- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2000

A post-election session to resolve the budget for fiscal 2001 seemed all but inevitable yesterday as Republicans, Democrats and the White House traded political barbs and accusations in the wake of President Clinton's veto late Monday night of legislation funding Congress' budget for 2001.
"I'm not calling" for a post-election session, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican said, but he said it might be better to return to finish the budget in a less politically charged atmosphere.
"It is going to be very, very difficult to get our work done" before the election, Mr. DeLay said, reflecting the sentiment of both Democratic and Republican leaders.
In fact, no substantive negotiations took place yesterday among Republicans, Democrats and the White House, and none had been scheduled as of last night.
In the meantime, all parties intend to keep the government operating on a day-to-day basis through continuing resolutions.
The immediate cause for the breakdown is a dispute over workplace safety regulations exacerbated by Mr. Clinton's retaliatory veto of Congress' budget for 2001. But both parties accuse their opponents of using the dispute as an excuse to force a budget meltdown a week before the election in hopes it will help them in the polls.
Ironically, analysts from both parties concede the budget fight is largely being ignored by voters who, if they are paying any attention to politics at all, are focused on the presidential race.
Congress has held just 12 lame-duck sessions since 1940. Only five of those sessions have been held to resolve differences over the budget, most recently in 1980 and 1982.
"I don't like lame-duck sessions," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told reporters Tuesday.
"I can think of a lot of unhappy results of coming back in after the election. But … we have done it in the past, and it may be necessary for us to come back a few days after the election," Mr. Lott said.
There are relatively few issues to be resolved.
In addition to the workplace-safety rules, there are key differences on funding for school construction and new-teacher hires, granting an amnesty to illegal aliens from certain Latin American countries, allowing an embargo to continue on fishing pollock off the coast of Alaska, and whether to allow snowmobiling in wilderness areas.
Some dwindling hope also remains for passing a block of tax cuts and a package of payment increases for Medicare providers.
Budget negotiators had made progress over the weekend, and early Monday morning it appeared they had made a major breakthrough on the workplace rules and education funding.
Republicans and Democrats disagree on what happened next.
"We thought we had a good-faith agreement, with honorable compromises on both sides," Mr. Clinton said yesterday. "That was before the special interests weighed in with the Republican leadership, and when they did, the Republican leadership killed the education bill."
In retaliation, Mr. Clinton vetoed Congress' budget for 2001.
"I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that funds the operations of Congress … before funding our classrooms," Mr. Clinton said.
Republicans said not only did the president's veto break an explicit deal reached earlier, but that Democrats had tried to pull a fast one in negotiations over the worker safety regulations, which deal with repetitive-stress injuries and other ergonomic issues.
Republicans say their negotiators agreed to allow the next president to decide whether to allow the new ergonomic regulations to take effect. But Republicans said the actual language of the compromise would have allowed the regulations to take effect and been nearly impossible for the next president to withdraw.
"Instead of allowing negotiations to move forward, to clean up the drafting on ergonomics and then move on to other open issues … you reached for a veto pen," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, wrote yesterday in a letter to Mr. Clinton.
He accused the president of deciding that "political war makes sense."
Democrats, and some Republicans, insist House Republican leaders have been angling for a showdown with the president for months, particularly over the education bill.
They say Mr. DeLay has been particularly keen, willing to sabotage negotiations by House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, to assure that fight.
Richard E. May, a lobbyist with Davidson and Company, and the former chief of staff for Republicans on the House Budget Committee, counters that Democrats may have deliberately engineered the latest disagreement.
"I think House Democrats have given up on [Vice President Al Gore]," Mr. May said. "Gore cannot help them, so they are going to Plan B, which is a train wreck."
Despite the rhetoric, the developing budget impasse seems to be having little effect on the elections, particularly at the presidential level, analysts of both parties said.
"I think the American people probably realize these are two separate tracks," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for Mr. Gore, the Democratic nominee for president. "The American people are looking at the candidates and what they will do in the future."
Republican consultant Charles Black an adviser to the Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush said the seemingly intractable budget dispute has received hardly any attention in the media nationwide, neutralizing it as an election issue at almost any level.
"If it's not getting much news coverage outside the Beltway, it's just not going to make that much of a difference," Mr. Black said.
This is quite different from the intensive coverage of previous budget battles, particularly the government shutdown of 1995-96, which rebounded against the Republicans.
Neither presidential candidate has picked up the issue. Mr. Bush never mentions the budget process in his stump speeches, and barely acknowledges his Republican colleagues on the Hill.
Mr. Gore began the year attacking the "do-nothing Congress," but has barely mentioned the budget impasse in recent weeks, focusing instead on policy differences with Mr. Bush.

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