WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and congressional leaders are narrowing differences over school spending, immigration and other budget disputes, raising hopes that the contentious 106th Congress could finally adjourn as early as next week.
Staff-level negotiations were planned for Friday, a day after Clinton and the leaders spent more than an hour in the White House's Oval Office. That session produced no final agreements but left both sides describing progress and a sense of optimism, though acknowledging that more work remained.
"I think we've narrowed our differences further," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters. He later said on the Senate floor that the lame-duck Congress might complete its business next week.
"Hopefully we could finish as early as the end of next week," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., though he said it might be "a challenge to do that."
Lott and other GOP leaders still want Clinton to agree to deeper cuts in a massive $350 billion education, labor and health bill.
Clinton has offered a $2 billion reduction in a record $18 billion increase that bargainers tentatively agreed last month. Republicans asked Thursday that the cut be closer to $6 billion.
The GOP proposed that the reduction come from a combination of scaling back particular programs plus a 2 percent across-the-board reduction in much of the bill, said a Republican speaking on condition of anonymity.
A new GOP offer on immigration that Democrats find close to acceptable includes help for relatives of permanent residents applying for residency. But it ignores Clinton's far broader proposal to legalize all illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States before 1986 and many Central American political refugees.
The GOP also seems ready to accept an extra $1.7 billion over five years that Clinton wants in Medicare and Medicaid benefits for rural and home health care, teaching hospitals and other areas, said one GOP aide. That would be added to a $30 billion, five-year boost in Medicare reimbursements for health care providers both parties have sought.
Some members of both parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final agreement was likely to leave unfettered a new Clinton administration rule requiring employers to take steps to prevent workplace injuries. Business opposes the regulation, and labor supports it.
But one Republican said the GOP was still fighting to include machinery to allow Bush to erase the rule quickly should he be president.
The four incomplete spending bills, which were due when fiscal year 2001 began on Oct. 1, cover seven Cabinet departments and dozens of smaller agencies.
Congress sent Clinton a bill to keep those agencies open for one more day as budget talks continued.
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