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24-Hour Stopgap Funding Approved, but the Budget Impasse Remains

Congress: Strange limbo covers Capitol as neither Democrats nor GOP foresees a quick deal before adjournment.


WASHINGTON — In session for rare weekend votes with the election fast approaching, Congress acted Saturday to keep the government running for another 24 hours but made little apparent progress in breaking a budget impasse.

Despite the action of the House and the Senate on the eighth stopgap spending measure since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, a weird limbo enveloped the Capitol as neither Republicans nor Democrats predicted a quick deal. Gone for the time being was the usual year-end pressure to adjourn. Instead, both sides seemed willing to wait to see who would blink first.

Negotiations focused on the handful of issues still dividing the parties, issues that might or might not influence voters at the polls Nov. 7. Among them were tax credits for school construction, proposed workplace safety regulations and measures to ease immigration law.

President Clinton, who forced the weekend votes by insisting that lawmakers pass daily stopgap budget measures, urged the Republican-led Congress to wrap up its budget work and include an increase in the federal minimum wage.

"I'm not trying to harass [Congress]," Clinton said at a news conference. "I'm just trying to get them to finish their job and go home."

Clinton cited an agriculture spending bill he signed Saturday as a model of bipartisanship. The president said he signed the bill--which included milestone language easing a decades-old trade embargo on Cuba to allow U.S. agricultural exports--even though he was critical of provisions that would limit the effect of the trade opening.

In a GOP radio address, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman called the budget showdown "a case in point" of Washington gridlock that voters will punish.

"I think we are ready for a change," Whitman said. "And the difference between the parties is striking. Republicans at all levels of government work with people to accomplish results--not make excuses for why we can't even try to solve them."

Republican congressional leaders note that they wrapped a minimum-wage increase Clinton supports into tax legislation that he is holding up with a promised veto. And they accuse the White House of constantly shifting its goals on the two government spending bills for fiscal 2001 that have not been finalized.

"I tell you, I've reached the end of my rope," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. To illustrate his frustration, Stevens said in an interview on the Capitol steps that the administration had sought $3.5 billion in extra spending on a bill containing $106.8 billion for discretionary spending on education, health and other programs. Then $4 billion. Then $4.1 billion. And now, he said, the demand is up to $4.5 billion.

"What can you do?" Stevens asked.

To register his protest, Stevens was one of two senators to vote against the daily budget resolution. The other was Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). Sixty-seven senators voted for the resolution.

Thirty-one senators--11 Democrats and 20 Republicans--were absent for what the chamber regarded as a ritual vote. Many missed it because of campaign events, a few for health reasons. California's Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein--who is running for reelection--and Barbara Boxer, were both absent.

The House vote for the stopgap measure was 339 to 7. All seven dissenters were Democrats, including Rep. George Miller of Martinez. Of the 86 representatives who were absent, 42 were Republicans and 44 Democrats.

Twelve of California's 52-member House delegation did not vote. They were Feinstein's opponent in the Senate race, GOP Rep. Tom Campbell of San Jose, and Reps. Brian P. Bilbray (R-San Diego), Ken Calvert (R-Riverside), Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Matthew G. Martinez (R-Monterey Park), Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), George P. Radanovich (R-Mariposa), Joe Baca (D-Rialto), Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), Pete Stark (D-Hayward) and Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

The roll call showed the political importance of the vote to many House members--all wary of the potential charge that their absence would reflect an insensitivity to the possibility of a government shutdown.

Bilbray was the only California absentee in a tough reelection race. Other California incumbents in contested races, such as Reps. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale), Steven T. Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes), Calvin Dooley (D-Visalia), Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) and Stephen Horn (R-Long Beach), all eschewed campaign events to remain in Washington for the vote.

More stopgap budget votes were expected today.

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