Clinton budget sets new course Plan reverses Reagan legacy, harks back to '60s

April 09, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- There were no bands playing, as on election night, few speeches and little applause, but in a deadly dull, 1,300-page federal budget book sent to Congress yesterday, President Clinton officially began rolling back the Reagan Revolution.

That era was characterized by a massive military build-up, a hold-the-line philosophy on domestic spending and numerous tax cuts, some of which gave the biggest breaks to those in the highest income brackets.

Mr. Clinton's $1.5 trillion budget sets the nation on a markedly different course. It's an agenda that harks back to the 1960s' War on Poverty and call to national service while also promoting advanced scientific research and high-technology development.

The first post-Cold War budget produced by a Democratic president diverts $10 billion in the coming fiscal year from defense and proposes increasing spending on a host of domestic programs ranging from high-speed rail and job retraining to a variety of anti-poverty programs including Head Start and subsidized abortions for Medicaid patients.

"Budgets are not just about numbers, they are about people," said White House budget director Leon E. Panetta. "This represents the first step in what I think is a major change in direction for this country. There is more to come."

In building a case for this budget, Mr. Clinton has repeatedly invoked the theme of "shared sacrifice," which his top aides emphasized again yesterday. "We talked about spreading the sacrifice, the contribution across the political spectrum," said Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.

But Mr. Clinton's budget exempts one class of Americans from this shared national effort. It exempts the poor. Despite his pledge to be a "New Democrat," a theme that pervades nearly every section of the president's budget is income redistribution, the bulwark of traditional liberalism.

Though Mr. Clinton calls for large tax increases, his budget -- like the budgets of his predecessors -- takes in far less revenues than it spends. Although it proposes spending $1.52 trillion, Mr. Clinton's administration expects to collect only $1.25 trillion in taxes and user fees.

Thus, even though the budget deficit for the coming fiscal year has been "cut" from a projected level of $322 billion to $264 billion, Mr. Clinton's four-year projections will still add well over $1 trillion to the national debt.

Simply paying interest on this debt will eat up some $212 billion this year alone -- a figure that continues to rise.

In addition, Mr. Clinton's budget calls for 3.2 percent more spending in the coming fiscal year, higher than the nation's 1.9 percent annual inflation rate. Congress has insisted on deeper spending cuts totaling some $5.6 billion, but federal spending is not being cut, it is being increased.

Critics quick to attack

Critics were quick to tag this as just another Democratic Party, tax-and-spend budget.

"It's pretty much what they promised," said Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas. "More taxes, more spending."

But supporters swiftly lined up behind the budget, which they characterized as the proper antidote to the policies of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

"I think it's very exciting," said Helen Blank of the Children's Defense Fund, whose particular interest is Head Start.

Mr. Clinton has proposed adding roughly $1.4 billion in spending next year for Head Start and costs related to the program, including expansion of the Head Start summer program.

"This program can make a big difference in childrens' and families' lives," Ms. Blank said. "And this budget is an important step in the right direction for this country."

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Mr. Clinton's budget "refreshing," and said that the president's emphasis on short-term summer jobs and long-term public works projects was exactly what Baltimore and other cities need most.

"After 12 years of Robin Hood in reverse, it's clear that the urban areas need to be a priority of the federal government," the Baltimore Democrat said. "It's gratifying that the president is doing what he said he would during the campaign."

Those are the Republican-vs.-Democrat battle lines over the budget, outlining a fight that the Democrats, by virtue of their majority in both houses of Congress, will ultimately win. But a review of the budget shows that there is evidence to support both views.

Spending as 'investment'

This president, who refers to most of his spending initiatives under the heading of "investment," calls for adding nearly $700 million, for instance, to a program that provides nutritional food supplements to poor women who are pregnant as well as to their infants and other children.

His stated goal is to ensure that there is money in this program -- called Women, Infants and Children (WIC) -- to help every eligible woman in the country by the end of his first term.

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