President drops hints of new taxes to come

February 20, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

HYDE PARK, NEW YORK — HYDE PARK, N.Y. -- Just two days into its campaign to sell an ambitious economic package, the Clinton administration raised the specter yesterday that more tax increases lie ahead.

During a question-and-answer session in Chillicothe, Ohio, President Clinton seemed to indicate that he had plans to propose a national sales tax sometime in the future. After his remark touched off a flurry of questions, he said such an idea was still at least a decade away.

Higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco may not be far off, however. Leon E. Panetta, Mr. Clinton's director of management and budget, suggested yesterday they would be needed to pay for Mr. Clinton's health care reform proposal, to be unveiled this spring.

"It's a little bit early to say, but I suspect that some of the sin taxes probably are going to be used for that," Mr. Panetta told the Senate Budget Committee.

The campaign to sell the president's economic plan is shaping up much like the campaign to sell the governor from Arkansas, with populist flourishes at every turn and a crowd-loving headliner who keeps on coming back to middle America for more.

Starting his day in southern Ohio yesterday morning, Mr. Clinton seemed to wallow in the chance to be back in the Midwestern, flesh-pressing mode, stopping his motorcade at an elementary school where a throng of snow-suited kids swarmed around him like ants around a Hershey bar.

After an early morning jog in Chillicothe, a white, working-class mill town, the president held a town meeting in the local high school gymnasium, making his entrance under the "Cavaliers" scoreboard to applause, a cascade of flash bulbs and teen-age shrieks and shimmies.

Before a crowd of high school students along with townspeople who had won a lottery for tickets, Mr. Clinton reiterated his theme that his economic plan is fair and balanced, repeating some of his biggest applause lines.

"I have no interest in raising a penny in taxes if we're not going to do the cuts," he said, blunting criticism that his package is short on cuts and long on tax increases.

In response to a question about why he didn't propose a national sales tax, or value-added tax, such as the kind imposed in European countries, Japan and Canada, the president cited its virtues.

"A lot of people in manufacturing like this national sales tax because it helps your exports and it puts a burden on imports coming in, supports the job base of the country," Mr. Clinton said.

"It's perfectly legal; all our other competitors do it."

He added that, although it was too "radical" a measure to undertake at this time, the tax was something "we may well have to look at in the years ahead."

Explaining later in the day that he had not meant to float a trial balloon on the subject, he said a national sales tax "is not under consideration at this time," but that it was perhaps "10 to 15 years away."

Another questioner, who admitted being spoiled by Ross Perot's flip charts and pointers, said she wanted plain facts and figures on spending cuts.

"In other words, we're hearing tax and spend, the old Republican motto about the Democrats," said the Perot fan, among those the president is most eager to win over.

Mr. Clinton, who's been criticized since unveiling his plan for proposing greater tax increases than spending cuts, said, "It's basically 50-50 spending cuts, revenue increases for the first four years."

And he promised to send her some charts. Most independent estimates say the Clinton plan would impose about $3 in tax increases for every $2 in spending cuts.

Mr. Clinton's most explosive exchange was with anti-abortion high school senior Tim Hanchin who asked the president if "deep down inside" he believed life began at conception and how he could allow "the murder of an abortion."

After suggesting that Christians have long argued over when a soul enters the body, Mr. Clinton suddenly disarmed the 17-year-old who stood with a broad grin as the president spoke: "You may smile with all your self-assurance, young man, but there are many Christian ministers who disagree with you."

Later, in Hyde Park, N.Y., the president called on the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt to help him in his own economic reform.

Speaking in the former president's hometown, Mr. Clinton wrapped himself in the spirit and successes of the Depression-era president who made dramatic and sweeping changes in the first 100 days of his presidency.

"Today I think we need that kind of experimentation based on the plain evidence that we are in a rut," Mr. Clinton told upstate New Yorkers.

Now, as on the campaign trail last year, the sheer force of Mr. Clinton's personality and presence -- his knack for coming off as plain and folksy as his cardboard cup of decaf and baseball cap -- is emerging as the administration's prime sales tool.

"I think he's sincere," said Chuck Reisinger, a Chillicothe accountant who attended yesterday's session. "Even now, I'm not totally for his plan, but I'm just extremely impressed with his sincerity, with his whole demeanor."

Just like the post-convention bus trips, the president's motorcade routes in New York and Ohio yesterday were lined with an assortment of flag-waving Americans -- even women in bikinis standing on snowy roadsides hoping to catch the president's eye.

The signs some of them held high told the story of the mixed reaction his economic plan is receiving.

Although there were welcoming sentiments like "I'm Willing to Sacrifice" and "Right on, Bubba," there were others like "Fire the Liar," "Lies, Taxes," and as the president wound his way into FDR's historic hometown, the first sighting of: "Impeach Clinton."

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