President, Congress Slow to Settle Budget Smithsonian Institution Finds Funds to Reopen Art Exhibition and American History Museum

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The White House described the nation's worst budget crisis Wednesday as "an urgent situation," but neither the administration nor congressional Republicans rushed to resolve the stalemate.

In a slow-motion return from a holiday recess, staff members from Congress and the Office of Management and Budget discussed a schedule for negotiations, expected to include a session Friday between President Bill Clinton and congressional leaders.

A wide gulf over Medicare cutbacks and other issues still separates the president and congressional Republicans. But while negotiations resume, 760,000 federal employees in unfunded agencies will be receiving only partial paychecks; 280,000 of that number remain on furlough; and many national parks and museums are closed.

Sensitive to criticism that talks are moving too slowly, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "It is an urgent situation, but the differences that exist between the two sides are very deep, very fundamental. People who have not followed this . . . think it's all theatrics, but it's not."

While the president met briefly with budget director Alice Rivlin, Clinton's chief of staff Leon Panetta was not due back from vacation until today.

Neither house of Congress scheduled any business Wednesday. Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Md., who represents thousands of federal employees, prepared legislation that would declare all federal workers essential and send them back to work.

A similar measure was approved by the Senate last week. There was no indication that it would even receive consideration in the House - where GOP freshmen have opposed ending the government partial shutdown until a long-term budget deal is struck.

Tony Blankley, spokesman for Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said the GOP leadership has not scheduled the measure for floor action. …