Bush to freeze 100 programs temporarily

March 20, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In a direct challenge to the Democratic-controlled Congress, President Bush plans to order a 45-day spending halt today on more than 100 federal programs -- a first step in a blunt budget-cutting plan meant to save $4 billion.

White House sources said that the halt in funding was the first wave in a plan by Mr. Bush to demand that Congress rescind funding for more than 1,000 programs the White House believes should be shut down.

The move to a more militant position by the White House marked the passing today of the March 20 deadline by which Mr. Bush had demanded that Congress approve his economic-growth plan.

It served notice that the dispute between the White House and Congress over the state of the economy would explode in a new flurry of confrontations.

As outlined by knowledgeable sources, the plan would mark a sweeping use of authority to impose the spending halts while Congress considered his requests for formal rescission.

Sources said that the strategy devised by the White House would force Congress to vote on each program separately.

"We're talking pork-barrel here, and Congress is going to have to go on record with each one," a senior administration official said of the tactic.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that it was "not clear cut" whether Mr. Bush had the power to order such cuts but added, "We believe we have the legal authority."

The switch in White House focus to the planned spending cuts came as the House and Senate readied another rebuff to Mr. Bush's economic-growth proposal.

Rather than embrace the plan, as the president urged in his State of the Union address, negotiators from the two houses were putting the finishing touches on a plan calling for a tax increase on the wealthy, which Mr. Bush steadfastly opposes.

In response, Mr. Bush planned in a speech today to escalate his attacks on a Congress he contends is responsible for neglecting an infirm economy.

But officials said that his more potent weapon would be his attempt to use the confrontation to slash spending programs that Congress has long kept off-limits.

Administration sources said that the 45-day freeze to be imposed by Mr. Bush was the maximum allowed under a 1974 law permitting him to suspend funding while Congress considers his rescission requests.

They described his plan to impose further freezes in coming weeks as an effort to ratchet up the pressure on Congress during an election year.

Legal experts in Congress noted that Mr. Bush does not have the unilateral authority to prevent permanently the spending of funds appropriated by Congress.

But they said there was little doubt that he had the power to take temporary action.

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