In a sharp escalation of their pre election budget showdown, President Bill Clinton vetoed a measure allowing members of Congress a pay raise after top House Republicans shot down a tentative deal on a huge spending bill for school, labor and social programs. In a veto message issued late Monday just minutes before a midnight deadline for acting on the bill, Clinton said: �The Congress?continued refusal to focus on the priorities of the American people leaves me no alternative but to veto this bill. I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that funds the operation of the Congress and the White House before funding our classrooms, fixing our schools and protecting our workers.? The tit-for-tat seemed to increase the possibility that the escalating late-session budget battle, mostly invisible to the public until now, might influence next Tuesday�s elections for control of the White House and Congress. It also made it likelier that lawmakers will have to return after Election Day for a lame-duck session. �This is an open declaration of war against Congress,?Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said before the veto, which White House officials had been dangling as a threat for several days. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives ratcheted up the battle earlier Monday, rejecting a tentative accord between their negotiators and White House officials on a US$350 billion education and social spending measure.
Their chief objection was a provision regarding proposed regulations on workplace safety long sought by unions and opposed by some business groups. �We�re not going to get pushed out of town with a bad deal,?House Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters. �You call it a stalemate. I call it fighting for the American people to get good legislation for them.? The Republicans?willingness to prolong the budget battle underlined that Republican leaders seem to believe their party�s prospects will not be hurt ?and may well be helped ?by keeping Congress in session rather than striking deals with Democrats and the White House that might rankle core constituencies. White House officials and some Democrats, who had appeared ready to declare victory in the budget war and leave town for the elections, expressed dismay when Republicans leaders turned down the compromise on the labor-education spending measure. But looking to score points, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt accused Republicans of bowing to special interests and said, �This is not a do-nothing Congress, this is a dysfunctional Congress.? The bill Clinton vetoed ?a US$33 billion measure financing the Treasury Department ?contained a US$3,800 pay increase for lawmakers, boosting their annual salaries to US$145,100.
It also contains a Republican-sought phaseout of the 3 percent telephone tax, and finances the White House�s own operations.