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Senator Bob Dole and Representative Newt Gingrich emerged from a two-hour White House meeting today without an agreement about whether to temporarily extend the federal government's debt in the absence of a budget. The issue of "linkage," once a term of art in the State Department, is now the hot button on the budget. Even as the House and Senate prepare to reconcile their respective GOP-proposed budget bills, President Clinton is threatening to veto the result. Gingrich nevertheless sounded an optimistic note after the meeting with the President. "We discussed budget issues in general terms," said the Speaker, "and that was very helpful." But there was no agreement. TIME White House Correspondent James Carney reports that the meeting results could be more positive than the sides are willing to admit. "Reading between the lines, it looks like we're heading toward a compromise that would extend the debt ceiling authority to the first week of December," says Carney. "But it's clear that this is just a political football in the battle over the budget and on that there is still a lot of work to do."