Clinton's plan to invest in people losing ground

May 15, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton says he won't spend the higher taxes he's proposed on new government programs, it's probably safe to believe him.

Congress won't give him the chance.

Even sympathetic Democrats are turning a deaf ear on Mr. Clinton's pleas to spend more on education, job training, children's programs, roads and bridges to "put people first" and "grow the economy."

Money is scarce, and the lawmakers have their own priorities.

Mr. Clinton has already conceded at least half of his $6 billion in proposed new spending for 1994 in negotiations with House and Senate Appropriations committee leaders, who are struggling to meet self-imposed spending ceilings lower than the president's proposed budget.

Even the remaining $3 billion in top-priority items -- such as Head Start, health programs for women and children, job training and the new National Service program for college students -- remain very much in doubt, appropriators say.

"I don't think he's going to get his Head Start money," predicted Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, one of 13 House Appropriations subcommittee chairmen so powerful they are known as "cardinals."

In order to come up with the additional money for Mr. Clinton's wish list -- which also includes funds for housing programs, technology initiatives and public works projects -- Congress would have to take funds from well-entrenched programs with powerful advocates on Capitol Hill.

Targets for such cuts might include agricultural subsidies, research grants, small-business loan subsidies, foreign aid and big-ticket science projects, such as the space station and superconducting super collider.

But each of those programs has its own constituency that the lawmakers are loath to alienate, especially without specific public urging from Mr. Clinton.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman William H. Natcher and his subcommittee chairmen spent much of the last week wrangling over how the remaining $3 billion in new Clinton spending for fiscal 1994 would be accommodated.

Mr. Natcher, a Kentucky Democrat, is trying to persuade each of the subcommittee chairmen to absorb a share of the cuts, even if they don't preside over areas that will get new funding for Clinton priorities. The cardinals aren't taking it gracefully.

"The president's investment initiatives are just going to have to get a slower start than anyone expected," said Rep. Vic Fazio, a California Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on legislative appropriations, which would be among the losers under the Clinton spending plan. "We created expectations that we are not going to be able to fulfill."

Similar sentiments may doom Mr. Clinton's drive to salvage at least a remnant of his $16.3 billion economic stimulus bill killed by a Republican filibuster in the Senate last month. His original effort has dwindled to a $3.6 billion bill last week that got no takers, to a $900 million jobs bill he is pushing now.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas endorsed this latest Clinton offer of a small dose of new money for summer jobs and public works yesterday because the White House proposes to offset the new spending with small across-the-board cuts elsewhere in the current year's budget.

But Mr. Clinton's fellow Democrats, who have watched the jobs bill be progressively scaled back to meet Republican demands, are balking because they don't want to make those cuts, either.

With the House preparing to vote on a Clinton bill that would raise a total of $337 billion in new taxes over the next five years, the president is trying to erase the perception that he fits the stereotype of a tax-and-spend Democrat.

"Until we can prove that we have the discipline to control our budget, I don't think we'll have the elbow room necessary to have the kind of targeted investments we need," the president said at a news conference yesterday. "I think the more we do budget control, the more we'll be free to then be very sharply discriminating in investing in those things which actually do create jobs. I don't think we have any other option at this time."

In an effort to assure voters that he is serious about balancing the nation's books, Mr. Clinton proposed Wednesday to put all the additional tax money in a deficit reduction trust fund.

As a practical matter, though, all the tax money left over after $91 billion is redistributed through a series of tax breaks for businesses and tax credits for lower income Americans will go to finance the deficit, anyway.

The budget blueprint approved by Congress last month calls for $496 billion in deficit reduction over the next five years. That can only be accomplished through a combination of the $246 billion in net new tax money plus about $250 billion in spending cuts also called for in the budget resolution.

If Congress adopts all the spending cuts proposed by Mr. Clinton over the next five years and makes further reductions to match its own spending caps, a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, there would be only enough money available to finance 56 percent of the president's total $130 billion investment package -- unless further cuts are made to existing programs.

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