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Clinton, Republicans Fail To Avert Partial Shutdown

By Paul Richter and Edwin Chen
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The federal government skidded toward partial shutdown late Monday as last-ditch efforts to broker a temporary budget deal between President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders sputtered and came to nothing.

With the government prepared to furlough more than a third of their 2.1 million civilian workers Tuesday morning, President Clinton vetoed a temporary borrowing bill and vowed to veto a stopgap spending measure that would have kept federal offices open.

Clinton declared that signing the bills would force him to swallow unacceptable portions of the GOP agenda that Republicans had tacked onto the short-term budget bills. The temporary spending bill was passed by the Senate Monday afternoon, and was expected to reach his desk Monday evening.

"This legislation is part of an overall back-door effort by the congressional Republicans to impose their priorities on our nation," he said. He charged that the GOP was violating the intent of the founding fathers by packing special provisions dealing with larger government policy questions into temporary measures meant to deal exclusively with government solvency.

And while White House and GOP leaders stayed at their posts late into the evening, they continued to trade denunciations, giving no sign that their professed eagerness to find a way out would avert the first federal shutdown in five years.

Republicans taunted Clinton and accused him of trying to avoid their sincere efforts to find a compromise. House Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.), said the leadership intended to draft a new compromise alternative to the temporary spending bill Monday evening after Clinton vetoed the original version.

Gingrich said the standoff "must seem like a spectacle to the average American," and he warned that the public will "blame all of us." He also attacked the White House for trying to negotiate through McCurry's statements.

Some Democrats as well acknowledged that the standoff cast a highly unflattering light on the adversaries.

"Everybody loses if we try to bring the government to a standstill," said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) "We're so busy trying to score political points, I think some people in Louisiana believe even we in Congress are not `essential' employees who should report to work tomorrow."

Some 800,000 federal workers in Washington and across the country are to be furloughed Tuesday for an indefinite period.

Those employees, who have been deemed non-essential, have been told to report to work Tuesday, and to be prepared for orders to close up their operations and head home unless a compromise is reached.

The battle over these two temporary measures has developed because the Congress has fallen behind in its efforts to finish the work of passing 13 bills needed to fund the various government operations for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. So far, only three of the 13 bills have been finished by Congress.

The two temporary budget measures would keep the government operating as usual for several more weeks, providing Congress and the president time to complete work on the remaining measures.

The furloughs would not affect federal services deemed vital, such as air traffic control, law enforcement, the mails and the military.

But they would close national parks, museums, passport offices and the processing of new claims for Social Security, food stamps and other government benefits.

Monday, some Senate Republicans attempted a last-ditch compromise by seeking to defuse Clinton's opposition to a GOP provision to raise Medicare premiums for elderly beneficiaries.

The Republican measure to temporarily extend the government's spending authority would have raised those premiums, starting Jan. 1, from the current $46.10 to $53.50, rather than allowing them to fall to $42.50, as provided in current law.

As a way around the White House objections, Sen. Peter V. Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, suggested that the spending bill keep the premiums level at $46.10.

But White House officials did not promise that Clinton would accept that compromise.