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Government Shutdown Battle
November 13, 1995
Correspondents: Michel Mcqueen, Brit Hume, John Cochrane
Anchor: Cokie Roberts

ANNOUNCER: November 13th, 1995.

COKIE ROBERTS (VO): It's the Washington version of Beat the Clock.

SEN BOB DOLE: We're prepared to act up until midnight, or after.

COKIE ROBERTS (VO): A political impasse over the budget-

PRES BILL CLINTON: I would be wrong to permit these kind of pressure tactics.

REP NEWT GINGRICH: It's very sad to see the President choose this political game.

COKIE ROBERTS (VO): -and federal services hang in the balance. Tonight, as the clock strikes 12:00, the government shuts down.

ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Substituting for Ted Koppel and reporting from Washington, Cokie Roberts.

COKIE ROBERTS: It's after midnight in Washington, so the government must be closed, right? Well, technically right, but this is Washington, after all, and nothing is quite that simple. After casting his threatened vetoes, President Clinton and congressional leaders met tonight, trying to fix the mess they had made, but the meeting broke up not long ago, with only the promise to meet again tomorrow. Each side is trying to score political points in this budget drama without getting blamed for chaos. 'Protector of Medicare' is President Clinton's chosen role, and he refused to sign the bill to keep the government going because it required Medicare recipients to pay more for some premiums than they currently expect to. Republicans are playing 'protectors of the purse,' but both sides are worried that voters will see them as game playing politicians, and an ABC News / Washington Post poll released tonight shows that's exactly what voters do think. Nine times in the past 14 years, the government's officially run out of money. Four times it's actually shut down. This is becoming a well worn script.

(VO) But the poll also shows that Republicans get more of the blame for a possible shutdown; 46 percent say they're at fault, 27 percent blame the President. (on camera) Those numbers served as a backdrop to the events of this very long day. Nightline correspondent Michel McQueen has our report.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: Federal shutdown, will it happen? Stay tuned for instant updates.

MICHEL MCQUEEN, ABC NEWS (VO): As the sun rose, so did the volume in a divided Washington.

VICE PRES AL GORE (NBC): They have not done their job. Now they're trying to make an end run around the Constitution, around the normal procedures.

REP ROBERT LIVINGSTON, (R), CHAIRMAN, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: We've done a lot to work our way toward the President. He has not done thing toward coming toward us.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): Eight thirty AM, President Clinton vetoed the first of two bills at issue in the budget crisis, one that would raise the federal debt limit and require a balanced budget in seven years.

PRES BILL 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.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): And as federal workers headed to the office, the confrontation over the other bill - providing money to keep the government operating temporarily - cast a shadow over the workday.

1ST FEDERAL WORKER: I think it's nonsense. I'm involved in personnel, so I'm the one who's going to be going to my office to type up furlough letters, including to myself.

2ND FEDERAL WORKER: The reality is that the Congress and the President have to get together and come to terms on exactly, you know, what needs to be done to ensure that there isn't a shutdown.


MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): Mid morning. In a duel to seize the moral high ground, the President and House Speaker Newt Gingrich delivered speeches to friendly audiences.

PRES BILL CLINTON: As long as they insist on plunging ahead with a budget that violates our values, in a process that is characterized more by pressure than constitutional practice, I will fight it. I am fighting it today, I will fight it tomorrow, I will fight it next week, and next month.

REP NEWT GINGRICH: We can balance the budget, we can save the Medicare trust fund, we can reform the welfare system if we can have an honest dialogue among ourselves as a people.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): At the Senate, the first sign of movement. Republican budget leader Pete Domenici offered a compromise to freeze Medicare premiums at their current level.

SEN PETE DOMENICI: Now, of late, and I don't know whether this is acceptable across the board, but I've at least discussed, after talking with my staff, I've discussed with the Republican leaders here and with others that perhaps the solution is to freeze that at $46.10.

MICHEL MCQUEEN: But at noon, despite the glimmer of progress, all signs still point to a government shutdown, with no clue about how long it will last, or what the long term impact might be. And although Washington has seen these shutdowns before, nearly everyone agrees that this one is different.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: It has the potential of a serious disruption, and a historic change. You have a Republican Congress, especially a Republican House, bound and determined not to compromise and to push its vision of the budget and of the role of the federal government down the throat of the President of the United States, and you have a president saying, 'I draw the line in the dust, and I won't let this happen.'

HELEN THOMAS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: You always had the sense that it was very- it would be resolved very soon. There seems to be a different mood this time around, a real- there's a real division of philosophy, I think, of government. It's- it's, I think, a real crisis.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): The real crisis for federal workers, like these in the Social Security office in Kansas City, was the fear of losing a paycheck.

