If it were just up to White House and Republican negotiators, there might already be a budget deal. Agreement was close enough last week that a secret rendezvous was arranged between White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich and Speaker Newt Gingrich to discuss a final sticking point: whether it was possible to legislate a change in the Consumer Price Index, freeing up billions of extra dollars to pay for G.O.P. tax cuts and Democratic spending programs. Kasich and Bowles argued in favor, with Bowles suggesting that President Clinton's support would neutralize criticism from liberal...

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