Veto threats endanger GOP plans to adjourn Friday

Republican leaders were reworking their legislative floor strategy Thursday and deciding whether to keep their members in town in the wake of veto threats and Democratic opposition to their remaining tax cut and spending plans.

The White House Thursday issued veto threats against the combined Commerce-Justice- State/District of Columbia appropriations bills and a separate tax cut package--dashing Republican hopes that President Clinton would accept the measures and clear the way for a speedy exit.

"If this current tax and Medicare/Medicaid package is presented to me, I will have no choice but to veto it," Clinton wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders this afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert this afternoon called the GOP proposals "deeply flawed." Siewert chided Republicans for unwillingness to compromise with the administration and urged GOP congressional leaders to finish their work before Election Day.

Siewert said Republicans shut Democrats out of drafting the latest tax package. "They've decided to meet amongst themselves and decide what they think the president wants," Siewert said. "We'll decide what the President wants."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., reacted angrily to Clinton's veto letters: "Do you have to have absolutely everything you want? Is it your way or the highway? How much petulance is there on the other side of the aisle?"

Asked if Republicans would be willing to rework a tax cut bill after a veto, he responded that any new legislation would have to go through committee, and anything else would amount to "half-assed legislating."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said, "If they veto the tax bill, that's probably the end of taxes for the year."

Asked how Republicans would respond to an appropriations veto, Armey was more ambiguous, saying, "We just have to see what it is he vetoes."

Armey added that Congress could pass continuing resolutions by unanimous consent or go into pro forma session. Nevertheless, Democrats have indicated they would force votes on new CRs.

As of Thursday afternoon, GOP leaders had made no decision about whether Congress would be in session Saturday, or whether members would have to return for votes next week. House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said leadership has yet to advise members to plan on being in session Saturday. But several members said they had cancelled their weekend plans.