Budget row throws US embassies into chaos

JOHN CARLIN

Washington

Drinking water deliveries to US diplomats in Havana have been stopped because last month's bill went unpaid. The US embassy in Hanoi has been warned to pay up pounds 1,000 in overdue electricity payments or the power will be cut off.

Because of the government cash freeze resulting from the inability of Congress and the White House to agree on a national budget, American diplomatic missions are in turmoil, unable to come up with the cash to pay for local services and locally-hired staff. In Mexico, where people carry resentment against the United States in their bones, newspaper commentators have been chortling at the embarrassment of Uncle Sam, prompting a huffy response from the US embassy.

"The embassy wishes to make it clear," a statement said, "that this situation arises from the constitutional definitions of how the United States budget is passed into law, and does not represent any fundamental inability of the United States of America to pay its bill."

A senior official at the State Department suggested, however, that the caricature of the US as a giant "banana republic" is not all that far off the mark. Richard Moose, under-secretary of state for management, told the Washington Post: "My threshold of believing what can't happen is getting lower all the time." President Bill Clinton saw fit to comment yesterday that "this is not how a great country behaves".

The point has been reached where American embassies are unable to pay for the meals of their Marine guards. In Colombia, consular officials deployed to deal with the families of the victims of last week's American Airlines plane crash worked officially as volunteers, as there was no cash to pay their wages.

If the US is becoming a laughing stock overseas, at home there is growing outrage, not least because the congressmen responsible for the government shut-down (yesterday into its 19th day) continue to receive their wages on time and, in some cases, to venture off on foreign trips. Few are more outraged than the government workers,760,000 of whom have not been paid since 16 December. The Department of Labor reported yesterday that 96,000 government employees had applied for unemployment benefits. Many more have been beseeching their banks for interest-free credit to tide them over so they can pay their mortgages and other bills.

The fall-out of the wrangling in Washington is affecting a growing number of people every day. Meals-on-wheels for the elderly are expected to shut down in a dozen states; shortages of food and supplies are being reported in veterans' hospitals and in federal prisons; tourism is suffering, because museums and national parks have been closed and because of the incapacity of foreign embassies to supply visas - US airlines are reporting that their inbound international flights are carrying half the normal load of passengers.

Mr Clinton and the leaders of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, concluded three hours of talks on Tuesday night. They reported "constructive progress".

A concern uppermost in the minds of politicians of all sides is that they should not be identified as being to blame for the mess. Yesterday it became clear that the greatest stumbling block is the House of Representatives. The Senate voted on Tuesday night for the government to be immediately reopened and for unpaid staff immediately to receive their overdue cheques, but the House is refusing to go along.

Mr Dole, Mr Clinton's probable presidential rival this year, said enough was enough: "I don't see any sense in what we've been doing." He disagreed with Mr Gingrich and his zealous Republican foot soldiers in the House. Mr Gingrich insisted yesterday he would continue to play the shut-down card as a means of pressuring Mr Clinton to accept Republican proposals for balancing the federal budget by the year 2002.

The President rejects the proposals because they would cut social welfare while providing tax breaks for the rich.

Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, yesterdaysaid Mr Gingrich belonged to "a gruesome group" of obstructionist Congressional Republicans, a description which may not have aided the talks Mr Clinton held yesterday with the House Speaker and Mr Dole.

Markets, page 18

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam