WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - In their extraordinary dual roles as government leaders and political combatants, President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole will meet today for the first time since Mr. Dole emerged as the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
The two will try to figure out what legislative business, if any, can be achieved before election-year politics finally makes compromise impossible.
Mr. Clinton suggested optimistically that he and Mr. Dole could put aside political differences long enough to finally agree on a balanced-budget deal that has stubbornly eluded them for months and caused two partial government shutdowns.
Mr. Dole was less sanguine about securing such a landmark achievement. But he sound- ed confident that several smaller-scale measures were within reach, including a spending plan for the rest of the year and legislation to empower a president to veto individual items in a spending bill without vetoing the entire bill. This "line-item veto" would take effect next year.
In this unusual circumstance, where the expected presidential nominees are also the leaders of their parties in Washington, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Dole will be waging the presidential race in Washington for the next few months rather than on the campaign trail.
Yesterday, the two agreed it is in their mutual interest to achieve some level of cooperation before all-out political warfare begins, or they are likely to face an electorate disgusted with them both.
"In the coming weeks, we must seize the opportunity we now have to give the American people a moment of real bipartisan achievement," Mr. Clinton said in a televised appeal to Mr. Dole from the White House. "We have to meet our common obligation TC to act on our urgent national priorities."
Mr. Dole observed later that as government leaders, he and Mr. Clinton "both have some responsibilities."
"This may be a good way for the American voter to test our sincerity," Mr. Dole said. "Which one do you believe? Which one do you trust? And this might be a good starting point. I do believe people want us to do the right thing, regardless of their party."
Mr. Clinton, who called Mr. Dole to invite him and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the White House this morning, said his top goal is to resurrect the negotiations over a balanced budget that collapsed in January after 50 hours of face-to-face talks.
"We should enact a balanced budget, and we should do it now, not after the November election, not after the political season, not later, but now," Mr. Clinton said. "The American people deserve nothing less."
In their previous talks, Mr. Clinton said he and the Republican congressional leaders had identified $700 billion in savings common to both their plans. "That is more than enough to balance the budget in seven years and to provide a tax cut," he contended.
The two sides, however, appear no closer to resolving their fundamental differences how much savings to carve out of Medicare, Medicaid and other programs, and how much to cut taxes.
Mr. Dole said he was not optimistic about the prospects for reaching a balanced-budget deal because Mr. Clinton's latest proposal, which the president unveiled yesterday, was even less attractive to Republicans than were some earlier offerings.
"He's added some spending and raised taxes some," Mr. Dole said. "The bottom line is if we're serious about it, we probably could have had an agreement on New Year's Day or thereabouts."
"But I've never given up," he added. "If the president wants to talk seriously about a balanced budget, I think that's something we should do. He'll gain politically. I'll gain politically. But the bottom line is the American people will be the real gainers."
Advisers to both men say that if left to their own devices, they could probably agree on a balanced budget and a range of other issues because both are centrists who believe in compromise.
But each faces hard-liners in his own party who would rather fight over principle, and thus frame the debate in the election, than yield in order to see a proposal become law.
The presidential campaign adds the complication of political strategies that work against bipartisan agreements. Some in the White House, for example, are not eager to contribute to the success of the first Republican-led Congress in four decades. And there are those in the Dole camp who don't want to let Mr. Clinton take credit for the enactment of popular measures, such as welfare reform.
Each of the items Mr. Clinton mentioned as priorities yesterday including welfare reform, health care reform and the anti-terrorism bill faces such obstacles.
Mr. Dole made clear yesterday that he is determined to pass a spending bill to provide money through the rest of the year for the nine Cabinet departments still without budgets.
The measure passed the Senate last night by a margin of 79 to 21, with money added for such top Clinton priorities as education and environmental programs. Differences with the House must still be reconciled before the measure goes to Mr. Clinton by the end of next week to avoid a third partial government shutdown.
Mr. Dole said he and Mr. Clinton tentatively agreed yesterday on another must-pass measure, to extend the government's borrowing authority. The majority leader said Mr. Clinton also agreed to support a line-item veto proposal.
Pub Date: 3/20/96