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While much of Washington lay still Saturday under a crust of ice, President Clinton summoned top administration officials - old and new - to plot his second term, saying his credibility rested on passing a balanced budget.

To that end, participants in the closed-door, daylong "staff retreat" extended a symbolic hand of bipartisanship toward the Republican majority in Congress.Leaving Blair House after 7 1/2 hours of discussion there, Clinton pumped his fist skyward and called to reporters, "We're ready to go on the 21st!"

The meeting, coming just over a week before his Jan. 20 inauguration and less than four weeks before Clinton sends Congress his balanced budget proposal, brought together his second-term Cabinet with outgoing secretaries, Vice President Al Gore and top-level presidential advisers.

By all accounts, the day was a gabfest on policy generalities. But national security adviser Sandy Berger said the group did speak specifically about asking Congress to beef up foreign policy funds - with a commitment to repaying around $1 billion in arrears to the United Nations.

Throughout the working sessions, the president emphasized "the need for us to work closely with Congress . . . to reach out, especially to the Republican leadership," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said afterward.

With six of 14 Cabinet members new to the job, McCurry billed the huddle as a time for the president to "get a sense of how this team will work together."

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sat in on - but did not directly participate in - the day's sessions on national security, economic strategy and budget priorities. "She'll be an enormously important part of the work that lies ahead - as the president's partner," McCurry said.

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said there was unanimous recognition that the strong economy and a strong public desire make the time ripe for passing a budget that brings the deficit to zero by 2002.

None of the officials would divulge details of Clinton's budget plan. Berger said the budget, scheduled for release Feb. 6, would make suggestions for linking the repayment of U.N. arrears to "specific and concrete reforms."