In no rush to leave, GOP leaders vow no capitulation to Clinton

By CURT ANDERSON

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Declaring they are in no rush to leave the Capitol despite an impending election, Republican congressional leaders say they will negotiate but not capitulate to President Clinton in this year’s end-of-session budget and tax battle.

"He’s basically saying, ‘Give me what I want or I’m going to keep you here,’ " said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "And we’re prepared to say, ‘Fine. We’ll stay.’ "

Negotiators had made progress on one of the last big unfinished bills, a $350 billion measure to fund labor, education and health programs, but GOP leaders said today it remained unacceptable, in part because of proposed new workplace ergonomics rules.

The proposed deal would have allowed the Clinton administration to promulgate new rules to reduce repetitive-motion injuries and other work-related illnesses. But the rules would not go into effect until next year, when business groups that oppose the rules hope there would be a Republican president, George W. Bush, to rescind them.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said that proposal would still allow the rule-making process to go forward before the next president takes office.

"It’s the status quo and the status quo is not satisfactory," Hastert told reporters. "We’re not going to be pushed out of town with a bad deal."

The White House and congressional negotiators also had agreed to provide $1 billion for school modernization grants, a White House priority, and $300 million for special education and school equipment, a GOP priority.

Even though control of the House is up for grabs in the Nov. 7 election, GOP leaders appear content to stand their ground on other outstanding issues as Congress approved another 24-hour extension of federal operations. The discord could open the door to Congress returning after the election for a lame-duck session.

"You call it a stalemate. I call it fighting for the American people to get good legislation for them," the speaker said.

Only seven of the 13 annual spending bills have been signed into law almost a month into the new fiscal year, but there was no sense of urgency among lawmakers to adjourn in time for the final few days of campaigning.

Indeed, with time so short and political advertising already in the pipeline, GOP leaders said sticking to their guns in the budget fight was the best election strategy. Clinton often forced Republicans to cave in during past budget talks.

"We’re negotiating from a position of strength," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. Republicans appeared on the House floor Sunday night with a huge sign that read: "How much is enough?"

Clinton faced a decision Monday on whether to sign a package containing the $30.3 billion Treasury Department bill, a $2.5 billion measure financing Congress’ own operations and a bill repealing the 3 percent federal telephone tax. The White House opened the door to a possible veto over the timing of the tax repeal, bringing howls of protest from Republicans but, again, vows not to panic.

"We won’t hurry things just because we’re threatened with a veto," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "We’ve got plenty of time."

There were no talks over the weekend on the GOP’s 10-year, $240 billion tax relief package that contains a $1 boost in the minimum wage. Clinton calls the measure unacceptable because he says too much of a $30 billion giveback to Medicare providers goes to health maintenance organizations and it contains a weak school construction provision.

But Republicans showed no willingness to negotiate with Clinton on that bill.

"If he’s going to veto it, he’s going to veto it," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Negotiators did continue wading through hundreds of provisions that lawmakers are trying to attach to the final spending bills. They also must confront the remaining big issues: the tax package; and an amnesty for illegal aliens being pushed by the administration and strongly opposed by Republicans.

The workplace regulations would set standards to prevent repetitive-motion injuries and other work-related ailments. The White House also insists that school construction projects abide by prevailing wages, which in many cases are union scale. Lott called both measures a pre-election "payoff to big labor."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the provision had nothing to do with organized labor but "has everything to do with whether or not, if you’re going to build a school, you pay the prevailing wage rate."

On the immigration issue, Democrats are allied with Latino advocacy groups in demanding amnesty for some 1 million immigrants who entered the country illegally before 1986. Republicans offered a narrower measure to help immigrant families stay together in a $39.9 billion spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. Clinton has threatened to veto it.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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