President Clinton, having tried threats, arm-twisting, pleas and more to persuade Republicans to come his way on the budget, Monday sought to wrap the issue in the mantle of American values. He argued that government spending for education, the environment and Medicare reflects a national consensus.
“I have shown we can balance the budget without retreating from our common ground on education, on health care, on the environment,” Clinton said. “So I invite senators and members of Congress from both parties to join me in balancing the budget while protecting our common ground. I will work hard to get their support, but if they refuse, I must continue to act alone if necessary.”
Republicans, who have mostly ignored Clinton’s veto threats and took virtually no notice of his recent budget proposal that calls for a balanced budget in 10 years instead of their seven, brushed aside his latest appeal as well.
During a fund-raiser in Des Moines, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., challenged Clinton to end his attacks on the GOP and to offer a plan to salvage Medicare, which is projected to go bankrupt early in the next century. “We don’t have any evidence that the president has any plan at all other than to attack us and wait for it to go broke,” Gingrich said.
Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour said, “Instead of all this rhetoric and all these veto threats, Bill Clinton ought to sit down and propose a budget that really does eliminate the deficit. … Republicans cannot compromise with a phantom plan.”
The Clinton address in the East Room was billed as the beginning of a concentrated two-week White House effort to change the direction of the budget negotiations - from what the White House and congressional officials call the “train wreck” direction - in which the sides have fundamental disagreements and head for a central collision point in the fall when the government runs out of money or the authority to borrow it.
While Clinton and congressional Republicans are in rough accord on the need to balance the budget, reduce taxes and reform the Medicare program, politically they are light years apart on how to achieve those goals.
Congress has approved a budget plan to achieve nearly $1 trillion of deficit reduction within seven years, cut Medicare by $270 billion and reduce taxes by $245 billion; Clinton would take 10 years to balance the budget and has proposed $127 billion of Medicare savings and $96 billion of tax cuts, mostly targeted to the middle class.