On the Hill, the battle of the bites BUDGET WATCH

August 06, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- How many cliches and sound bites does it take to debate the president's economic program on the House floor?

Well, only time will tell because the devil is in the details and you can run but you can't hide.

But approximately six eye-glazing hours' worth.

Yesterday's debate of the president's budget bill by House Democrats and Republicans was only the first half of the Summer Olympics of Rhetoric. The Senate picks up today. with its showcase of bite-sized sermonettes.

Despite its billing as a "debate" over the budget, there was no real debate on the House floor, but instead, individual speeches, many of which included such imaginative gems as "It's the spending, stupid!" (courtesy Tennessee Republican Don Sundquist).

Indeed, if you sat in front of C-SPAN yesterday (which means you probably have too much time on your hands), you got an earful. You heard the economic bill described by distinguished House members as (your choice):

"Class warfare," "a job-killing bill from the word go and a sure-fire recipe for recession," "Jurassic Pork" (with an accompanying sign of a pig wallowing in dollar bills), "the single largest deficit-reduction plan ever voted on by the House or Senate," "a brutal three-car collision," "a dumbbell," "unconstitutional," "a fraud," "good for America," "good for Texas."

Republicans went to town in their opposition to the bill, with Oklahoma Republican Ernest Jim Istook, for instance, sound-biting to a steady beat.

"Right now what's happening is a giant Washington version of 'Let's Make a Deal.' . . . This is business as usual in Washington. Most Americans recognize this as the same bait-and-switch tactics. . . . Yogi Berra would tell us it's deja vu all over again. I say it's deja voodoo all over again. . . . Tax now, cut tomorrow -- and tomorrow never comes. . . . The American people know the old saying, 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, . . .' "

His colleague in the GOP, Bill Archer of Texas, took to reporting the likely activities of famous dead people:

"President Lincoln must be turning over in his grave today," he said, noting that he signed into law the country's first income tax 132 years ago. And then: "One master of illusion, the great Houdini, must be smiling down on this chamber today," referring to all the smoke and mirrors of Mr. Clinton's "tax and spend road show."

The Democrats, if a little less colorful and biting, were no less effusive, calling the budget, "the opportunity of a lifetime to turn this country around" (Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota), "one of the most significant votes we will ever cast" (Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois), "the long, hard road back to fiscal responsibility" (Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon) and "the largest deficit reduction in the history of this Congress -- at least since I've been here." (Harold E. Ford of Tennessee.)

Even some of the speechifiers themselves admitted the rhetoric was beginning to sound a little worn and hollow.

"Don't tell me this is the only choice we have, don't say this is the only game in town, don't tell me this is the only train leaving the station," Iowa Republican Fred Grandy said. "Because I have not only heard that before, I have said that before."

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