3RD FEDERAL WORKER: When we go on furlough, then that means immediately we have no income, and even if it was just us, it would be one thing, but we have a child to take care of.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): And at this national park in Ventura County, California, rangers were preparing for limited operations.

NATIONAL PARK RANGER: The areas will be closed off to the public, but we will maintain patrols of the area and maintain a patrol staff for emergency medical services, protection of the resource, and search and rescue operations.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): Back in Washington, twice as many people as usual showed up at the passport office, fearing the office would soon close. Two thirty PM Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry threw cold water on a proposed compromise on Medicare and on the Congress' overall approach to funding.

MIKE MCCURRY: The President is very concerned about 60 percent funding level. He has made that clear repeatedly in the statements he's made the last two days, and that just is an unacceptable cointinuing bill.

REPORTER: So that's a veto. That means a veto, correct?

MIKE MCCURRY: It's unacceptable.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): And with the White House unwilling to compromise, senators said they also were not interested, and that they would send the President their original funding bill. They pointedly noted they would remain on the job.

SEN BOB DOLE: We're prepared to act up until midnight, or after, if necessary, to prevent a shutdown of the federal government.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): And the blame game continued.

REP NEWT GINGRICH: We want the country to understand that the only way the government will close tomorrow is, that it is President Clinton is determined to close it.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): And shortly before 9:00 PM, congressional leaders reached out.

REP NEWT GINGRICH: We want to go down and talk with the President about how to keep the government open, and to try to have a discussion about how we will get to a balanced budget and keep the government open, and the- he said no preconditions, and we said no preconditions.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO): It was the Republicans who asked the President for the meeting, and while the phone call got them an invitation to the White House, it could not save their funding bill. Within the hour, the President own at midnight. (on camera) It's worth repeating that this whole exercise was over a measure that funds government operations for only 18 days, and any agreement the leaders come up with will also be temporary, so unless the Congress and the President can find common ground on balancing the budget, they could do it all again next month. This is Michel McQueen for Nightline, in Washington.

COKIE ROBERTS: Now standing by at the White House, ABC's Brit Hume, and wn at midnight. (on camera) It's worth repeating that this whole exercise was over a measure that funds government operations for only 18 days, and any agreement the leaders come up with will also be temporary, so unless the Congress and the President can find common ground on balancing the budget, they could do it all again next month. This is Michel McQueen for Nightline, in Washington.

COKIE ROBERTS: Now standing by at the White House, ABC's Brit Hume, and on Capitol Hill, ABC's John Cochran. Brit, the meeting broke up, everybody came out, and-?

BRIT HUME, ABC NEWS: And everybody said that they'd had a very candid meeting, and that they had discussed all of their differences and they'd talked about a full range of budgetary topics, and basically hadn't made any progress and agreed that there would be another meeting tomorrow, but at a lower level. So it looks like everybody's setting in to let this last a while.

COKIE ROBERTS: Now, John Cochran, you've heard reports throughout the day of a new Republican plan. Let's hear that one.

JOHN COCHRAN, ABC NEWS: Well, what the Republicans have been kicking around is this idea about Medicare that Michel was talking about, to pull the increase in Medicare premiums off the table, to keep in the lower spending levels that they want, and also to add something to this continuing resolution bill. That would be a commitment that the President would have to sign onto, to balance the budget in seven years. You can ask Congressman Kasich about that later.

COKIE ROBERTS: But Brit, that's exactly what the President objected to in that other piece of legislation that he vetoed early in the day, that debt ceiling legislation.

BRIT HUME: Well, Cokie, that's true. It was one of the things in that bill that he objected to, but it wasn't the one he talked about the most, and it did not appear to be the principal cause of his objection to that measure. And it's by no means clear that a measure sent down here which basically said, 'We keep the government going for two weeks, you agree that we will now negotiate over a seven year balanced budget plan, and we'll keep it going at only 60 percent of current levels, or thereabouts,' that the President would be in quite the same position. On this last one, he was able to say, 'I'm not letting you raise Medicare premiums,' and that, of course, has wide appeal. People are worried about Medicare, a lot of elderly people who vote. It's a different matter when all that's at stake is the level of spending, and while the White House was saying today that was unacceptable, officials stopped short of saying that the President would veto it to protect spending alone, because in political terms, which is what ultimately matters here, that is not nearly so appealing a position to be in.

COKIE ROBERTS: And in political terms, John Cochran, that's getting back to what I said earlier, Republicans as protectors of the purse, balancers of the budget.


COKIE ROBERTS: Are they planning to capitalize on that?

