Budget plan passes House by two votes White House, Democratic leaders push hard all day

August 06, 1993|By Karen Hosler and Jeff Leeds | Karen Hosler and Jeff Leeds,Washington Bureau Carl M. Cannon contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The House endorsed a final version of President Clinton's $496 billion deficit reduction plan by a hairbreadth margin last night and sent it to the Senate for one last vote today.

The 218-216 tally came after House Speaker Thomas S. Foley decided to let the roll be called without having commitments for the minimum needed for passage. The vote was even closer than the 219-213 tally by which the House approved the budget the first time in May.

"The margin was close, but the mandate is clear," President Clinton said in a Rose Garden statement after the vote. "I will continue to fight for the economic package with everything I have. . . . For the first time in a very long time, we are making a meaningful down payment on the federal deficit."

As they have throughout the six months' debate on the budget, all the Republicans refused to support the Clinton plan.

"We on this side of the aisle must bear the burden of responsibility," Mr. Foley said in an impassioned appeal to his colleagues. "We are ready to do it, we are anxious to do it, and we will do it. . . . Tonight is the time to decide. Tonight is the time for courage."

The margin of support was expected to be even closer in Senate, which was scheduled to begin debate on the measure last night shortly after the House vote. Vice President Al Gore will probably have to break a tie to get the bill through tonight as he did when the Senate first voted on the budget in June.

"These close votes strongly suggest the president's plan is not all that popular with the American people," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois. "You've been so obsessed with the $500 billion deficit reduction figure that you've lost your marbles trying to achieve it. . . . You'll probably have your way for this day, but we'll be back another day to remind you of your folly."

Mr. Clinton and Democratic House leaders lobbied furiously for votes throughout the evening. They used all manner of persuasion, including a promise to give members the opportunity to enact more spending cuts in the fall to gain the support of wavering moderates and conservatives.

The last two decisive votes were cast simultaneously by Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, who opposed the budget on the first time through the House, and Rep. Pat Williams of Montana, who supported the earlier version.

HTC Both had indicated they were inclined to vote against the measure this time because of severe opposition at home, but the pressure in Washington became insurmountable at the end.

Mr. Clinton spent almost all day on the telephone calling every House Democrat whose vote wasn't nailed down. He made his call to Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky, a first-term representative who was elected with a little more than 50 percent of the vote, just before the votes were cast.

The president's message was "I need you."

With tension building on the House floor -- and a few moments of Republican glee as it appeared the budget bill might fail, both she and Mr. Williams were each surrounded by a tight knot of their colleagues adding a final element of persuasion.

"This was a very heavy lift for members," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Marylander who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.

"Some of them went through really heavy agonizing. In the overwhelming majority, members of the Democratic caucus voted for this program because they thought it was good for the country."

Endorsing Mr. Clinton's budget was a tough vote for most Democrats because they must face re-election next year, before benefits of the program have had much of a chance to take effect but after the tax increases will have become well-known.

All day, their Republicans colleagues taunted them with doomsday political rhetoric, predicting that lawmakers who voted to raise taxes would be punished by the voters.

"I certainly wouldn't want to go home and explain why I voted for such a massive tax increase," said Rep. Bud Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, who called the budget bill a political "bonanza for the Republican Party."

The five-year plan calls for total tax increases of $275 billion, hitting the rich, corporations and some Social Security beneficiaries. The middle class would be affected by an increase of 4.3 cents per gallon in the gasoline tax, which would cost the average family about $30 to $40 more per year.

The tax increases are offset by about $34 billion in tax breaks to encourage business investment.

Of the $255 billion in spending cuts, almost half come in defense. Another $65 billion would be trimmed from health care programs for the elderly and poor.

"It's time to bite the bullet, yes or no on the toughest vote for the Clinton presidency," said Rep. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, chief deputy whip of the House.

"The question is: Can we govern? . . . Clearly, anything is better than doing nothing."

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