Clinton Stumps For R&D Funds In New Mexico
In Washington, GOP Lawmakers are skeptical about Clinton's budget proposal
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AllPolitics, Feb. 3) -- President Bill Clinton went west Tuesday to stump for his new budget proposal and added money for scientific research, even as Republican lawmakers sniped at some of his spending suggestions.
In a talk at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico,
Clinton said his budget will keep interest rates down and still make the public investments necessary to keep the nation strong. Among them: $517 million for the Department of Energy to help develop the next generation of supercomputers.
Clinton lauded the nation's nuclear stockpile stewardship program, which he said insures the nation's nuclear weapons are safe and reliable without the need for actual test explosions. Supercomputers are essential to that effort, and are also used in civilian applications, including global climate research.
Clinton again urged members of Congress to resist the temptation to spend projected budget surpluses until they shore up Social Security against an expected onslaught of retiring baby boomers.
Clinton conceded tax cuts and added spending would be more popular in the short run.
"But we shouldn't spend that surplus until we know for sure we have secured Social Security for the 21st century, so that the baby boomers don't bankrupt their children when they retire," Clinton said.
"It is a moral obligation that should override any short-term consideration that any of us have."
In Washington, White House officials began the process of selling Congress on the administration's $1.73 trillion spending plan for next year, but ran into early skepticism from some GOP lawmakers.
Some Republicans questioned Clinton's proposed $148 billion in new spending and tax breaks, and the assumption he can pay for it with a still-in-doubt settlement with the tobacco industry.
"The predicate for this entire budget ... is the tobacco settlement," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). "There isn't a bigger question mark in this Congress right now than whether that will ever occur."
Some GOP members said Clinton has violated the spirit of last year's balanced budget agreement with his proposed spending, though much of the package could prove popular with voters in an election year.
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin told the Senate Budget Committee the budget continues an economic strategy that has resulted in job growth and low unemployment in recent years, while maintaining "fiscal discipline."
"The president's budget carries forward the economic strategy that has been so central to the strong economic conditions of the past five years," Rubin said. "This budget preserves the surpluses until we strengthen Social Security, invests in areas that are critical to future productivity and the future of our country, provides for programs that protect and promote our critical economic and national security interests in the global economy, and of absolutely critical importance, this budget keeps us on the path of fiscal discipline that is so central to our economic well being."
Said Rubin: "The overarching point of the president's economic strategy going forward in the 1999 budget is clear: under no circumstances should we take any steps that will undo the fiscal discipline that we have worked so hard to achieve and has been so central to our strong economy of the last five years."
"The surpluses present an enormous opportunity and one that we must not
squander," Rubin added. "We believe that the surpluses should be reserved until Social Security is placed on sound financial footing for the next century. After 2010, the huge baby boom generation will begin retiring which will put increased pressure on Social Security and it was on that basis that we reached the conclusion that nothing should be done with these surpluses until that problem is addressed."
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) questioned the new spending in Clinton's plan, though, and warned Congress would rewrite the plan. Domenici suggested "a significant tax cut in lieu of all the spending."
"This budget proposes $148.2 billion in new spending or tax credits over the next four years," Domenici said. "I believe these numbers are correct, and we need to make sure that everyone understands them as the starting point for debate by this Congress."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said Republicans need to be specific in their criticism, though.
"If my colleagues disagree with some of the president's spending proposals, it's fair, but I hope they just won't complain about spending in the abstract," Lautenberg said. "I would urge them to be specific. Which of the president's initiatives do you want to block? Education, health care, child care, the tax cuts for families with kids in day care?"
Clinton unveiled his 1999 budget proposal on Tuesday. Its most noteworthy feature was a projected $9.5 billion surplus for the 1999 fiscal year. It it happens, it would be the first surplus in 30 years.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.