WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's veto of legislation allowing a $3,800 pay raise for members of Congress intensifies his budget war with Republicans and could color the Nov. 7 presidential and congressional elections.
Even before he vetoed a $33 billion spending bill that would permit the pay boost, many Republicans were furious at the mere prospect of Clinton rejecting the legislation. They called his decision -- announced just before midnight Monday -- purely political and noted that after they added $348 million to the bill earlier this month to satisfy Clinton's demands, Democrats had said he would sign it.
But after days of hints from White House officials, Clinton vetoed the measure, which covers the Treasury Department, the White House and Congress' own operations and would permit the pay raise. The measure also contains a GOP-sought phaseout of the 3 percent telephone tax.
"It is a declaration of war," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said. The Alaska Republican called it "the most vicious thing we've run into in 32 years" in Congress.
"You can't deal with people who break their word," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said.
Clinton issued the veto after Republicans -- apparently in a surprise to the White House -- rejected a tentative compromise on a separate $350 billion measure financing schools, labor and other social programs. Their main complaint was a provision on proposed administration regulations on workplace safety long sought by unions and opposed by some business groups.
"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," Clinton said in a written statement.
Under the Constitution, Clinton had until midnight to veto the measure or let it become law.
Clinton's action made it more likely that lawmakers will have to return after Election Day for a lame-duck session.
Clinton was betting that his action and the resulting tiff with Congress would not overshadow the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in the presidential race.
He also was hoping that a partisan battle would not play into the hands of Gore's Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has spoken of restoring a more civil tone in Washington.
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