Even if the Democrats do sign on to the GOP cuts, sending everyone home for the holidays, this small triumph may not do much to ease the minds of Republicans, who are suddenly worried they've given too much ground. Indeed, despite Wednesday's White House concession, there is a hint of last-minute sellers' remorse hovering in the Washington air. And while it's been a relatively bile-free bargaining process, the annual money talks were hardly a love-fest: Since October 1, the official beginning of fiscal year 2000, Congress has approved six short-term spending bills quick fixes to keep the government up and running without a budget. Today, says TIME Washington deputy bureau chief Matthew Cooper, Republicans are just happy to escape relatively unscathed, with or without a last-minute victory. "They're eager to go back to their constituents and tell them they've cut the budget," Cooper says. Never mind by how much.
Sometimes, even budget talks can be exciting. On Wednesday, one sticking point in a last-minute standoff was resolved when President Clinton accepted an across-the-board spending cut of .38 percent. House Republicans, stung by the widely-held belief that they've given ground on nearly every big budget issue and that Bill Clinton is once again being declared the victor were holding out for an across-the-board spending cut of .42 percent, or about $1.5 billion. And since he recently rejected a more substantial one-percent cut, it was unclear whether President Clinton would be willing to sign off on the proposed cuts. In the course of persuading the President to bend, Speaker Dennis Hastert was obliged to run up quite a phone bill: After two calls to Turkey, where the Clintons are touring, Hastert reported the two sides had reached an agreement, pending the expected approval of Dick Gephardt. The Minority Leader will confer with Congressional Democrats, many of whom are staunch in their opposition to across-the-board cuts. As of Thursday morning, the House looked primed to approve the cuts and send them over to the Senate, where the threats of several filibusters over milk prices and environmental measures loom large.