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Q U I C K  T A K E

B ALANCING THE FEDERAL BUDGET has been the holy grail of the Republican majorities in Congress since they swept the 1994 congressional elections. Faced with a spiraling national debt and entitlement programs that threatened to go bust by early next century, Republicans interpreted their victory not just as disenchantment over years of deficit spending, but as a mandate to restructure the relationship between the federal and state governments. That may be the crux of a fight that caused two federal shutdowns and a cessation (last December) of negotiations to reach a seven-years-to-balance budget agreement. After all, Republicans had exacted a commitment from a reluctant President Bill Clinton to balance the budget over seven years. But while the two sides argued about size reductions in the growth ("cuts," in Clinton's parlance) of entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid, welfare) were necessary and whose economic assumptions to use, the real impasse developed over changes Republicans wanted in Medicaid, welfare, school lunches, and other federally-controlled programs. Arguing that the states could do the job better, GOP lawmakers insisted on so-called "block grants" for many programs. Clinton and congressional Democrats have argued that such an approach abdicates the federal commitment to minimum national standards for health and welfare, and also decried Republican changes to environmental programs. Though both sides say publicly they're committed to reach a deal before the 1996 election, the issue may have become too mired in election-year politics to resolve these policy differences before 1997.

R E L A T E D  S T O R I E S

  • The Big Funk As Democrats retake the agenda and Dole still struggles to catch fire, the G.O.P. is growing worried By Richard Lacayo, TIME May 6, 1996
  • Bob And Bill's Beltway BakeoffHow do you cook up laws and roast each other at the same time? Dole and Clinton are about to show what happens when the campaign comes to Washington By Richard Stengel, TIME March 25, 1996
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    P U B L I C  O P I N I O N
    Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?
    Trying to do too many things 50 68 50 36
    Should do more to solve problems 42 28 43 55
    Not sure 8 4 7 9

    TIME/CNN Poll, conducted October 31-November 6, 1995.

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