Advertisement

Congress votes to end shutdown

By REX NUTTING

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 -- Congress voted overwhelmingly Friday to end the 21-day-old federal government shutdown and bring hundreds of thousands of federal employees back to work with pay but without the ability to do their jobs. The complicated proposals by the Republican leadership would fund a handful of federal programs through the end of the fiscal year and would temporarily restore all government services as soon as President Clinton submits his own balanced budget plan. After a flurry of legislative activity that saw both the House and Senate pass a series of separate measures to end the partial government shutdown, the bills moved to the White House for the president's signature. The White House said Clinton would sign them 'as fast as possible.' The action came as Clinton resumed his budget negotiations with Senate Republican leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. After returning from the White House, Dole said he 'had reason to believe' that Clinton would soon present a balanced budget plan, which would trigger the bill to temporarily restore funding for all government services that have been affected by the shutdown. Both congressional Republicans and the Democratic incumbent in the White House were under increasing pressure to resolve the partial government shutdown that was intruding on ordinary Americans' lives more and more each day. The bills solved a particularly knotty problem for Republicans, who had vowed to keep the government closed until Clinton submitted a balanced budget plan. The bills allowed them to bring back the workers and restore some of the most visible services while putting more pressure on Clinton to come to the bargaining table with a serious, detailed proposal.

Advertisement

The complicated solution involved three separate bills. The first bill would bring 285,000 furloughed federal employees back to work and pay them retroactively from Dec. 16 -- the day the partial shutdown began. The so-called back-to-work bill would last until Jan. 26. More than 475,000 employees now working without pay also would receive paychecks and back pay. The bill also would fund a few selected and highly visible programs -- such as meals for the elderly, national parks and veterans hospitals and benefits -- through Sept. 30, and would fund welfare benefits through March 15. A second bill, known as a triggered continuing resolution, would fund all closed government activities and programs through Jan. 26 as soon as Clinton submits a detailed budget plan that the Congressional Budget Office certifies will balance the budget by 2002. A third bill, approved by both the House and Senate late Friday, would fund dozens of other federal programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, law enforcement and other health and welfare programs, through the fiscal year. Republicans drew up that bill after they realized that several vital programs were missing from the initial back-to-work bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., said more limited spending bills could come before Congress. 'If it's important, we'll get to it,' he said. 'If it's not important, we might never get to it at all.' Meanwhile, Clinton and the bipartisan leaders of Congress agreed at a meeting Friday that they will hold budget negotiations Saturday, Sunday and Monday at the White House. Spokesman Mike McCurry said that while the intensified schedule of negotiations shows a commitment to resolve the budget impasse, he was not optimistic that a final deal can be reached by Monday. 'It's clear from that schedule that they plan to do serious work over the weekend,' McCurry said, though cautioning that the negotiators 'are some way' from a final agreement. While not being specific, McCurry said the negotiators discussed two of about 11 issue areas during talks Friday. A White House source said Clinton did bring some 'new ideas' to the table, but stopped short of calling it a new budget proposal on the part of the White House. As Clinton met with the congressional leaders, debate was heated in Congress as Republicans deflected criticism from Democrats. 'This isn't giving in,' said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R- Texas. 'This isn't moving toward the president. This is doing what we were sent here to do.' House Republicans, led by the 73-member freshman class, have refused past attempts to reopen the government unless Clinton submits a balanced budget plan. The back-to-work bill contains no such demand. 'Republicans will never surrender in our effort to get a balanced budget,' DeLay said. 'But we will not keep federal employees on the firing line when it's Bill Clinton who should be fired.' House Democrats reluctantly supported the measure, saying it was better than nothing. But they indicated they would prefer a larger measure to fund all government operations, not just the ones contained in the back-to-work bill. And Democrats said the plan to pay workers for doing nothing was crazy. 'After 21 days, even though my colleagues on the other side of the aisle haven't seen the light yet, they are starting to feel the heat,' House Democratic Whip David Bonior said of polls showing the American public blames Congress for the shutdown. 'As half-baked as this is, we need to support the resolution,' Bonior said. Fiscal 1996 began Oct. 1 -- without a new budget in place. Clinton refuses to accept GOP demands for big tax breaks and sharp spending cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. In response, Congress will not approve a raising of the federal debt ceiling, meaning the government cannot borrow money to continue operations. Seven of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the budget have been enacted into law, three have been vetoed and three have not yet cleared Congress. Much of the federal government has been running on temporary spending measures during the last three months. Twice, those measures have expired, resulting in government shutdowns. The first shutdown lasted six days.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Latest Headlines