Critics of president's plan appear among Democrats

February 21, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Signs of dissatisfaction have begun to appear in Democratic ranks on Capitol Hill that could complicate and perhaps delay the passage of President Clinton's ambitious economic program, on which he has staked his political future.

There are important dissidents, especially in the Senate, on both procedural and substantive grounds. A few of them have publicly expressed their doubts and reservations, but many more have spoken critically at closed meetings on the plan last week. Most of the criticism has come from conservative and moderate lawmakers from the South and the Midwest.

Some of the critics think the whole package is out of balance, with too many tax increases, most beginning in 1994, and too few tax cuts. Some fear it penalizes their states too severely. And some, while applauding Mr. Clinton's approach, think the White House is exposing them unnecessarily to reprisal at the polls from disillusioned voters.

But White House aides expressed what one called "tenuous confidence" that the plan can be pushed through by late summer, and they have devised a fairly detailed multivote strategy for doing so.

Although congressional leaders have not accepted it yet, they are leaning toward the idea of taking up the program in several stages, passing the more politically palatable spending programs before the hard votes on cutting and taxing.

The administration is pushing for a vote on unemployment payments before March 6, when the present authorization runs out. That seems fairly uncontroversial.

But an extension of the debt ceiling, due in March, could cause serious complications.

Before the Easter recess in early April, the White House would like to gain approval for $30 billion in short-term stimulus to the economy so the money will be available for summer, when the weather is right and youth employment can be undertaken on a large scale.

All the rest of the complex plan would be left for a single climactic vote on the budget-reconciliation bill, either in August or after Labor Day. That combined approach is crucial to White House strategists and their supporters on the Hill.

"I think the prospects of getting it enacted are pretty good," Sen. George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader, said in a telephone interview.

"If every member wants the package tailored to his or her requirements, there won't be any package."

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