President Clinton, reversing field, said Thursday he might accept a budget that eliminates the deficit in seven years - a step he had previously rejected for exacting too great a toll on the poor and the elderly and on other essential spending.
Clinton said the seven-year term might become part of a compromise if the GOP accepted some of his basic requirements, such as maintaining the Medicare and Medicaid programs at sufficient levels and spending enough on the environment and new technology.
In other budget action, the Senate Finance Committee formally approved a $245 billion, seven-year tax-cut bill that the committee’s Republicans had agreed upon last week.
The bill would provide a $500-a-year tax credit for each child younger than 18 for single parents earning up to $75,000 and for couples earning up to $110,000.
Clinton’s new position on the number of years needed to balance the budget could open the way to compromise, especially since House freshmen have been unyielding on the need to balance the budget in that time span.
It comes at the cost of some embarrassment to the White House. Administration officials had previously warned that trying to balance the budget in seven years, instead of eight or more, would force the government to take too much from programs for the poor and the elderly and slow spending so much that the economy would suffer.
Clinton’s statement got favorable reaction from some leading Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said it offered “a glimmering of hope that we may be able to come together … I would hope that is a sincere offer by the president.”
In a morning news conference, Clinton said that if the two sides “get together in genuine honesty and openness, I think there’s a way for me to meet their stated objectives, which is a balanced budget in seven years, with a family tax cut, and I think they want a capital-gains tax cut, and extending the Medicare Trust Fund to 2006 …”
He added that it would probably be necessary to build in some mechanism to adjust spending depending on government revenues and obligations, since such variables are hard to predict.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said the president had not figured out precisely how to achieve the balanced budget in the seven years.