is again playing politics, instead of looking at the policy.
It seems to me that he’s making matters more and more difficult. He refuses to talk seriously about a seven-year balanced budget, which most Americans would like to accomplish. And I really believe that unless we can accomplish something serious by Friday that it’s probably not going to happen this year.
KWAME HOLMAN: But House Republican leaders, including Speaker Newt Gingrich, weren’t ready to consider a Friday deadline.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I believe this is the crisis of a generation. We have had deficit spendings for 26 years. We spent an entire year developing a balanced budget bill. We passed it in the House.
We passed it in the Senate. For us to walk off now and take a vacation, giving up on balancing the budget I think would be a tragedy that would haunt us for the rest of our lives. So I think you’re going to find among House Republicans a very deep commitment to sitting here and getting the job done.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, the full House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution reaffirming its commitment to a seven-year balanced budget.
REP. ROBERT WALKER, (R) Pennsylvania: It makes it clear that this Congress is determined to have a balanced budget within seven years, and it’s going to do so based upon the honest numbers generated by the Congressional Budget Office, based upon the most recent technical and economic assumptions.
That’s the right course of action to take. It’s the way in which this country has to move. Why resolution? Why do we have to do it through resolution? Well, because throughout this year, we had a situation where the administration has refused, yes, refused to be serious about balancing the budget.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: Their budget makes deep cuts in Medicare, in Medicaid, in education, and in the environment. That is what this debate, ladies and gentlemen, is all about.
We Democrats believe that you can balance the budget in seven years without making these deep cuts, and we’ve offered a plan to do just that, because we know that the cuts being proposed in this Republican budget will have a devastating, a devastating effect on working families.
KWAME HOLMAN: Every Republican and a majority of Democrats voted for the resolution, and early this evening, there was an indication that President Clinton was ready to approach congressional Republicans again with a new seven-year balanced budget proposal.