In the most conciliatory of tones, Republicans summoned White House officials to the Capitol Wednesday to discuss President Clinton’s budget-balancing proposal. They said they might use some of it in their own plan.
“There are pieces of what the president said that are eminently worth looking at,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told reporters the day after Clinton unveiled his 10-year blueprint for eliminating the deficit. Gingrich suggested that a GOP package incorporating some of the president’s proposals could garner up to 50 votes from moderate House Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., praised Clinton for having chosen “the necessary and responsible thing to do.” And in an appearance before the Chamber of Commerce, Gingrich praised Clinton for “a real act of statesmanship.”
Amid the laudatory words, Dole and Gingrich assigned their budget committee chairmen - Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio - to learn more about Clinton’s package at a meeting with White House chief of staff Leon Panetta and Alice Rivlin, the administration’s budget chief.
“If there’s a willingness to accept his good-faith effort … there would surely be some give and take in the discussion,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
Despite the friendly exchanges, the gulf between Clinton and Republicans over the scope and nature of tax and spending cuts was vast, and no one was suggesting that a deal was anywhere near.
The harshest words came from some Democrats, who complained that the president had abandoned important party priorities by agreeing to seek cuts in Medicare and other domestic programs.
People who attended a raucous closed-door meeting of House Democrats Wednesday morning said Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and other leaders had to talk several Democrats out of making speeches on the House floor critical of Clinton’s plan.
Rep. Fortney Stark, D-Calif., said many Democrats were upset because Clinton had weakened the Democratic argument that Republicans were cutting Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the rich.
xxxx CLINTON, GOP BUDGET PLANS COMPARED Major differences between President Clinton’s and congressional Republicans’ plans for balancing the budget: Timing: Clinton would achieve the task in 10 years, Republicans in just seven. Clinton says the slower timetable allows for more gradual, eased cuts; Republicans say it forces reliance on savings in the distant future that may never materialize because of the uncertain economy. Tax cuts: Clinton would cut taxes by $96 billion over seven years, mostly with tax credits for children and for education costs. The House’s cuts total $350 billion, would apply to higher-income people than Clinton wants and would also provide breaks for corporations. The Senate would allow up to $170 billion in unspecified cuts, but only if the economy surges as a result of balancing the budget. Medicare and Medicaid: Clinton would pull about $110 billion less in savings out of the two health-insurance programs for the elderly and poor over seven years than the Senate wants, and about $160 billion less than the House. The House and Senate would achieve Medicare savings from beneficiaries and doctors and hospitals but are vague on how; Clinton would spare beneficiaries but provides little detail. The House and Senate would give block grants to the states to run Medicaid; Clinton would give the states more power, but not as much as Republicans would dispense. Other domestic programs: Compared with Republicans, Clinton would allow $40 billion to $50 billion more a year in spending for domestic programs, excluding automatically paid benefits like Medicare and Medicaid. - Associated Press