President Clinton Tuesday sent Congress an election-year budget that purports to eliminate the federal deficit by 2002 and cut taxes while increasing spending on a range of education, environmental and social programs in the next year.
The $1.64 trillion plan is little more than a detailed version of Clinton’s last offer, made during 50 hours of fruitless talks with Republican leaders over the Christmas holidays, and so has no chance of survival on Capitol Hill. The two sides still have not agreed on a budget for the 1996 fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
“Who’s he kidding?” asked House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
But the 2,196-page plan unveiled Tuesday will serve as a useful election platform for the president to contrast his vision for the nation with his probable Republican rival, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. Clinton’s plan meets the broad goals of the “Republican Revolution” - a balanced budget and tax relief - while avoiding the deep cuts advocated by Republicans in federal benefit programs. Moreover, it provides for $100 billion in tax cuts, mostly for families with children.
In fact, Clinton has ridden public distaste for the Republican budget proposals to a significant lead in the polls. Dole pushed the Republican budget through Congress only to meet Clinton’s veto in December, and he now must decide whether confrontation or cooperation with the president will serve him better in the seven months leading to the general election.
“It does look like a three-ring circus,” said White House budget director Alice Rivlin, referring to the fights over the 1996 budget, the 1997 budget and the broader effort to balance the budget in seven years.
Clinton has invited Dole and Gingrich to the White House this morning for talks on the budget, welfare reform and health care initiatives.
“We should enact a balanced budget and we should do it now - not after the November election, not after the political season, not later but now,” Clinton told reporters. “The American people deserve nothing less. It is the right thing to do.”
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said, “This is a choice now for Speaker Gingrich and Dole: Are they revolutionaries or are they leaders who want to move this country forward?”
Dole, meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill, said he and Gingrich were ready to bargain, but he said he was not interested in participating in more marathon negotiations.
Asked if Clinton’s budget would help reach a compromise, Dole noted that it was the ninth budget proposal Clinton has put forward in the past year. “After you have had nine of them in one year, it is kind of hard to say,” he said.
Clinton’s new budget does show the influence of the Republican-controlled Congress. A year ago, the president offered a budget that projected $200 billion deficits to the turn of the century; Tuesday, he proclaimed he was the first president in a generation who submitted a budget that would balance according to conservative congressional economic assumptions.
His 1997 budget would have a deficit of $164 billion, up from a projected $158 billion for 1996, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The fine details of his budget raise questions about whether it would reach the broad goals. He proposed few program terminations and instead advocated several new federal initiatives, such as “Water 2000” to bring running water to every home in America; a new health care initiative that would subsidize health-insurance premiums for the newly unemployed; and presidential honor scholarships that would give $1,000 to each student in the top 5 percent of his or her graduating high school class.
Moreover, ignoring Republican efforts to eliminate such Clinton initiatives as Goals 2000 funding for education, national service and technology investments, the president proposed substantial increases in these programs.
Both the House and Senate have zeroed out the national service program. Clinton Tuesday proposed $772 million for the program, which was one of his main campaign promises in 1992.