A lame-duck session of Congress is under way this week to clear up the stalemate. No, not the presidential election stalemate. We're referring to the mother of all stalemates - between lawmakers and President Clinton. The former has only gone on for weeks, the latter for months.
This "who'll blink first" showdown has become an annual event at appropriations time ever since the GOP took control of Congress in 1994.
The president wants one set of spending priorities and Congress another. The threat of a government shutdown - with each side blaming the other - always hangs over the negotiations if the budget isn't in place by the new fiscal year starting in October.
Even though Congress and the White House agreed on nine appropriations bills they were still hung up on four key measures until Nov. 7.
Then, while keeping the government on temporary life support, they suspended talks until after the election, hoping to get some direction from voters. Of course, that didn't happen. Voters virtually split 50-50 in congressional as well as presidential elections.
Now the lame-duck Congress and lame-duck president are back where they started: stalemated on four bills that account for about a third of all domestic spending, including $350 billion for health, education and labor.
Other unresolved issues include a $240 billion tax cut bill, a $1 hike in the minimum wage and $30 billion to restore Medicare cuts. These are difficult issues, but if bipartisanship is ever to take root, these budget talks are a good place to start.
It would be heartening for the nation, as well as a good example for the new leaders going to Washington next month, if the lame ducks finished up quickly in a spirit of compromise. After this long nightmare of an election, that would set the proper tone of encouragement and hope heading toward the new year.
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