Senate OKs Clinton's budget plan Dispute looms on jobs program

March 26, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats closed ranks and nervously approved President Clinton's long-term budget plan yesterday, then splintered into a dispute over whether his $16.3 billion jobs program is needed.

Conservatives and moderate Democrats, angry that they were not being permitted to offer amendments to Mr. Clinton's economic stimulus proposal, were holding the Senate floor last night in what looked like the beginnings of a filibuster.

Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and David L. Boren of Oklahoma said they were hoping to persuade enough of their colleagues and the White House to support a compromise. But so far the White House is steadfastly resisting.

The president maintains that the economy still needs this quick infusion of cash to protect the fragile recovery now under way and to boost job creation, which has been sluggish so far.

"We think our approach is a little better," the White House chief of staff, Mack McLarty, said during an interview yesterday. "We'd like to get the full booster shot, not just a half of it or a third of it."

xTC Earlier, the Senate's Democrats supported nearly intact Mr. Clinton's plan to cut the deficit and increase social spending through steep tax increases.

The 54-45 vote approving the budget resolution included only two Democratic defectors: Bob Krueger, the newly appointed Texan in the midst of a tough race to keep his seat, and Richard C. Shelby, a conservative Alabaman, who has been at odds with Mr. Clinton almost since his inauguration.

The budget proposal, which would authorize $1.4 trillion in spending for fiscal 1994 and spells out spending targets in each budget category for the next five years, will be reconciled with a nearly identical House measure and scheduled for final passage next week.

It calls for nearly $300 billion in tax increases over five years, including higher income taxes on the relatively affluent, higher // Social Security taxes on recipients with outside incomes, and a new BTU tax on energy that will affect nearly everybody.

"I happen to think this is a big mistake we just made," said Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, leader of the Senate Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition.

"Once the American people learn what's in this package . . . support drops dramatically."

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said it took courage to vote for the president's plan: "This is tough medicine, and many of our colleagues were not willing to swallow it."

He predicted that in the next round of congressional elections "there will be a lot of 30-second commercials run about these votes" portraying those senators who refused to back anti-tax amendments "in an unfavorable light."

But while the majority leader was congratulating his troops on their courage, a tougher fight was brewing over the short-term stimulus package that would immediately add to the budget deficit.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia tried to prevent any changes in Mr. Clinton's proposal through a parliamentary procedure that rendered the votes on all potential amendments meaningless. But he does not yet have the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster, and he may not yet have even the simple majority required to pass the bill.

The Republicans are not inclined to filibuster the stimulus package because "if you delay anything 30 minutes these days it's called gridlock," Mr. Dole said. But they and the conservative Democrats are likely to hold up passage of the proposal until the middle of next week.

That threatens a timetable set up by the White House and congressional leaders, who are determined to complete action on both the budget resolution and the stimulus package before the lawmakers leave for their Easter recess April 2.

Even so, Mr. Clinton is refusing to agree to a compromise on the stimulus measure. But much of Mr. Clinton's success on the budget resolution was the result of a willingness to make such accommodations.

He compromised with conservatives in the House and Senate Budget Committees who wanted to make deeper cuts in his investment programs. The president also agreed to what Mr. McLarty called "modifications" in his new tax proposals to address special regional concerns.

For example, some Marylanders are likely to benefit from a concession won by New England senators who got the administration to agree to a break on the new energy tax for home heating oil.

Discussing his economic stimulus plan with lawmakers is "inevitably going to lead to some modifications, making a good approach even better," Mr. McLarty said. "But you don't want to go so far that you at some point compromise the basic fundamentals of the economic plan."

But conservative and moderate Democrats joined the Republicans in complaining that many of the items in Mr. Clinton's jobs package do not qualify for emergency spending at a time when Americans are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce the deficit.

"This election was about doing things differently than we have in the past," said Mr. Breaux, who is trying to get most of the spending delayed until after the full deficit-reduction program is passed later this year. He and Mr. Boren contended the $16.3 billion package would create only 219,000 new jobs, at cost of $90,000 each.

Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, called the new spending package "ridiculous" except as a "payoff" from Mr. Clinton to liberals and big-city mayors who have supported him on his overall economic plan.

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