Washington Republican leaders prepared Monday to pull the plug on this week's scheduled lame-duck session of Congress until Dec. 5, as last week's presidential election remained snarled in vote counting and lawsuits.
Rather than resuming budget bargaining with White House officials, the leaders said they would limit this week's work to pushing a tax measure through Congress affecting U.S. exporters and perhaps passing some minor bills. The lawmakers, who were filtering back to the Capitol on Monday, will then be sent home until Dec. 5.
The House voted by voice Monday to approve a temporary spending measure to keep government programs operating through Dec. 5. The Senate plans to follow suit today, and administration officials said President Clinton would sign the bill.
The delay in the unusual lame-duck session was an acknowledgment of how thoroughly the unsettled presidential election was scrambling the political situation on Capitol Hill. Not only were lawmakers distracted, but neither party knows how much leverage it has in budget talks because no one knows whether Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore will become president on Jan. 20.
"The feeling was there was just too much uncertainty swirling around Washington and the presidential campaign to conclude anything this week," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
"Knowing what's going to happen next year is going to be helpful in coming to a conclusion this year," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the GOP leadership.
Many Democrats have urged a quick resolution to the budget stalemate since Clinton, their ally, will remain in the White House for two more months.
But White House budget director Jack Lew said that delaying Congress' return "had a kind of inevitability to it" after the delay in completing the presidential election and lawmakers' reaction to it.
Still unfinished are five of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2001, which began Oct. 1. The measures cover seven Cabinet departments plus many smaller agencies, congressional operations, and the District of Columbia's budget.
Also unresolved are a $240 billion, 10-year tax bill; a minimum wage increase; higher Medicare reimbursements for health care providers; and an administration effort to ease immigration restrictions.