Delay considered for stimulus package

February 20, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Voter complaints that President Clinton seems more interested in taxing and spending than in cutting the federal budget have prompted the White House and legislative leaders to reconsider acting first on a $16 billion stimulus package.

Instead, they will try rush approval of the blueprint for Mr. Clinton's long-term budget cuts and tax increases so they can pair it with the spending package to boost the economy.

Leon E. Panetta, Mr. Clinton's director of management and budget, has asked the lawmakers to consider the president's blueprint for deficit reduction over the next four years on an "expedited track" that would bring it up for a final vote before the Easter recess April 2, about the same time as the stimulus package.

Such speedy action would be unprecedented and "miraculous," said one leadership aide.

Technically, the two measures cannot be tied together as a single piece of legislation, but administration and congressional sources said the hope is that they will be considered "in tandem" politically.

At the same time, the lawmakers will probably also have to deal with necessary, but politically embarrassing, legislation to raise the $1.4 trillion ceiling on the national debt to prevent the government from running out of money to pay its bills.

The debt ceiling bill could pose bigger problems in the Senate, where the leadership believes it would be easier to handle if a budget plan were in place first.

House and Senate budget committee chairmen are already moving to meet the ambitious schedule, which would call for approval of a resolution including the tax and spending targets within days after Mr. Clinton's detailed budget plan is due to arrive on Capitol Hill March 23.

"It's in the realm of possibility," said Rep. Martin O. Sabo, D-Minn., the House Budget Committee chairman. "I'm just waiting for the word from the leadership."

House and Senate leaders have not yet agreed on a formal strategy to delay action on the stimulus package until the budget resolution is ready.

But there seemed to be a consensus yesterday that the "tax and spend" epithets hurled at Mr. Clinton by Republicans and conservative Democrats have to be answered with at least a gesture of good faith on cutting the deficit before the $16.2 billion package of new spending goes through.

"Of course, we're worried about it," said a senior Clinton aide. "That's why the president is out there talking about it every day."

The Democrats' worries were underscored by the findings of a poll taken the day after the president unveiled his program to Congress.

The survey, released yesterday by U.S. News & World Report magazine, found that 58 percent of Americans don't think the president cut the budget deeply enough before asking them to "contribute" more through higher taxes.

About half of those surveyed said they hoped Republicans in Congress would fight for bigger spending cuts and fewer tax increases on the middle class.

Overall, Mr. Clinton's call for higher taxes and selective belt-tightening has generated a lot more praise and a lot fewer fireworks than the legislators expected. Calls to congressional offices have included an even mix of supporters and detractors.

"A lot of Democrats were just happy that the sun came up Thursday morning," said a Senate staff member. "There was a lot of concern that we would be cast in 100 years of darkness."

Even so, many Democrats remember 1981, when President Reagan won a big round of tax cuts that was supposed to be followed by a package of budget cuts later in the year that never materialized.

Cutting the budget has historically proven harder to do than raising taxes because every spending item has a constituency and a champion in the Congress that was strong enough to get it into the budget in the first place.

Conservative Democrats like Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas are worried that many of the cuts Mr. Clinton proposed will evaporate if the White House has to make deals to get its program passed.

"The only hope we have for getting a deficit reduction plan passed by Congress is to pass it in a single package -- not the spending package first and budget cuts and tax hikes after," said Sen. David L. Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat who urged the White House not to try to push through the stimulus package until Mr. Clinton's entire economic plan is considered.

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