- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says Congress could remain in Washington through Election Day, working on a final spending bill, but he vowed Republicans won't "cave in" to all the president's demands.

"We're prepared to stay. We're prepared to find fair common ground. But we're not just going to give him the things he's demanding," the Mississippi Republican said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, agreed. "I think President Clinton wants a confrontation with Congress. If he wants one, he can have it. We're not going to capitulate," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

The senators made their comments as Congress met in a rare Sunday session to approve, among other things, another 24-hour continuing resolution to keep the federal government operational while budget talks continue.

Eight days remain until the election. Mr. Lott said yesterday Congress will stay in session that long "if that's what it takes" to reach a truce in its final budget battle with Mr. Clinton.

"In other words, we're prepared to stay here to defend what we think is right, rather than closing up shop and going home… . We've made it clear now that we're willing to stand on principle," said the Senate's top official.

Negotiations were inching forward, with the two sides considering new White House proposals on school construction, ergonomics and other issues that have held up agreement on a bill funding labor, education and health programs.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, Florida Republican, said it was a "positive step" and held out hopes the bill could be finished by tonight.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who appeared on Fox, expressed confidence that differences between the two sides can be resolved this week.

Almost a month into the new fiscal year, only seven of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2001 programs have been signed into law. Possible vetoes hang over at least two others, and the two sides are still far apart on a huge $350 billion bill to fund labor, education and health programs.

One of the measures drawing a veto threat is a 10-year, $240 billion tax-relief package that contains a $1 boost in the minimum wage. Mr. Clinton says the measure is unacceptable because he says too much of a $30 billion giveback to Medicare providers goes to health management organizations.

Other key issues that still divide the White House and the Republican-dominated Congress, according to senators of both parties, include school construction; new workplace regulations that would set standards to prevent repetitive-motion injuries and other work-related ailments; and an amnesty for illegal aliens.

Mr. Clinton "just wants to grant a blanket amnesty to over a million illegal aliens," who entered this country before 1986, Mr. Lott said, adding:

"Basically, it would be saying 'if you want to come to the United States illegally, if you just stay here for a while, you'll just be given … citizenship.'

"In other words, nobody would want to come legally anymore. We cannot give in on that fundamental principle."

On Fox, Mr. Daschle accused Republicans of bowing to special interest groups in blocking Mr. Clinton's demands for tax breaks for school construction.

"The bill that's currently before us gives three times as much in tax breaks to the executives getting business lunches as it does providing for school construction," said the Senate's top Democrat.

The White House insists that prevailing wages be paid for school construction projects. In many cases, that would mean union scale.

"They are trying to give organized labor a great big gift right before the election," Mr. Nickles said on Fox. Mr. Daschle denied that.

It would be a "payoff to big labor … that we just will not agree to," said Mr. Lott.

He further complained that Mr. Clinton is "demanding a provision in the school construction bond tax credit area that would increase the cost of local school construction.

"That's a bad idea. He had demands on this so-called Ergonomics Workplace Rules that would cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars. These are both wrong. And we're not going to give in on those points," the Mississippi Republican told ABC.

Mr. Lott said Congress will continue to pass 24-hour extensions until it gets a budget it can accept. He was asked what happens if Mr. Clinton vetoes such an extension and shuts down the government. Syndicated columnist George Will recalled how Republicans in Congress got blamed for the 1995 shutdown.

"Well, I think things are very different now. That was 1995, this is 2000 … obviously, the people don't approve of the character of this president [today]. So it is different," he said.

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