Democrats might bend on stimulus package

April 02, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Unable to dent a solid wall of Republican resistance that threatened their plans to recess by the weekend, Senate Democratic leaders started talking seriously yesterday about a compromise that could shrink President Clinton's $16.3 billion economic stimulus package.

Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, trying to deal with Republican resolve on the issue, said after a late afternoon caucus of Senate Democrats that the White House is determined to hold out for the full spending package, a key element of Mr. Clinton's economic plan.

But even as Congress gave swift final approval yesterday to the outlines of Mr. Clinton's five-year budget plan for raising taxes and cutting spending, a showdown over the short-term stimulus package threatened to deal the president a setback.

"I think this demonstrates you can't treat the Senate the same as the House," said Sen. David L. Boren of Oklahoma, a Democrat who had earlier tried to persuade Mr. Clinton to delay some of the spending. "I think we'll finally end up with something along the lines of what I proposed."

Mr. Mitchell said he intends to keep the Senate in session until the stimulus bill is passed, delaying, if necessary, a two-week Easter break that was to begin tomorrow.

But the Democratic leader does not have the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster. All 43 GOP senators said in a letter to Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas yesterday that they would resist any attempt to force a vote on the stimulus bill.

After a lengthy caucus meeting that was described by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as "a group therapy session," several senators said it was up to Mr. Clinton to break the impasse.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan described his colleagues, who are eager to leave town for their vacation, as about "evenly divided" on whether to agree to a compromise.

"Much of this will be a decision the president will make," the North Dakota Democrat said.

The prospect of an imminent holiday break has often broken Senate logjams.

"The one thing that's certain is that the Senate will not be in next week," said Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey, referring to the priorities of his colleagues. "So one side or the other will have to yield."

The stimulus package has been the most controversial element of Mr. Clinton's economic plan since it was first offered in mid-February.

The Senate passed the $1.5 trillion 1994 spending plan 55-45 yesterday, dividing largely along party lines. The House had approved the budget resolution Wednesday, also on a party-line vote.

The resolution, which does not require Mr. Clinton's signature, is the first step in the administration's five-year plan to reduce the deficit by $496 billion, largely through higher taxes and cuts in military spending.

But the action on the budget resolution was overshadowed by the showdown on the stimulus package.

Loaded with money for popular programs, including highway and public works projects, child immunization, Head Start, community development grants and an extension of unemployment benefits, the stimulus package was designed to both give the economy a jolt of new jobs and buy support for more painful Clinton proposals, such as tax increases and spending cuts.

But Mr. Clinton and former presidential candidate Ross Perot have made such a successful issue out of the need to cut the budget deficit that moderate and conservative legislators find it uncomfortable to vote for $16.3 billion in additional deficit spending.

For the Republicans, partisan politics are at stake.

Many, who resent the heavy-handed manner in which Mr. Clinton's troops rammed the economic stimulus package through the House, view this as an opportunity to play a role in shaping the country's new economic policy.

"We have to take a stand somewhere," Mr. Dole said Tuesday. "This may be our best chance."

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