Lawmakers head home with work incomplete

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders abandoned efforts Wednesday to complete a final budget and tax deal with President Clinton before Tuesday’s election and began preparing for an unusual lame-duck session to wrap up their work for the year.

The decision makes for an extraordinary conclusion to a year of gridlock on Capitol Hill. Not only have the GOP-controlled Congress and the White House agreed to little substantive legislation, they have also gone more than month into the new fiscal year without agreeing on six of the 13 annual bills that fund the federal government.

Federal agencies will continue to function under temporary spending bills, but left up in the air by Wednesday’s developments was the fate of a tax cut package, amnesty for illegal immigrants, an increase in the minimum wage, a significant expansion of federal school spending and several other issues that have been under negotiation between the White House and GOP leaders.

Lawmakers said the final accord on these issues will be shaped heavily by the election results Tuesday, and both parties were clearly betting they will be better off politically by digging in their heels. Republicans were confident that they could energize conservatives by standing up to the president, while Democrats used the impasse to renew their charge that the Republican leadership is incapable of managing Congress.

"What this is is an institutional confession of incompetence," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., a chief Democratic budget negotiator. "It’s a disgraceful abdication."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters: "We’ve said all along we want to be here … We weren’t going to be bum-rushed out of town and have a bad deal … . Unfortunately, because the president has decided to campaign (through the election), we have no deal."

The Senate began sending its members home for the elections after voting early in the day for a two-week temporary spending bill. House Republican leaders, concerned that they would be attacked by Democrats for going home without finishing the budget, decided to keep the House in session until Friday, but they were anticipating no breakthroughs.

A lame-duck session of Congress is not unprecedented — the House impeached Clinton during one two years ago — but it represents a new wrinkle on what have become annual budget showdowns between Clinton and Republicans. After getting blamed for government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, Republicans have generally proved more conciliatory with the president, agreeing to many of his demands as part of year-end budget packages.

But this year, GOP leaders have concluded they had nothing to lose — and perhaps much to gain — by remaining in town and challenging Clinton.

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