- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

The Senate left town yesterday after passing legislation its members hoped would allow them to postpone further budget talks until Nov. 14, a week after the elections.

But Republicans and Democrats in the House, stubbornly refusing to leave, will stay in session at least through tomorrow and may force the Senate back into session.

"We don't want to be rushed out of town and have a bad deal," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, told reporters. "We think there are some things we should be able to do."

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, demanded, "Let us stay here in these next days, and let us get the job done for America's children."

President Clinton himself seemed resigned to a lame-duck session.

Speaking to high-tech executives at a fund-raiser last night in McLean, Mr. Clinton said the budget apparently "won't pass until after the election, but eventually it will pass."

This is just the latest impasse in a yearlong budget battle that has dragged on far longer than anyone expected.

Just seven of 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2001, which began Oct. 1, have been signed into law, with big differences remaining on two of the unsigned bills.

Most say no real chance exists to resolve the budget this week.

"Everybody was wanting to do this, but nobody was willing to step up and take the action necessary to make it happen," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said yesterday.

He said that informal talks on how to stop negotiations, send Congress home and return after the elections to wrap up its work had been evolving over several days.

Yesterday morning he offered two resolutions. One was a continuing resolution to fund the government through today. The other would last through Nov. 13, letting Congress leave before the election.

The Senate quickly passed both. The one-day resolution also won approval from the House and was expected to get Mr. Clinton's signature.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters he had every intention of criticizing the Republicans' "complete failure" to finish the budget, but that there was not "any desire to scuttle this deal."

"It's been obvious the last couple days … we are getting nothing done here," Mr. Reid said.

At the time, it appeared that House Democrats, Republicans and the White House were willing to go along, too.

But Democrats signaled early on that a majority of their members would vote against the measure. In fact, they even jumped the gun on blaming Republicans for the impasse.

"The GOP is going into a recess in chaos," House Democrats announced on their Web site, apparently presuming the measure would pass over their opposition.

But House Republicans balked in an hourlong meeting yesterday afternoon, insisting that Democrats would not skewer them.

"We're not sure what planets [Democrats] are on, but the House is still in session, and Republicans are working," House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican, said in reaction to the Democrat's Web site.

Democrats think their only hope of winning control of the House in Tuesday's election is to break through voter indifference to what they call Republican inability to govern. That requires staying in Washington, or at least leaving reluctantly, and pounding Republicans all the way, Democrats say.

Republicans say that so long as they're in session and show up for work, Democrats and the White House cannot say they are not trying to negotiate.

Nonetheless, there has been a growing frustration for some in the leadership and the rank and file of both parties.

Early in October, Congress spent more days not voting than voting. But since Oct. 25, Mr. Clinton has allowed only day-to-day extensions of continuing resolutions to keep most of the government's doors open until completion of the permanent spending bills.

Making matters worse, only a few lawmakers have been involved in negotiations, leaving the rest to debate renaming courthouses, nonbinding resolutions expressing solidarity with Israel and other routine matters.

"The vote we just had on bankruptcy shows you where we are," Mr. Lott said, referring to the fact that 16 senators had failed to vote, most being back home campaigning or on the road stumping for others.

The House had similar problems, with 73 members absent from one vote yesterday.

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