As they arrive for a frigid week of campaigning, winners and losers in the Iowa caucuses are greeted by a billboard at a key intersection in the Granite State’s largest city.
“Running for president?” asks the billboard. “Welcome to New Hampshire. Now, what are YOU going to do to balance the budget?” The billboard - and a much smaller version that adorns shop windows throughout southern New Hampshire - is sponsored by the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that regards a balanced federal budget as the key issue in the nation’s future.
Many Washington state voters apparently share that belief. In a recent poll for The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV, 91 percent described a balanced budget as important - the highest level for any issue mentioned in the survey.
Coalition members, many of them political activists and former campaign workers from around the country, pursued the candidates at every turn in New Hampshire.
Tuesday morning, all the Republican candidates except Steve Forbes jetted east from Iowa, although Texas Sen. Phil Gramm broke off his campaigning and returned to Washington, D.C., probably to quit the race.
As morning temperatures hovered in single digits, a coalition threesome waited in a booth when Lamar Alexander arrived at a Concord diner. The former Tennessee governor basked in the glow of his strong caucus showing Monday, and pressed the flesh of potential voters in next week’s primary.
Most diners were content to say hello and wish Alexander well. Coalition members John Ellis of Manchester and Mitch Price of Washington, D.C., demanded his stand on the budget.
Alexander switched seamlessly to his position: He supports a constitutional balanced budget amendment. If he were president, he would sign the House Republican budget, which would balance the budget in seven years, and provide some tax cuts.
Would he support the coalition’s 6-year plan, with more cuts in so-called entitlements, and no tax cuts? Price asked.
No, replied Alexander, he likes the House Republican plan. The tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy.
After Alexander moved on to shake hands at other booths, Price said the reply was consistent with past statements. But it’s unrealistic, because of the tax cut, he contended.
“If you’re trying to fill up a hole, you don’t start by digging it deeper,” said Price.
“The Republicans are politically unwilling to back off the tax cut,” Ellis added.
The newspaper survey published Sunday indicated a potential tax cut is still important to voters, but a balanced budget was emphasized by a lot more people. A significantly smaller portion of voters surveyed - 62 percent statewide, and 53 percent in Eastern Washington - said a tax cut was very or somewhat important to them.
Although all candidates, including President Clinton, say they want a balanced budget, all are vague on details of how to achieve it through program cuts, Miller said. All GOP candidates also support a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget be passed every year except during emergencies.
Here are some of the Republican candidates’ stances on the budget, as gathered from their statements, campaign spokespersons, position papers, and coalition research.
Bob Dole: Supports the House budget plan with its current modifications that have reduced the tax cut. Would give most federal programs except Medicare and agriculture to states in block grants, eliminating departments of Energy, Education, Commerce and Housing.
Pat Buchanan: Supports a balanced budget amendment that requires super-majorities to raise taxes, and a line-item veto for the president. Would cut foreign aid, which is less than 2 percent of the federal budget, welfare programs and reduce the capital gains taxes. Supports a flat income tax - a single rate for all income levels.
Alexander: Supports House Republican budget with tax cuts and a flat tax. Has said his experience balancing budgets as governor would allow him to make the right choices on what to cut, but has mentioned the Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing departments.
Steve Forbes: Supports a flat tax of 17 percent on income, but not on interest or dividends, which he contends would generate approximately the same revenue as the present system and stimulate the economy.
Dick Lugar: Would eliminate the current income tax and replace it with a national sales tax of 17 percent. Neither wages nor investment income would be taxed, which should encourage a rate of savings that stimulates the economy. Economic expansion would give the federal government additional money to balance the budget. The Internal Revenue Service would be eliminated, as well as other departments favored by other candidates.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NW questions heading east Even though political reporter Jim Camden is already in New Hampshire, readers can continue to call Cityline with questions they want asked of the presidential candidates. He’ll check Cityline daily for more questions, so call (509) 458-8800 in Washington or (208) 765-8811 in Idaho, then press 9893 to leave a message.