WASHINGTON -- He is reputed to be America's most eloquent officeholder. But Gov. Mario M. Cuomo gave his assessment of Washington politicians yesterday as any true New Yorker would: with a Bronx cheer.
Mr. Cuomo, in an address to the National Press Club, challenged President Bush to "change course" and make a new stab at closing the federal budget gap when Congress reconvenes next month. Further reductions in the federal deficit are needed, he said, to allow the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates and stimulate the economy.
The Democrat gloomily predicted "diminished prospects for the indefinite future unless we change things."
Outlining the outsider themes he is likely to sound if he seeks the 1992 presidential nomination, Mr. Cuomo accused Democrats, as well as Republicans, in Washington of being unwilling "to make the hard decisions" and reverse what he warned would be a worsening federal debt problem.
"There is a long-term national economic crisis as dangerous to this country as Saddam Hussein," he said. "But so far, there is . . . little evidence that Washington is prepared to deal with it."
Mr. Cuomo described himself as a defender of the middle class, which he defined as those "not poor enough to be on welfare and not rich enough to be worry-free."
Those middle-class Americans have begun "figuring out" that they were cheated by the national policies of the last decade, he said.
The governor mocked this year's federal budget deal as a failure, at one point delivering a raspberry into the microphone as a comment on the tortuous effort to reach an agreement. Although the compromise approved in October will reduce the deficit by $35 billion, federal red ink would still rise to a record $253 billion in 1991, according to recent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
"You don't know how to do it," he said of Washington's inability to make ends meet, which he contrasted with current belt-tightening efforts on the state level. Last week, the New York legislature reached agreement on a Cuomo plan to trim $1 billion from the state budget through spending cuts rather than new taxes.
Although Mr. Cuomo brushed aside a question about his national ambitions, his appearance drew an overflow crowd of reporters, public relations people, lobbyists and others who reacted warmly to his remarks.
He called for creating what he termed a "progressive free enterprise system," through efforts to improve job training and education and rebuild the nation's infrastructure.
Those remedies "seem to suggest that more spending is Cuomo's prescription," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, an arm of the Democratic Leadership Council, which may back a moderate-to-conservative challenger to a Cuomo candidacy.
In a slip that drew considerable laughter, Mr. Cuomo seemed to confirm the stereotype of him as an old-fashioned, big-spending liberal.
"I'm for more spending, and I'm very good at it," he remarked, before quickly recovering. He meant to say "more cuts in spending," he said.