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Budget Impasse Closes U.S. Government Again : Spending: Second shutdown in 3 weeks is expected to be less severe. No talks to resolve conflict are scheduled.


WASHINGTON — For the second time in a month, the federal government posted a "Closed" sign on Saturday as congressional Republicans and President Clinton again failed to reach an agreement on a plan for balancing the budget in seven years.

Although a steady stream of rhetoric flowed from both sides--each blaming the other for the impasse--no new talks between the warring parties were scheduled.

Republicans and Democrats met separately during the day to review their positions and strategies, but because the partial government shutdown began on Saturday--when most government offices were already closed for the weekend--there appeared to be no interest by either side in resolving the situation quickly.

Indeed, the start of the shutdown manifested itself mostly among tourists here, many of whom grumbled at being turned away from shuttered monuments and museums on a crisp, sunny day in the middle of the holiday season.

But the impact will be more noticeable as the workweek begins if, as appears likely, the closure lasts that long. Unless a temporary funding measure is approved today, 260,000 of the federal government's 2 million civilian employees will show up for work Monday morning only to be sent home.

Those numbers are far fewer, however, than the 800,000 idled during the six-day hiatus three weeks ago because five additional spending measures have been enacted since then, and the impact of the latest shutdown on citizens is expected to be much less severe.

Most essential services will continue uninterrupted. Among them: mail delivery; the processing of Social Security checks, Medicaid, cash welfare benefits and food stamps; weather forecasting and air traffic control. The White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, the Treasury and Agriculture Department offices will remain open.

On the other hand, passport offices were expected to remain closed Monday, except for emergencies.

In his weekly radio address, the president put the blame squarely on the GOP.

"The Republican Congress shut down the federal government in an effort to force through their unacceptable cuts in health care, education and the environment," he said.

In a bitter reply typical of the angry words that have come to characterize the budget debate, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), when asked what Clinton could do to restart negotiations, said the president "can stop that garbage he's spewing out on his radio program and everything else."

Later, Dole took to the Senate floor and said Republican leaders were waiting for an invitation from Clinton "to come to the White House or anywhere else to talk about a balanced budget."

But White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said that "whether the government will open on Monday depends on whether the Republicans will come back to the table."


On Saturday, both Republicans and administration officials met with representatives of the so-called Blue Dogs, an influential coalition of 21 moderate-to-conservative House Democrats that could help forge an acceptable budget alternative.

Clinton met with congressional Democrats--including a Blue Dog leader, Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres)--at Blair House, across the street from the White House, in an attempt to piece together a workable solution.

Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said at a news conference Saturday that Republicans were negotiating with conservative House Democrats.

"As the conservative Democrats increasingly move toward a real balanced-budget plan, the White House is going to get very nervous, and in the final analysis they will have to come up here and negotiate in good faith," Kasich said.

Republicans in Congress so far have refused to pass a temporary spending bill to finance government operations. Without such authority to spend federal funds, nine Cabinet departments and many other agencies were forced to halt nonessential activities at a minute past midnight EST Saturday.


Many GOP leaders have indicated they will not propose a temporary funding measure until the administration presents what they consider a serious plan to eliminate the federal deficit by the year 2002.

Both sides remain more than $200 billion apart and continue to cling to sharply different assumptions about the future performance of the U.S. economy.

The differences focus on savings the Republicans are trying to squeeze out of Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and other domestic programs, proposals that are opposed by the administration. They also disagree on a proposed GOP tax cut that the president believes is too large.

In a letter Saturday, Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) urged Clinton to approve three appropriations bills awaiting his signature, which would allow most federal workers to remain on the job. The measures cover a range of federal funding, including appropriations for the Interior Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department.

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