Clinton Veto Escalates Budget War

Tuesday, October 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton's veto of legislation allowing a $3,800 pay raise for members of Congress intensifies his budget war with Republicans and could color the Nov. 7 presidential and congressional elections.

Even before he vetoed a $33 billion spending bill that would permit the pay boost, many Republicans were furious at the mere prospect of Clinton rejecting the legislation. They called his decision — announced just before midnight Monday — purely political and noted that after they added $348 million to the bill earlier this month to satisfy Clinton's demands, Democrats had said he would sign it.

But after days of hints from White House officials, Clinton vetoed the measure, which covers the Treasury Department, the White House and Congress' own operations and would permit the pay raise. The measure also contains a GOP-sought phaseout of the 3 percent telephone tax.

``It is a declaration of war,'' Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said. The Alaska Republican called it ``the most vicious thing we've run into in 32 years'' in Congress.

``You can't deal with people who break their word,'' House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said.

Clinton issued the veto after Republicans — apparently in a surprise to the White House — rejected a tentative compromise on a separate $350 billion measure financing schools, labor and other social programs. Their main complaint was a provision on proposed administration regulations on workplace safety long sought by unions and opposed by some business groups.

``I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that funds the operation of the Congress and the White House before funding our classrooms, fixing our schools and protecting our workers,'' Clinton said in a written statement.

Under the Constitution, Clinton had until midnight to veto the measure or let it become law.

Clinton's action made it more likely that lawmakers will have to return after Election Day for a lame-duck session.

Clinton was betting that his action and the resulting tiff with Congress would not overshadow the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in the presidential race. He also was hoping that a partisan battle would not play into the hands of Gore's Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has spoken of restoring a more civil tone in Washington.

It also seemed possible that Democrats would accuse Republicans of seeking a congressional pay raise before completing action on a minimum-wage increase, and that Republicans would accuse Democrats of backing a president who had broken his word.

But the GOP seemed to believe that battling Clinton to the brink of Election Day was preferable to striking deals that might rankle core constituencies.

``We're not to be bullied,'' House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said.

Before Clinton's veto, GOP and White House aides were negotiating on the workplace safety provision. It was unclear how the veto would affect those talks.

The disputed language would let the administration complete a rule — a decade in the making — aimed at reducing approximately 1.8 million annual repetitive-motion injuries. Unless blocked by the next president, it would take effect in June.

But Republicans said they wanted to alter the language to ensure that courts could not decide that the rule had taken effect when the Clinton administration finished it. They also wanted to ensure that Congress would not have to act as well because they said they feared that Democrats could block action with a Senate filibuster.

The $3,800 pay increase for lawmakers would boost their annual salaries to $145,100.

GOP leaders have put a $1 increase in the $5.15 hourly minimum wage in a $240 billion, 10-year tax bill. But Clinton has threatened to veto the tax measure because he says it is too generous to health maintenance organizations and doesn't do enough for school construction or people's health care costs.

The tentative deal on the labor-education bill included an extra $4.4 billion Clinton had won for hiring teachers, after-school centers, AIDS prevention and other programs.

In an important concession, Democratic negotiators had agreed to relegate Clinton's demands for $2.5 billion to help communities finance school-construction bonds to the tax bill. That greatly diminished their leverage because the tax bill does not have to become law.

Meanwhile, the House voted 339-9 and the Senate voted 70-1 to keep agencies financed by the incomplete bills open for another day, sending the measure to Clinton for his signature.

In the past 20 years, Congress has held lame-duck sessions four times: for Clinton's impeachment by the House in 1998, trade in 1994, and budget issues in 1980 and 1982.