Hope for accord on spending bills grows despite another Clinton veto; Hastert and Lott call president; evening talks held on foreign assistance


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton vetoed another of the spending bills passed by Congress yesterday, but after speaking with the two top Republican leaders, he said he was ready to work around the clock to settle the standoff over the federal budget.

There was little progress during the day as the two sides wrangled over a variety of issues having less to do with how much money the government will spend than with how it should be spent.

Senior members of the House and Senate met yesterday evening with the White House budget director, Jack Lew, to try to reach an agreement on the spending bill for foreign aid, which has none of the money the president had sought for the Middle East peace process.

White House negotiators said they were encouraged that House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi had called Clinton yesterday afternoon in an effort to give the talks a push.

"I have not given up, and neither have they," Clinton told reporters during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden.

Republican aides said the two sides were particularly hopeful of resolving differences over funding for many foreign programs, including money for implementing the latest Middle East peace accord and paying the United States' overdue United Nations dues.

In public, though, the two sides continued to assail each other.

The bill vetoed by Clinton yesterday was to fund labor, health and education programs, and would have cut spending for most federal agencies by nearly 1 percent from the levels contained in this year's appropriations bills. Clinton called the bill "a catalog of missed opportunities, misguided priorities and mindless cuts in everything from education to national defense to the environment."

He suggested that Republicans in Congress were eager to adjourn for the year and go home, but said he would insist that they "do their work first."

Republicans repeated their argument that Clinton and Democrats in Congress want to spend so much money on foreign aid that they are endangering the stability of the Social Security system.

Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr., an Oklahoma Republican, said Clinton had spent 180 days during his presidency "on foreign soil," and that during those trips, to 104 countries, the president had proposed a total of $22 billion in foreign aid.

"Of course there's no way to give that much money away unless you did go into the Social Security surplus, which we're not about to do," Istook said.

Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican, said that Clinton "ought to stick his passport in the drawer for a while, and certainly remove that credit card from his pocket when he goes to travel."

Clinton has vetoed five of the 13 spending bills that finance the government's operations. He is insisting that Republicans rescind their plan for across-the-board cuts, and that they provide full funding for a number of his high-priority programs.

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