Workers hit again in budget battle Federal offices to close today as Clinton, GOP fail to reach deal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- A quarter-million federal employees were ordered to come to work this morning simply to shut down their offices and go home as the budget impasse between President Clinton and Republican lawmakers dragged into a third day.

It was unclear last night how long the second partial government shutdown in a month would last. The two sides had no contact yesterday, and they continued to blame each other for the collapse of talks intended to balance the budget in seven years.

"The ball is in his court," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said yesterday of Mr. Clinton, who, the Republicans contend, has not put a credible budget offer on the table.

But the White House argues that the Republicans are demanding immediate capitulation.

"We are not going to surrender before we negotiate," Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff, said on the ABC News program "This Week with David Brinkley."

The roughly 260,000 workers expected to be furloughed today will lose no pay for the forced vacation, according to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

"The federal workers become pawns in this exercise," the Kansas Republican said on the Senate floor.

In a TV interview on the NBC program "Meet the Press," Mr. Dole said, "Federal employees shouldn't be punished because the Congress and the president are at odds."

Mr. Dole later told reporters that he was confident that the House would also support a move to provide the furloughed workers with back pay, despite some grumbling in the House Republican ranks.

Even so, a House Republican leadership aide said last night that unlike during the six-day shutdown of many government agencies last month, there is no guarantee this time that back pay for the affected workers will be approved.

"It's going to be an issue," said the aide, Edward Gillespie, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey. "Our members got a lot of questions back home the last time, asking why we were paying these workers who were called 'nonessential.' Taxpayers don't understand why people should be paid when they don't work."

Historically, federal workers have received back pay when they become caught between a president and Congress so deeply at odds over a spending issue that they cannot agree even on a temporary plan to keep the government open. But this is a particularly stubborn dispute -- involving a fundamental redefinition of the role of the federal government -- that shows no sign of resolution.

The Republicans say Mr. Clinton is stubbornly refusing to accept the cuts in projected spending that are needed to erase the deficit; Mr. Clinton says Republicans want to make cuts that are too drastic in the Medicare and Medicaid programs that serve the poor, elderly and disabled.

"I very much hope that in the spirit of the season, we can resume these talks in good faith," Mr. Clinton told reporters after attending church services. "I am convinced we can pass a balanced budget in seven years."

Yet the president spent the rest of the day in the Oval Office making no move toward reopening the talks, as Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich sat together in the Capitol by a telephone that did not ring.

"It seems to me there's not much reason to stay here," Mr. Dole said, in adjourning the Senate after a brief session that had been called in case a deal was reached on a short-term spending bill lTC to avoid the partial government shutdown.

Nine Cabinet departments and many government agencies are affected by the new shutdown because legislation authorizing their spending for the current fiscal year has not yet been enacted.

Mr. Clinton took advantage of the impasse, though, to release $578 million in federal money to help poor families pay heating bills. The energy program is one of the points of dispute that have blocked congressional action on a bill to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. House Republicans say the program has outlived its usefulness.

Since this second shutdown officially began at midnight Friday, the biggest impact has been felt by tourists who cannot visit national museums and monuments.

Several House Republican leaders paid a visit yesterday to the shuttered Washington Monument to highlight the problem in hopes that irritated Americans would blame Mr. Clinton, who has refused to sign a spending bill that would allow tourist attractions to reopen.

"I had my heart set on seeing it," said Mr. Armey, who said that during 11 years in Congress, he had never gone to the Washington Monument before yesterday.

Republicans are aware that they drew the most criticism from voters when the budget dispute forced the first shutdown last month. But they say they are undaunted.

"We're going to take some heat, but we got to try to get it done," Sen. Pete V. Domenici, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said of the Republican effort to balance the budget. "It's important to the future."

The shutdown's effects

The partial shutdown affects far fewer Americans than the one in November. More offices would be open and more federal workers on the job than last time, partly because spending bills for some departments have been signed into law. About 260,000 workers would be furloughed, compared with 800,000 last time.

Tourists: The National Park Service's historic homes, monuments and national parks, such as Fort McHenry, closed. The National Zoo and the Smithsonian museums in Washington and New York closed. White House tours are canceled.

Passports: Passport offices would be closed today. Passports and visas issued only for emergencies.

Social Security: Despite the furlough of some support staff, the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration's field offices would be open today to help people apply for benefits. The information hot line is staffed. Benefit checks mailed as usual.

Veterans: The Veterans Affairs Department keeps offices staffed to help people apply for benefits. Benefit checks could be delayed if a shutdown lasted late into the week.

Law and order: Federal courts open. Law officers stay on the job, although some support staff are sent home.

District of Columbia: About one-third of the city government's 36,000 employees furloughed. Public libraries, driver's license and unemployment offices closed today.

Services not affected:

* Mail delivery.

* Medicaid, cash welfare benefits and food stamps.

* Air traffic controllers and railroad workers.

* The military and its civilian workers.

* Weather forecasting.

* Agriculture offices.

* The U.S. Treasury.

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