President Clinton declared Wednesday that his administration was succeeding in cutting the federal deficit and said he will veto Republican plans to balance the budget and cut taxes.
As the House and Senate began debating those proposals, a combative president lashed out at Republicans while announcing that the deficit plummeted from $203 billion to $164 billion during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Clinton used the shrinking deficit numbers to validate his policies and attack GOP budget proposals as extreme. “If Republicans plunge ahead and pass this budget, I will veto it and demand a budget that reflects our values,” he said during a White House news conference. “I am not going to let anybody hold Medicare, or education or the environment or the future of this country hostage.”
Congressional GOP leaders dismissed the veto threats and voiced confidence they would pass their massive budget plans this week, as resistance from several dozen Republican moderates and conservatives began to crumble.
At an early morning meeting of House and Senate Republicans, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., portrayed the vote as “a defining moment” for the party, according to several GOP lawmakers. Telling his forces they were elected to balance the budget, Gingrich said if they were to vote against the budget bill because of “parochial” concerns, then “ask yourself why you are here.”
One of the thorniest problems in the Senate was GOP dissatisfaction with a new Medicaid distribution formula that would have shortchanged a number of states, including Texas, Missouri, New Jersey and Kansas. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., solved the problem in the Senate by coming up with $8 billion to $10 billion of additional funds to sweeten the Medicaid pot.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) lobbied hard for changes in the Medicaid formula in sessions with lawmakers, saying it would punish Oregon more than any other state. Oregon launched a much-heralded health reform plan last year to enroll most of its Medicaid patients in managed care and used the savings to provide coverage to all residents with incomes below the poverty line.