Republicans Criticize New Spending In Clinton Budget
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 2) -- In years past, when deficits shot through the roof, members of the opposition party would declare a president's budget 'dead on arrival.' Though that diagnosis for President Bill Clinton's officially unveiled budget has yet to be heard on Capitol Hill, Republicans are challenging some of its key notions.
Delivering the GOP leadership response, Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said, "I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding how the president of the United States can in a straight face tell the American people we are living up to last year's [balanced budget] agreement, we are going to be in balance and have a surplus, but don't worry about a thing, we can spend a $150 billion on new programs and tax credits, and everything is going to be all right." (544K wav sound)
House Budget Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) accused the administration of reverting back to a dangerous tax-and-spend style. "We need to have a smaller federal government, we need to have less taxes, we don't need to keep adding to spending. Now when the public hears that the president at the State of the Union said, 'the era of big government is over,' yet we are going to have $125 to $150 billion worth of new programs, they are not going to believe this. They are going to say, 'They are back at it again,'" Kasich said. (384K wav sound)
But Sen. Frank Lautenburg (D-N.J.) accused Republicans of, literally, sour grapes. "In some ways you can have your cake and eat it to, you can have the
budget, the economy of the country, managed sensibly while at the same time
continue to make the longterm investments that are essential to keep our
society and our country going. Its amazing to me, here we are down on the farm
reaping a bountiful harvest and our friends on the republican side see only
sour grapes," he said. (448K wav sound)
Defending his party against GOP charges of returning to "big government," Lautenburg said, "We want to make sure that the American people understand that the government is not their enemy, not their partner, it is their friend. and we're not asking for anything that can't be accomplished." (448K wav sound)
One major point of contention: the proposed national tobacco settlement. Over five years, the president counts on $65 billion from presumed implementation of a tobacco agreement. Several of Clinton's education and health proposals hinge on that agreement, including new teachers, more child care money, more health care for children of the working poor and more health research dollars. (384K wav sound)
Members of both parties warn it may be premature to rely on a tobacco agreement. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told reporters Monday, "I am not as optimistic as I was about a tobacco agreement."
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) said that even if Congress approves a tobacco deal, the money should be earmarked for Medicare, not Clinton's proposed targets. "I intend as chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over Medicare to fight to see that any tobacco settlement goes to Medicare and that it doesn't just become a grab bag to fund new government programs that have nothing to do with the health effects of tobacco," Gramm said.
While the president has uttered the magic words for many voters -- Social Security -- some Republicans claim surplus talk can be gimmicky at best.
And overall, Republicans don't like the notion of targeted tax breaks or new spending programs. They say if there's enough money to do it, Americans should simply get to take home more of their pay.
"I think most of the programs will not come to pass in a Republican Congress that believes in smaller government, lower taxes, more individual freedom, and more choice by people back home," Kasich predicted. (480K wav sound)
But Domenici acknowledged that many of the president's programs would be popular with the public, offering the budget the backhanded compliment of being an "excellent election-year document."
Many Democrats argue that Clinton's budget balances needed spending with fiscal responsibility. Giving credit to Clinton for the nation's current economic boom, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the president's policy was sound. "This president proposed some tough economic medicine that put us on the right track and a lot of good things are happening."
CNN's Eileen O'Connor and Louise Schiavone contributed to this report.