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‘97 Plan On Time, Short Of Details Clinton’s Proposal Superfluous As Standoff Over ‘96 Plan Continues

With the federal budget for the current year still far from settled, President Clinton on Monday proposed a $1.64 trillion spending plan for 1997, sketching how he would balance the budget in seven years with a small tax cut. But the Republican-controlled Congress has already dismissed the plan as inadequate.

In contrast to the usual multivolume document of 2,000 pages, the budget that the president released on Monday was a scant 20-page outline. It included virtually no new proposals, instead repeating the last offer Clinton made to the Republicans when balanced-budget talks collapsed last month.

The White House issued the document on Monday simply to comply with the legal deadline for proposing a budget and to keep pressure on the Republicans to resume negotiations over a broad plan to end the deficit and to resolve current spending disputes. It promised to provide the usual, detailed proposal for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 by March 18.

“I am very hopeful we can achieve a balanced budget this year,” Clinton said at the National Governors’ Association at its winter meeting at the White House on Monday. “I hope we can set aside partisanship and divisions, as you often do in the NGA, and provide a balanced budget plan to the American people in the near future.”

Clinton would increase spending about 4 percent from the projected $1.58 trillion in the current fiscal year. Although the budget year is already 4 months old, many agencies are still operating on a stopgap spending measure, which expires next month, because Congress and the White House have failed to agree on regular appropriations, and Clinton did not spell out agency-by-agency plans in his proposal Monday.

The Republicans, who broke off negotiations last month, have said they will not resume talks until Clinton produces a more serious proposal, with greater specifics. They argued that his plan failed to force needed cuts in the rise of spending for rapidly growing benefit programs like Medicare, and did not provide for adequate tax cuts.

The document released on Monday had so little bearing on the state of the debate that Republican officials, whose fax machines would normally be busily spitting out reactions, barely bothered.

Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, issued a statement calling the proposal “warmed-over status quo.” The House Republican leadership branded it “the deja vu budget.”

For their part, Democrats have been divided over the president’s approach, with liberals in Congress fearing that Clinton is too ready to compromise while some moderates have complained that he is still skirting the tough choices.

“What is driving the White House is re-election,” former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts said at a news conference of the Concord Coalition Citizens’ Council, a bipartisan group he helped to found to advocate fiscal discipline. Tsongas, who was Clinton’s bitter rival in the 1992 Democratic primaries, said the president’s plan failed to control spending for entitlement programs, like welfare and Medicare, and offered tax cuts in the early years while putting off most spending cuts until later years.

“This is not a budget that was ever meant to have a life of its own,” said Stan Collender, a budget expert at the Price Waterhouse accounting firm in Washington. “I don’t think anyone in the administration is pretending otherwise. Rather than leave themselves open to rhetorical charges that they were late with the budget, they did this.”

Tags: government