Democrats seek to delay Gramm-Rudman deadline


WASHINGTON -- While President Bush predicted that long-running budget talks were going "down to the wire," Democratic officials said yesterday that they would seek to move the wire back 20 days.

With talks stalled over President Bush's push for a cut in the capital gains tax rate, Democratic officials said yesterday that they would attempt to postpone the Gramm-Rudman deadline until Oct. 20.

If congressional leaders and White House officials fail to agree on a plan to cut the deficit by the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, the Gramm-Rudman law is supposed to do it for them, automatically whacking billions of dollars out of the federal budget.

Maneuverings over the Gramm-Rudman deadline overshadowed a suggestion Thursday by Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the minority leader, that the capital gains tax reduction proposal be considered separately from the budget package.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders said they would oppose any delay of the Gramm-Rudman law, in an attempt to keep pressure on negotiators who are trying to craft a package that would cut the government's spending by $50 billion in the coming fiscal year and $500 billion over five years.

"We haven't made any decision," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., emerging from the 14th day of talks between congressional leaders and White House officials.

But staff aides said Congress would be likely to consider legislation postponing the Gramm-Rudman spending cuts until Oct. 20. The measure would finance the government through that date at levels no higher than current spending, and probably would include about $2 billion to cover some of the expenses of U.S. military forces in the Middle East.

White House officials have indicated that President Bush would oppose the legislation unless the budget negotiators had settled on a deal, even if the measure included the Persian Gulf funds.

Mr. Dole, meanwhile, was said to have collected the signatures of 31 Republicans on a letter urging President Bush to reject the bill.

"Negotiations have backed up without coming to a conclusion for five months," said Representative Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., a member of the Republican negotiating team. "If we give them another 20 days, they'll find themselves with 20 days within which to not come to a conclusion."

Yesterday's developments pushed aside an internal GOP debate over Mr. Dole's capital gains proposal.

The suggestion had triggered consternation among Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House, including John H. Sununu, the White House chief of staff who was seen to storm out of Mr. Dole's office in the Capitol on Thursday, the day the Republican leader offered his suggestion.

One Republican staff aide later said that the two men had since settled on a course of "uneasy coexistence."

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