Fight over jobs bill escalates into localized battles

April 15, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- While sensitive negotiations over President Clinton's $16.3 billion jobs bill continued in private yesterday, in public, the White House and congressional Republicans initiated dueling public relations campaigns that sounded eerily like the 1992 election.

House Republicans, insisting as they have for the past year, that Mr. Clinton is just another tax-and-spend liberal, said they will stage a series of town meetings across the country Saturday to bash the president's economic stimulus package as a budget-buster.

"Our themes are simple," said congressman Dick Armey, a Texas Republican who announced Republicans would hold 19 town meetings in 13 states. "Raising taxes is not the answer. We should cut spending first."

President Clinton, meanwhile, invoked the same theme he used so effectively against George Bush last year: asserting that the worst thing political leaders can do about the nation's stubborn 7 percent unemployment is to ignore it.

"I don't have all the answers," the president told a group of mayors at a conference in Arlington, Va., that included Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "But I do know this: Doing nothing is not the answer."

Although each side couches its positions in economic terms, it's becoming more clear that the fight over Mr. Clinton's plan has more to do with power politics.

In addition, Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader holding together the 43 GOP senators,made a point this week of not ruling out another presidential bid.

As if to underscore the point, Mr. Dole was visiting New Hampshire, site of the first primary, while another Republican presidential hopeful for 1996, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, was visiting Iowa, site of the first caucus.

Various Republican senators, who have stalled the stimulus package with a filibuster, have complained that they weren't "consulted" by the White House enough and have defended their decision to block the jobs bill as a tactic to make sure the new Democratic president doesn't ignore them for four years.

For its part, the White House has not even tried to make a convincing case that in a $1.5 trillion budget, it couldn't find an extra $16.3 billion in already appropriated money to fund its extension of unemployment benefits, summer jobs, childhood immunizations, community development block grants and various public works projects ranging from road paving to construction of water treatment plants.

Instead, the White House has deluged local media outlets in states where filibuster Republican senators reside, listing the projects that might be lost and the number of jobs involved.

"The idea is to make them go back to their governors, mayors and county executives and face up to the fact that in order to play a short-term political game with the president, they were willing to give up summer jobs for their youth, the fire station they might want to build, the community recreation center, the bridge that was washed out in last year's rain," said White House media adviser David Dreyer.

"Japan just announced a $118 billion stimulus. And they don't think the [U.S.] federal government should spend $16 billion to ,, give this economy a boost? They didn't get the message the voters were sending last year."

Republicans counter that it was the Clinton White House that didn't fully understand the voters' mood -- that Washington must give up its addiction to deficit spending.

"Where's the emergency?" Mr. Dole said yesterday. "The only 'emergency' I can see is Bill Clinton's misguided plan to jack up the record federal deficit by another $19.5 billion. The American people want spending cuts, and they want Congress and the White House to pay for programs for a change."

"When the American people find out what is in the Clinton economic plan," added Mr. Armey, "they don't like it."

The Texas congressman's observation is in response to public opinion surveys that show support for Mr. Clinton's economic package is diminishing. But a majority of Americans still support it, and the assertions of House and Senate Republicans may be wishful thinking.

Yesterday, the White House released a letter sent by Republican mayors to Mr. Dole urging him to abandon the Senate filibuster and pass a stimulus bill.

"We recognize the need for our Republican Party to express concern about budget cuts and reducing the deficit," the mayors said in a letter to the Kansas senator. "At the same time, we believe that the stimulus initiative being proposed by the Clinton administration is most important to unemployed people in our cities."

The letter was signed by Fort Wayne, Ind., Mayor Paul Helmke, president of the National Republican Mayors Organization; York, Mayor William Althaus, and Evanston, Ill., Mayor Joan Barr.

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