BUDGET: THE INNER GAME

THIS WAS SURE NOT POLITICS AS USUAL. IN AN EPIC BATTLE OF EGOS AND AGENDAS, IT WAS EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF

NEWT GINGRICH USED TO DREAM last spring about the day when he would get to sit down and play a kind of Russian roulette with the President. The stakes would be very high. The whole government would be held hostage while the country waited to see who would blink. The House Speaker would confront Bill Clinton with a choice: Sign a historic balanced-budget plan on Republican terms or watch the government shut down. ''Which of the two of us do you think cares more about the government not showing up?" Gingrich asked. ''Him or me?''

Last Thursday night, exactly one year...

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