The political truce that President Clinton and the Republican majority in Congress declared late last week broke down in a war of words on the nation’s TV talk shows Sunday as Democrats and Republicans clashed over spending cuts, taxes and a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget.
Accusing Clinton of firing the first shot by distorting the remarks that he and other GOP leaders made at a White House meeting Thursday, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said the president had “no connection with reality” when he suggested that the Republicans have conceded that the Reagan era economics were a mistake.
“How can we reach out” to Democrats, Armey complained on NBCTV’s “Meet the Press,” when “we make our best effort and come out and run into a thing like this?
“This is not a very productive way to build a new partnership between the Democratic president and the Republican Congress. This is absolutely without foundation,” he added.
With the “new partnership” dissolving in about the time it takes the average Bosnian cease-fire to collapse, the battleground shifted to the economy as Republican and Democratic congressional leaders squared off on the economic planks of the House GOP’s “Contract With America.”
Led by Vice President Al Gore, the Democrats pressed ahead with their attacks on the Republicans’ refusal to specify which programs they would cut in order to pay for their proposed tax cuts while still balancing the federal budget by the year 2002, as mandated by the constitutional amendment they are advocating.
“This group that is talking about an amendment … without saying how they will do it is the same group that quadrupled the national debt the last time they had the reins of government,” Gore said on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.”
“They’re asking the American people to buy a pig in the poke,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on “Meet the Press.” “They’re saying: ‘Look, we are prepared to balance the budget, but we’re not going to tell you how.’ “
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and other GOP leaders responded to the Democratic criticism by saying it was impossible to be specific about either the types or amounts of the spending cuts that will be necessary to balance the budget in seven years because much will hinge on how the economy performs in the meantime.
But Armey conceded that another reason for the Republican reticence to be specific was that the will to pass a balanced-budget amendment by the required two-thirds majority in the House and Senate would quickly evaporate if all the necessary cuts were spelled out in advance. “Once members of Congress know exactly, chapter and verse, the pain that the government must live with in order to get to a balanced government, their knees will buckle,” he said.
Various estimates have suggested that balancing the budget by 2002 will require anywhere from $750 billion to $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next seven years, and one report said House Republicans were told in a briefing last week that the projected growth of Medicare would have to be cut by nearly $500 billion over that same period in order to meet the constitutional mandate.
Dole said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that any discussion of specific numbers was premature but that everything would be subject to cuts, with the exception of Social Security.
“You start with ‘A,’ you start with Amtrak, you start with agriculture. You go all through the alphabet, way down to the Z’s,” Dole said, adding that there would be no “sacred cows” in the budget-cutting process besides Social Security.
On ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley,” GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas suggested that one area of substantial savings could be achieved by scrapping the entire Department of Education.
“I think we could eliminate the Department of Education and give half the money back to parents and half the money to local school boards,” he said.
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