House Agrees to End Budget Shutdown

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans agreed Friday to a plan to end for now a record 21-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government that has disrupted services and idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who persuaded skeptical members of his party to accept the deal in a 15-minute closed-door speech, said the burden is now on President Bill Clinton to agree to a balanced budget that would permanently end the crisis.

The Republican plan, which headed for a vote Friday, would immediately restore 280,000 furloughed workers to their jobs with full pay through Jan. 26. It would restart the salaries of 480,000 others in unfunded agencies -- who have not been paid for work performed since the partial closure began Dec. 16.

"We have felt very strongly we had to find a way to pay the federal employees,'' Gingrich said after the meeting. But, he said, "The House Republican Conference has no faith the president is negotiating in good faith, has no faith the president will ever provide a balanced budget.''

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said he would withhold judgment until after the plan passes. "We are hopeful that the club that some in the House Republican caucus hoped they could use on the president has gone back in the closet,'' he said, referring to threats to keep the government closed until there is a balanced-budget deal.

Clinton likely would sign the measure although he would prefer a broader back-to-work bill, a White House official said Friday.

The House Rules Committee cleared two options for votes. One would send 280,000 furloughed government employees back to work, return 480,000 others in unfunded agencies to full pay and finance a handful of programs for the entire fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

An alternative bill would fund the entire government through Jan. 26 at a minimum of 75 percent of last year's spending levels -- but would be contingent on a seven-year balanced budget agreement using estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

The legislation also would need to pass the Senate to end the shutdown. On Tuesday, the Senate approved a plan by Majority Leader Bob Dole that would have unconditionally restored all workers' jobs and salaries through Jan. 12.

Dole has opposed the shutdown openly in recent days and split with more militant House Republican leaders.

None of the 760,000 workers in unfunded agencies were being paid for work they have done since the partial shutdown began Dec. 16.