GOP leader, White House spar over spending freeze

A feisty House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Wednesday said he wants to see spending for the agencies whose funding fiscal 2001 funding remains in question frozen at fiscal 2000 levels.

Such an approach would require Congress to pass--and the President to sign--a one-year continuing resolution covering the agencies funded by the Labor-HHS, Commerce-Justice-State, Treasury-Postal and Legislative Branch appropriations bills.

Asked at a news conference whether either the Senate or the President would back a long-term CR, DeLay said: "That's up to them. I'm sure they will," adding, "If [Clinton] wants to shut down the government, that's his problem, not ours."

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, however, said it would be "tough" for the House to pass the one-year CR. As of Wednesday afternoon, it appeared certain that a new continuing resolution would be necessary after the current CR expires at midnight Thursday.

"We will have to vote on [another] CR tomorrow," Watts told reporters after a bicameral meeting of Republican leaders.

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said after the bicameral meeting that the goal is still to get a deal on the remaining bills before seeking a long-term CR.

"We're going to try and pass the bills. If the President vetoes the bills, we're looking at a CR," Nickles said.

White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert called on DeLay to tone down his rhetoric, noting that the top GOP congressional leaders who met with President Clinton Monday--a group that did not include DeLay--had indicated a willingness to move quickly to finish the session. Siewert said two-day CRs were about right and indicated the President would likely sign another one once the current extension runs out Thursday night.

Alluding to the hard line DeLay has taken on various matters in the past, Siewert said of DeLay's comments today, "That language is hardly unusual coming from that particular office."

Siewert rejected DeLay's proposal for a spending freeze. He argued instead that beneficiaries of spending that would be provided by the unsigned bills are needlessly suffering because of delay that has meant "real cuts" in funding.

Siewert denied that the President was over a barrel because, if he failed to sign a CR and forced a government shutdown, it would add to the uncertainty in the country flowing from the unresolved presidential election. "I don't see why that should play any role," Siewert said of the situation in Florida.