Senators are speaking of settling their budget disputes without interference from the White House as Congress begins this week to put the finishing touches on the massive GOP proposal to balance the budget by 2002.

"Maybe it might be better for the Republicans in the U.S. Senate to start talking to the Democrats" rather than to President Clinton, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Sunday."Pete, I'm willing to deal," responded Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who appeared with Domenici on NBC's "Meet the Press."

House and Senate negotiators meet this week to iron out differences in their bills, both passed last week, to balance the budget over seven years by shrinking Medicare and Medicaid growth and providing a $245 billion tax cut.

Clinton has vowed to veto the bill because of education and health care cuts, and the White House and Republican leaders are each blaming the other for refusing to compromise.

Criticizing Republicans, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Monday, "They need to get serious somehow, and if talking to Democrats can wake them up, that would be a hopeful development. But I'm not going to wake up from my nap waiting for that to happen."

Clinton on Saturday accused the Republicans of blackmail in linking an increase in the federal debt limit to his acceptance of their plan. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., replied that Clinton should "think twice" about a presidential veto.