Washington — President Clinton offered congressional leaders a number of proposals Monday to end the long-running battle about school spending, immigration and other issues, raising hopes for a budget agreement.
Nothing was final, but both sides said after a meeting at the White House that they may be close to ending the spending disputes that forced the lame-duck Congress back to town this week for the second time since the November election.
"Everyone pledged to use the next couple of days to see if we can pull together agreements and wrap things up this week," White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said after the 90-minute Oval Office session.
A Democrat familiar with the meeting said Clinton offered to trim $1 billion to $2 billion from an $18 billion increase for education, health and labor programs. House GOP leaders reject the earlier spending levels as too costly. The Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Republicans want to cut the spending a little more.
Susan Irby, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the session was "a pleasant meeting" but that no final decisions were made.
Another Republican said an agreement could be completed this week, although emphasizing that disagreements remained. The officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said rank-and-file GOP lawmakers would be sounded out on the proposal today.
Also attending the meeting were House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.; House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Tex.; House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.; and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Another round of talks was possible on Wednesday.
To give negotiators time to work, the two sides agreed to push a measure through Congress today temporarily keeping agencies open through Thursday. The current short-term bill keeping agencies' doors open expires tonight.
The two sides' budget disputes have left four must-pass spending bills overdue by two months and paralyzed efforts to cut taxes, boost Medicare payments to health care providers and raise the federal minimum wage.
Earlier, Lott said he believed it was in the "best interests" of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush for Congress to finish the budget battle before Bush once the election dispute is resolved moves into the White House, "provided it's done right."
Lott spoke two days after he and Hastert journeyed to Bush's Texas ranch to discuss the agenda of the new 107th Congress, which convenes on Jan. 3. Lott said Bush did not advise them on how to handle the remaining fights on this year's $1.8 trillion federal budget.
In a signal that major hurdles remained, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Tex., was arguing "very strongly" that instead of reaching a compromise, Congress should demand that spending in the unfinished bills be kept at last year's levels, according to an adviser to DeLay. This could save $15 billion this year, DeLay has argued, according to the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The confusion and emotional partisan feelings flowing from the extra-inning presidential election also made it difficult for the two political parties to craft a budget deal in the lame-duck session.
Clinton's political leverage is waning as the end of his administration Jan. 20 approaches. Some Republicans want to delay final decisions until Bush, they hope, takes office. But many lawmakers are weary of this year's seemingly endless session of Congress, and many Republicans are wary of giving Bush, if he becomes president, politically touchy decisions on schools and other issues early in his presidency.