WASHINGTON, D.C.: With the threat of another government shutdown looming Friday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich put the ball back in the Administration's court with an offer to make a 'down payment' on a balanced budget, while leaving major disagreements until after November elections. In doing so, Gingrich accepted the deal proposed by President Clinton in his Tuesday State of the Union speech, where the President proposed putting off a long-range budget reduction plan while enacting changes on which the two sides already agree. Gingrich called Clinton this morning to close the deal. White House correspondent James Carney says the Administration should be pleased with the Speaker's offer. "If the deal is cut on these terms, it's a clear Clinton victory. This is what the White House has been pushing for." Why is Gingrich, after months of bitter budget brinkmanship, now ready to cut his losses and wait until November? "The Republicans have just gotten creamed on this issue over the past few months," Carney says. "They are rapidly losing public support, and they've got to get out of this mess as soon as possible. They cannot let the government shut down again."