DeConcini's late switch gives plan an apparent majority in the Senate


August 05, 1993|By Karen Hosler and Carl M. Cannon | Karen Hosler and Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau Jeff Leeds contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton apparently secured the votes needed for Senate approval of his budget package yesterday when a former opponent, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, decided to change positions and support the plan.

The Arizona Democrat's reversal makes up for the earlier defection of Sen. David L. Boren of Oklahoma and should mean that the $496 billion deficit-reduction package can squeak by on a tie broken by Vice President Al Gore. The prospect of Senate approval is expected to ease passage of the budget bill in the House of Representatives, which plans to vote on it today.

Mr. DeConcini, whose support the White House had been courting for weeks, made his announcement after extracting numerous concessions, including a break on new taxes for Social Security recipients and the creation of a deficit-reduction trust fund.

"Both of my arms feel twisted, and I guess his do, too," Mr. DeConcini said of the president. But after a week of hardball negotiating, the senator told reporters, he had concluded that the final agreement is "the best that can be put together."

As of last night, no other defections were expected, although some senators were still viewed as undecided.

"I'm satisfied that they have the votes," said Mr. DeConcini, who visited the White House yesterday to watch Mr. Clinton sign an executive order creating the trust fund.

The mood at the White House was euphoric. But Mr. Clinton declined to declare out-and-out victory.

"I'm going to let the senators speak for themselves," a subdued Mr. Clinton said in an interview with Louisiana journalists. "I've always thought that if it passed in the House, it would pass in the Senate -- but we've got the House tomorrow."

United at least in their desire to get the budget debate behind them, House Democrats are prepared to give Mr. Clinton a narrow victory today in time for a final vote in the Senate tomorrow.

"I think everybody is eager to get it over with and get on with other things, like health care and welfare reform, that people are interested in," Rep. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said after Mr. Clinton attended a private pep rally for House Democrats yesterday morning.

House Democratic whips, each carrying a list of a dozen or so wavering members, pressed hard to secure enough commitments to assure the necessary 212 out of 258 Democrats. No Republicans are expected to vote for the bill, either in the House or Senate.

House leaders left open the prospect last night that they might postpone the vote until tomorrow if additional arm-twisting was necessary.

"There are a number of people who say they don't want to vote for this bill but they will if we need them," said Rep. Vic Fazio, of California, co-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "The problem is now we have to convince them that we need them."

Dealing with Dole

The administration moved swiftly yesterday to try to mute criticism leveled Tuesday night by Bob Dole, the Republican leader in the Senate, regarding the bill's provision for imposing .. income-tax increases on the wealthy retroactively to Jan. 1. Mr. Clinton announced that the affected taxpayers, who earn at least $140,000 a year, would be given three years to pay the increase with- out incurring any penalty. The concession would give nearly 1.5 million high-earning couples and individuals until April 15, 1996, to pay this year's increase in three annual installments.

To try to pick up other wavering conservatives, House leaders discussed a proposal to hold a special session after the budget is passed to consider additional spending cuts.

The idea was advanced last week by Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is still undecided on the budget bill, and has since been endorsed by about 50 House Democrats.

The budget bill passed the House last time with only six votes to spare, and some of that support has eroded because of the intense pressure from Republicans and anti-tax lobbies who have focused on the 4.3-cents-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax.

Mr. Boren's high-profile switch to opposition to the bill has

increased pressure on members of his House delegation, as well as on congressmen from nearby oil-patch states, to go along with him, staff members say. Two of three Oklahoma Democrats in the House supported the measure last time. On this vote, the president could lose at least one.

But the elimination of Mr. Clinton's proposed Btu tax on energy also helped pick up some new votes, including those of four House members who attended a news conference with the president yesterday.

"The Btu tax caused terrible problems with the petrochemical industry in my district," said one of the four, Rep. Charles Wilson of Texas. "Without the Btu tax, I have no more intellectual arguments."

'I'm going to hear about it'

Even so, Mr. Wilson said, phone calls to his office are all negative, and "I'm going to hear about it from the people who hate me already."

Mr. DeConcini, who has a history of casting decisive swing votes after vigorous White House courting, conceded that he had gotten from Mr. Clinton most of what he had asked for.

Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary, quipped that his booty had swelled to include "the president's second born, golf every weekend, a new aircraft carrier named the USS DeConcini. . . . And you know Grand Canyon National Park? We're renaming that Dennis Canyon National Park."

But probably the most persuasive concession Mr. Clinton made was a nearly $2 billion reduction in the amount of taxes to be raised on Social Security beneficiaries with outside income.

By insisting on an increase in the income threshold of those affected to $34,000 for singles and $44,000 for couples, Mr. DeConcini said, he believes he did a favor for about 40,000 Arizonans. Half of them would pay less in new taxes; the other half would face no tax increase at all, he said.

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