Budget Talks Stall

With their meeting shortened by House and Senate floor action, negotiators made little progress on the budget Tuesday, as Republicans insisted they have a Friday deadline for reaching a budget accord.

"It wasn't a big success story today," Senate Budget Chairman Domenici said after the meeting. Asked if a deal is possible by Friday, Domenici said, "We're working at it."

However, negotiators have not agreed on Medicare, Medicaid and discretionary savings or the size of a tax cut, the issues that plagued them during the budget talks of the 104th Congress.

Tuesday's meeting centered on non-health entitlement issues and the Clinton administration education initiative. OMB Director Raines said the administration's FY98 budget includes $62 billion in non-health entitlement savings, although the CBO has estimated those savings at only $57 billion. White House officials want the negotiators to accept at least $57 billion in non-health entitlement savings, he said.

Negotiators had said Monday they felt they could agree on between $45 billion and $55 billion in savings in some smaller entitlement programs. House Budget Chairman Kasich minimized this, however, saying negotiators had been able to agree on those savings during the difficult budget negotiations of the 104th Congress. Referring to White House Chief of Staff Panetta, with whom Republicans had a stormy relationship, Kasich said, "We could even agree with Leon on those things."

However, a senior administration official said Tuesday the negotiations are much further along than last year at this time.

"We're having discussions in the spring that you normally don't have on the budget `til the fall," the official said. The source also said while the two sides are "narrowing" their differences on Medicare, a gap remains.

The White House has offered "two explicit overtures" toward reaching an agreement on the Medicare spending reductions, but Republicans so far have refused the offers, the official said.

The White House last week offered an additional $18 billion in Medicare savings, but Domenici said Republicans want additional savings of between $10 billion and $30 billion.

In addition to the non-health entitlements, the negotiators discussed the Clinton education initiatives, Raines said, adding the administration delivered "a clear understanding of the central importance of education to any budget proposal."

Sen. John Breaux, D-La., a key member of the Senate centrist coalition, said any budget deal must be made by the "center." He said that in addition to a set level of Medicare savings, a budget deal should include comprehensive Medicare reform, and that the budget negotiators should split the difference between CBO and OMB economic assumptions.

Meanwhile, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee voted Tuesday to increase President Clinton's supplemental spending request for national parks repairs from $277 million to $380 million to cover the cost of repairs in parks not originally included in the request.

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