White House: We don't want a shutdown

White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles Tuesday sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., saying that President Clinton will do all he can to avoid a government shutdown, but will not "shy away from a fight" over his "budget priorities."

"In a series of letters, you have committed to working through our budget differences without resorting to the failed tactics of the past," Bowles wrote. "I continue to take those assurances at face value. Rest assured that we do not believe that shutting down the government is any way to sort through our competing views of budget priorities."

But, citing comments by Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind., chairman of the Conservative Action Team, Bowles wrote, "Instead of finishing [appropriations bills], some House Republicans are openly contemplating a government shutdown strategy. ... I hope we can count on you to repudiate that shutdown strategy devised by influential members of your caucus. No one wins if the Republicans choose to shut down the government."

Meanwhile, House GOP conservatives now believe they have the votes to win an upcoming vote on a rule for the fiscal 1999 Labor-HHS appropriations bill. Gingrich brokered that agreement Monday night during a meeting of moderates and conservatives.

As reported out of the Appropriations Committee, the bill would require family planning clinics that receive Title X federal funding to notify parents when their minor children obtain contraceptive services. The deal that members of the CATs, the moderate Tuesday Group and Gingrich cut would allow moderate Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., to offer an amendment to strike the parental notification requirement and replace it with language calling for clinics to expressly counsel minors on abstinence and for the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that clinic workers are properly trained to do so.

The deal provides for conservative Rep. Ernest Istook, R- Okla., who authored the notification language, to offer a second degree amendment. An Istook aide said that amendment would reinstate the notification requirement, with "tweaks" on which he declined to elaborate.

Conservative sources said they have do not object to the deal the speaker worked out, despite the fact Greenwood will get his way, because, as one said, "We felt this was the best way to get an up or down vote [on notification]. ... Given the political reality, this was the best we could get."

More importantly, conservatives said they have the votes to prevail. An aide to conservative Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said conservatives have commitments from "in range of 30 [pro-life] Democrats. ... It's going to be a close vote-we should get more than 220 but no more than 230 votes."

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