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Budget Negotiations Break Down After Clinton Threatens To Veto

By Eric Pianin and Dan Morgan

Relatively cordial negotiations between the White House and GOP leaders blew apart Thursday, leaving uncertain the fate of a year-end package that includes $240 billion worth of tax cuts, money for hospitals and nursing homes and an increase in the minimum wage.

After several days of conciliatory signs that seemed to point to a smooth wrap-up this weekend, President Clinton threatened to veto the tax measure and another big spending bill. He charged the GOP was not doing enough for middle-class people on issues like health care and education.

“You chose to put forward a partisan legislative package that ignores our key concerns,” Clinton said in a letter to GOP leaders. “... I will have no choice but to veto it.”

Clinton’s veto threats created a crisis atmosphere on Capitol Hill and generated uncertainty about when Congress would finish up for the year. It also appeared to raise the political stakes only 10 days before congressional elections that Democrats have been trying to turn into a referendum on what they call a “do-nothing” Congress.

Angry Republicans immediately blasted the president for attempting to precipitate a year-end spending crisis and said they would not offer another tax bill if Clinton carries out his veto threat. They warned that the administration and Democrats would be hard-pressed to justify blocking legislation that includes a variety of political appealing items for voters.

“If we pass Medicare increases, minimum wage and small business benefits and they veto it, I think they’ve got the worst side of it,” said House Chief Deputy Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “Then we’ll come back next year with a new president and pass it in better form.”

Democrats said that the Republicans have repeatedly lost in the past in trying to tangle with Clinton over taxes, spending and Medicare-and insisted they will lose again this time.