Sidestepping a family fight over tax cuts, Senate Republicans won committee approval Thursday for a balanced-budget plan that relies heavily on savings from Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats were unanimous in their opposition.
Reflecting a coordinated, politically risky attack on deficits, the proposal roughly tracks a companion bill that advanced through the House budget panel less than 24 hours earlier. Both houses are expected to stage historic debates in the next two weeks on the GOP drive to eradicate deficits by 2002.
“This is a federal government that is too big to let us be free, that spends too much and borrows too much to let the economy be free,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the committee and principal author of the spending blueprint.
The committee vote was 12-10 with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats against.
Outvoted at every turn, Democrats administered their daily tongue-lashing to the GOP budget plans. White House officials attacked proposals to carve billions of dollars in savings from Head Start, education and job training and by eliminating President Clinton’s cherished national volunteer program.
“We have been waiting for 15 years for the Republicans to take the responsibility for presenting a budget to the people of the United States,” said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. “It appears now it wasn’t worth the wait.”
Like the House bill, Domenici’s plan envisions eliminating scores of federal programs and shrinking hundreds of others as GOP lawmakers try to redeem last fall’s campaign pledge to shrink government.
Outnumbered Budget Committee Democrats proposed numerous changes to cushion the blow on domestic programs, including one that would have barred a tax cut while plowing more money into Medicare, Medicaid, education and farm programs. It fell on a party line vote, 11-9.
Despite the similarities to the House measure, there was one internal dispute for Republicans to resolve.
Domenici made no firm commitment to a tax cut. He envisioned one in the future, and set aside $170 billion over five years, but only after enactment of a plan certified to balance the budget. The House measure is more definitive, leaving room for the tax cut contained in the Republican’s campaign “Contract With America,” at a cost estimated at $350 billion over five years.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., campaigning for the 1996 presidential nomination, is expected to head the effort on the Senate floor to follow the House’s lead.
For the time being, though, Gramm stood ready to cast his vote for Domenici’s spending plan, along with all other majority Republicans on the budget panel. “We’re going to balance the budget, of that I’m certain,” he said.
Outnumbered Democrats objected to the GOP blueprint. “It’s a loser for the American people,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.
Domenici’s proposal would lead to sweeping changes in the federal government and in the lives of millions at home and overseas. The Department of Commerce would be abolished, along with numerous other agencies and programs.
Social Security would be left unchanged.
Medicare is targeted for $250 billion in savings, and Medicaid for another $175 billion, out of a total deficit cut of $961 billion.
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