JOHN COCHRAN: Well, the Republicans are feeling the pinch. You showed that poll earlier that says, in fact, the Republicans are getting most of the blame from the public, and this is coming as something of a shock to the Republicans. You will notice, it is the Republicans who are calling the White House each time and saying, 'Let's talk,' it's not Bill Clinton doing that. And the Republicans knew that this was not- they were not going to reach any deal tonight, so three hours before midnight, the Republican National Committee released an ad that will appear.

(VO) A big ad that will appear in USA Today tomorrow, to try to put the blame on the President, and that ad says, 'This morning' - that would be actually now this morning - 'the President spent $607 million and closed the Washington Monument. It would have been cheaper to balance the budget.'

(on camera) So they were ready for this.

COKIE ROBERTS: So- so and the political battle wages on. Thank you both very much. When we come back, White House budget director Alice Rivlin and House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich.

(Commercial break)

COKIE ROBERTS: Joining us from our Washington bureau, just out of the Oval Office meeting, Alice Rivlin, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Ms Rivlin, tell us about the meeting. Was there any progress made on getting to opening the government anytime soon?

ALICE RIVLIN, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Well, it was a very frank and open exchange of views, as they say. The President was very strong. He had just finished vetoing the continuing resolution, the stop gap spending measure that had the Medicare premium increase on it, and he made very clear that that was unacceptable, that Medicare increases did not belong in this kind of an interim spending bill. And then everybody talked about how they felt about it, but no progress was made. We will, in fact, have to close the government tomorrow.

COKIE ROBERTS: And how long do you expect it to stay closed?

ALICE RIVLIN: All of us hope that it isn't closed for very long, but this is a difficult negotiation, and it's very hard to tell. It might be one day, it might be two or three, or more.

COKIE ROBERTS: Now, you heard John Cochran just say that there was a plan being circulated of pulling out the Medicare part of it and insisting on the President signing onto a balanced budget in seven years. Was that what you were hearing in the meeting?

ALICE RIVLIN: There was some of that in the meeting. I think the one thing that is clear is that Medicare is now off the table. The Republicans tried to attach a premium increase to the continuing resolution. It was vetoed by the President and they certainly don't have the votes to pass that over veto.

COKIE ROBERTS: So- so the argument now is back to this fundamental balancing the budget argument?

ALICE RIVLIN: It's back to what conditions, if any, should there be on a continuing resolution? Now, we don't-

COKIE ROBERTS: A continuing resolution meaning that piece of legislation to keep the government going?

ALICE RIVLIN: Exactly. And since all we're talking about - we're not talking about the budget here - we are talking about keeping the government going while the budget debate goes on. The Republicans haven't sent us a budget yet, they haven't finished their job. So we are only talking about how to keep the government open, and extraneous matters like Medicare premium increases don't belong on that kind of legislation.

COKIE ROBERTS: Ms Rivlin, you have been- now you're at the White House end of Pennsylvania Avenue. You have been at the other end, as head of the Congressional Budget Office. You have watched these shutdowns, where the government runs out of money, and all of that, for many years. The American people are saying, in all of the polls and all of the interviews, 'We're sick of this. We think that this government should do better than that.' I mean, what do you say to them? Why is this going on? Why are you all meeting in the middle of the night and not able to keep the government open?

ALICE RIVLIN: Well, I wish we weren't, and I think it's really quite stupid and counterproductive to be closing down the government. For reasons best known to themselves, the Republican majority in Congress decided they wanted to do that. They had a simple way out. They could have signed a clean, simple bill that would keep the government open, but they chose not to do that. They chose to attach to that bill conditions that they knew the President could not accept. They wanted him to veto, they wanted to close down the government.

COKIE ROBERTS: But you've seen that happen over the years, too. I remember Democrats putting aid to the Contras on bills that they wanted President Reagan to sign. You've seen all of this go on, and apparently, what we're seeing now in the polls is a cumulative disgust over the years with what's been going on here.

ALICE RIVLIN: Well, that's not surprising, but the President feels very strongly that- not that we should close down the government, clearly we should not. But he cannot accept conditions that are simply against the values that this administration holds, and raising Medicare premiums is one of those, and accepting other conditions on the budget right now just cannot be done.

COKIE ROBERTS: Of course, there are those who say that he is just playing politics with Medicare. Very quickly, do you have an answer to that?

ALICE RIVLIN: politics is what presidents are elected to do, but politics is a very important thing. It is reflecting the values of the American people. There are two budgets before the Congress and before the public. The one that we are in favor of, we believe reflects the values of the American public, the common ground on which we stand. It is not extreme and it does get to balance.

COKIE ROBERTS: All right. Thank you very much, Alice Rivlin.

(VO) When we come back, the Republican view from Representative John Kasich, the House Budget Committee chairman.

