For the first time since the summer of 1997, President Clinton today met with the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership at the White House-discussing a range of domestic policy issues and the situation in Kosovo.
After the meeting, none of the congressional participants noted any significant agreements. But it appeared the gathering may have set the stage for discussions toward a possible deal between the GOP and Democrats on tax cuts and the minimum wage.
On the heels of statements over the weekend by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., indicating he may consider raising the minimum wage, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., today suggested that "if we can talk about targeted tax cuts" instead of an across-the-board rate reduction then "maybe that could be married up with a proposal to raise the minimum wage."
And, sounding a theme trumpeted by Republicans since last year, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., expressed a willingness to "target our tax relief to those who are suffering the marriage penalty," though he also touted Clinton priorities such a tax breaks for providers of child care and long-term care.
But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Hastert each declined to issue last rites for the idea of an across-the-board tax cut: Hastert said there would probably be a mix of GOP tax cut plans, and Lott argued that tax rate cuts are a "very important" tool for spurring economic growth.
Daschle said much of the discussion centered on the surplus and offered that there was "virtual unanimity" about the need to pay off at least three-quarters of the national debt, if not the entire amount.
Echoing the President's call for 77 percent of the surplus to be devoted to Medicare and Social Security, Daschle and Gephardt demanded that the GOP agree to lock in a portion of the surplus for the programs before coming to terms on a reform plan-a precondition Gephardt said Clinton also supports.
But Lott indicated the key for Medicare was to forge a bipartisan deal among members of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. He urged Clinton to "get involved" by convincing one presidential appointee to the panel to back a plan offered by the commission's co-chairman, Sen. John Breaux, D-La.
Hastert said there was discussion about forming new commissions to address several issues, although he did not name them. But Lott called for a "bipartisan national security working group" to work with Russian officials on modifying treaties to accommodate U.S. development of a national missile defense.
The leaders pronounced today's session a "good" talk and vowed to continue working together, but Hastert and Lott sidestepped questions about whether they trusted the President. "The issue is will we work together to get our job done?" Lott said. Gephardt pointed to the meeting itself as a "sign of trust."