President Bush successfully vetoed legislation Saturday to restore the government's ability to spend money and presided over the gradual shutdown of non-essential services in a confrontation spawned by deadlock over the federal deficit.
Negotiators from the White House and Congress resumed talks on a package of spending cuts and tax increases that could win approval and end the impasse.But in the meantime, the president said he would no longer abide "business as usual" by the Democratic-controlled Congress. He vetoed a bill that would have permitted the government to operate normally for another week, and a few hours later, the House failed to override the veto.
The 260-138 vote override was six short of the two-thirds majority required. On the vote, 235 Democrats and 25 Republicans voted to overturn Bush's veto and nine Democrats and 129 Republicans voted to uphold it.
"Responsible congressional action to reduce the deficit can be delayed no longer," Bush said in his veto message.
Democrats denounced the president's decision. "Unnecessary, unjustified and harmful," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash.
But under the eyes of tourists packing the visitors' galleries because many federal tourist attractions in town were closed, the House mustered only the 260 votes to override, well short of the two-thirds vote needed.
Reflecting the importance of the budget fight and lawmakers' recent spate of long hours, the debate was unusually acrimonious.
"Mr. Speaker, there are snakes loose in the chamber," shouted Rep. Robert Dornan, R-Calif., after Democrats hissed during the reading of Bush's veto message.
But Republicans were hissing moments later after Rep. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Bush's veto resulted in "treating 2 million federal workers like Saddam Hussein treats his so-called guests in Iraq."
Feelings ran so high that angry conservative Republicans blocked an effort by leaders of both parties to recess the House for two hours so lawmakers could have dinner while budget negotiators tried to work out a compromise.
At the White House, spokesman Roman Popadiuk said: "We are pleased that the House has sustained the veto. It is now time for the House to get on with dealing with the budget."
The federal shutdown presumably would increase pressure on the negotiators trying to piece together a plan to replace the five-year, $500 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts that was defeated in the House after midnight Thursday night.
House GOP Leader Bob Michel of Illinois said he hoped Congress and the White House could break the gridlock before the end of the three-day Columbus Day weekend, when millions of federal workers face the threat of furloughs.
There was no immediate word from congressional leaders on their next move. One possible step was to pass legislation replenishing the government's coffers, but coupled with across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudman anti-deficit law. Bush hinted he might accept such a measure, which would give negotiators time to craft a larger deficit-reduction package.
The earlier deficit-reduction plan went down in a crescendo of criticism - with Republicans expressing anger over tax hikes and Democrats rebelling over $60 billion in cuts in the Medicare program that pays for health care for the elderly.
Bush and the Democratic leaders of Congress had jointly forged that agreement - and the president said he still supported it.
But at the same time, his decision to veto the short-term funding bill and proceed with the shutdown of non-essential government services meant a high-stakes political showdown was unfolding with the Democratic majorities of Congress.
Asked how long he was willing to keep government doors locked, he replied:
"It's not a question of how long I can take it," Bush said. "It's a question of how long Congress can take it. Congress is where the action is."
The White House last week estimated the fiscal 1991 budget deficit would be about $294 billion. The budget agreement the House rejected would have cut the deficit $40 billion this year and $500 billion over five years.
Bush said he was "very sorry" if anyone was inconvenienced by the shutdown, which was felt first at the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums and popular sites in the nation's capital.
In fact, the early disruptions were minimal, confined largely to government tourist attractions.
The full impact of the shutdown of non-essential services was not likely to be felt until after Monday's Columbus Day holiday for federal workers. And the administration said it had the authority to maintain essential services such as the military, air traffic safety control and prison control.
Despite his criticism aimed at Congress, Bush seemed to offer the possibility for a fresh compromise on taxes.
He refused to dismiss reporters' questions that in return for cuts in the capital gains tax - a 1988 Bush campaign promise - he might accept Democrats' demands for higher income taxes on the wealthy.
"I remain in a flexible frame of mind," the president said.
Neither item was included in the deficit-reduction package that Bush agreed to last weekend with congressional leaders.