(Commercial break)

COKIE ROBERTS: Joining us from Capitol Hill, Representative John Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Congressman Kasich, first of all, thank you for staying up so very late. You've just heard Alice Rivlin saying that they- that the President won't back down on basic values. Is there any backing down on the Republican side?

REP JOHN KASICH, (R), CHAIRMAN, BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, the most basic value, Cokie, is that we, frankly, balance the budget so that the next generation is going to have decent jobs and be able to buy a house. I mean, when mothers and fathers think about what their children are going to have in 15 years, they're very worried about it, and if we don't balance the budget, there will be a erosion of fundamental American values.


REP JOHN KASICH: So we're not going to back down from balancing the budget and saving the next generation.

COKIE ROBERTS: But what about on this question of adding a balanced budget to this just short term, 18 day, by tomorrow 17 day, resolution to keep the government going, so that you don't have to go through all of this mess?

REP JOHN KASICH: Well, the continuing resolution is- is absolutely consistent with our plan to balance the budget. What we say in there is for programs that we flat out zero out, like the Interstate Commerce Commission, the oldest bureaucracy in America, we want to zero that out, we want to get started on that, and the administration says no. We didn't even zero it out in our continuing resolution, we funded it at 60 percent. They said, well, that's not good enough. Look, what we're doing in the short term is entirely consistent with what we want to do in the long term, and we want to stop the politics as usual. Cokie, look-


REP JOHN KASICH: -two years ago, Tim Penny, a Democrat from Minnesota, and I fought the fight to cut one penny out of every dollar. The same special interests and the same administration worked us over, they defeated this bipartisan effort. We couldn't even cut a penny-


REP JOHN KASICH: -and I'll tell you, it's time for change.

COKIE ROBERTS: -but you say you want to stop politics as usual. The voters clearly think this is not only politics as usual, but it's Washington as usual, and the same old mess that they hate in Washington, and in our poll tonight, it's Republicans, 64 percent of the people say Republicans are playing politics with this.

REP JOHN KASICH: I know. Cokie, the easiest thing to do in this city is pass out money. That's why we're $5 trillion in debt. That's why the next generation is in trouble. That's why a kid born today is going to give government 82 percent of everything he or she earns. We're-

COKIE ROBERTS: But nobody- but you know, people don't disagree with you on that. People want to balance the budget, but they are saying they don't, in all of the polling, that they don't want to balance it your way.

REP JOHN KASICH: Look, the problem is, we're- our- under our plan to balance the budget, federal spending will increase by $3 trillion over the next seven years more than what we spent in the last seven years. If people knew that, they would go and say, 'Why are you spending so much?' Our problem is, the President runs around and uses the word 'extreme' and 'cuts' and everything else. We're not cutting spending, we're slowing the growth. The President, he doesn't have any budget. We sent his budget to be analyzed by the budget office here in Washington, and guess what-


REP JOHN KASICH: -they said he's got deficits of $200 billion in the out years.


REP JOHN KASICH: So, look, we're willing to sit down and negotiate priorities. We're willing to be flexible on that, but Cokie, this is the last best chance we have to save this next generation by just putting ourselves on a slight diet. When the people find out what this is, we're going to be fine.

COKIE ROBERTS: Well, give me your sense of what happens now. There was a meeting in the middle of the night tonight. It broke up with everybody saying, 'We're nowhere.' Now what?

REP JOHN KASICH: Well, Leon Panetta and Alice Rivlin are going to come up here tomorrow and they're going to meet with Pete Domenici and- and me, and we're going to have a discussion about is there any common ground. And-

COKIE ROBERTS: And meanwhile, the government's shut down, and it's costing us all money.

REP JOHN KASICH: Well, I've just to got to tell you, Cokie, that, you know, maybe we can work something out on a continuing resolution, but it's got to be consistent with the plan to balance the budget. We know that there's going to be some political hits we're going to take in this, but frankly, Cokie, in my career, this is the best chance I have to serve America. This is not about politics and trying to blame the other side. I've done more deals with Democrats, putting things together like Tim Penny, than any Republican, and you know that. This is about the principle of finally saying no to special interest groups, balancing the budget, and saving the children of the next generation and doing ourselves some good by lowering interest rates.

COKIE ROBERTS: Thank you, John Kasich, chairman of the Budget Committee. We'll see if we get any kind of deal, and I'll be back-

REP JOHN KASICH: Well, I hope we will.

COKIE ROBERTS: -and I'll be back with a special program note in a moment.

(Commercial break)

COKIE ROBERTS: Tomorrow night, Ted Koppel moderates a special Nightline town meeting from Jerusalem, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill.' Among the guests, acting Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and Leah Rabin, widow of the assassinated prime minister. That's our broadcast for tonight. I'm Cokie Roberts in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.

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