Why GOP Agreed to Budget Banter With Clinton

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Like seafarers futilely trying to resist the sirens' call, Congressional Republicans gave in Monday, agreeing to a White House summit with President Clinton on federal spending. The two sides have been deadlocked since approving a three-week extension of the September 30 budget deadline. But with Thursday's deadline — and the potential for a government shutdown — looming, the two sides are still far apart. The first Clinton-hosted spending summit, in 1995, ended with a government shutdown for which the Republicans were blamed. The second, in 1997, ended with a host of spending increases Republican constituents were unhappy with. Clinton forced a meeting again this Sunday when he vetoed a foreign aid package and vowed not to sign any spending bills until the Republicans gave appropriate consideration to his spending priorities in areas such as education and the environment. The Republicans lack a large enough majority in Congress to overturn a veto.

Meanwhile, both sides are accusing one another of irresponsible spending. Republicans maintain they will not allow the President to exceed spending caps and dip into Social Security funds. The Congressional Budget Office says Congress has already done that; by some counts, it has bled up to $46 billion from the Social Security rolls this year. "Each side is trying to accuse the other of raiding Social Security funds, which is highly ironic because both sides have been doing it for decades," says TIME political writer Jay Carney. But, notes Carney, due to increased government revenues and Social Security surpluses this fiscal year, for the first time in recent memory, "they haven’t dipped into Social Security. They all say they’re trying to stay under these budget caps, but they’ve always raided Social Security in the past, and now they actually have the money to go over the caps, but they won’t."