Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Long-Simmering Tensions Erupt in Budget Negotiations

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Long-Simmering Tensions Erupt in Budget Negotiations

Article excerpt

On the rainy night of Nov. 1, President Bill Clinton and GOP congressional leaders met in the Oval Office for their first discussion about the looming budget crisis. A fistfight nearly broke out.

As the president moved the conversation away from Bosnia, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., began complaining about the White House calling GOP budget plans extremist. That prompted Democrats present to rattle off a litany of the speaker's past verbal offenses.

But Vice President Al Gore brought the room to a tense standstill - and Gingrich nearly out of his chair - when he harked back to comments Gingrich made during a campaign stop last year: "At least we didn't blame you for the deaths of two innocent children in South Carolina."

Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., smoothed the moment over, but the bitterness and deep divisions that erupted in that room are now evident to all.

What once appeared to be an inconvenient but manageable budget crunch has evolved, largely under Gingrich's direction, into a full-blown war over the priorities, size and scope of nation's $1.5 trillion budget. Hanging in the balance for the short term are the mortgages of thousands of government workers.

But the philosophical clash between two adroit and tough politicians - Clinton and Gingrich - also could produce one of the clearest opportunities for voters to chose the path of the nation for decades. Winner Take All

In separate appearances last week, both men vowed their willingness to take the budget fight into the 1996 election as a winner-take-all proposition.

"I favor balancing the budget, but not if it's going to undermine our basic values and the strength of our economy," Clinton said in a CBS interview Wednesday. "If the American people want the budget that they have proposed to be the law of the land, they're entitled to another president. And that's the only way they're going to get it."

In a meeting with reporters that same morning, Gingrich said: "I am willing to say to the American people, `This is a moment of choice. …

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