Budget in hand, buoyant Clinton maps new course Health care, welfare reform among next steps THE CLINTON BUDGET

August 08, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, described by aides as "giddy" in the wake of the 51-50 Senate vote to approve his economic package, made overtures yesterday to his Republican adversaries -- and indicated that his budget is just the beginning of an ambitious legislative agenda.

"This [economic] plan is an urgent step," the president said in his weekly radio address. "But I want to emphasize, it is only the first step."

The president then ticked off a number of sweeping changes in American life that he wants to bring about, including:

* Ending the current welfare system and replacing it with one that rewards work;

* Revamping the nation's health care system, a plan for which White House budget director Leon E. Panetta said yesterday would be unveiled next month;

* Unleashing Vice President Al Gore's task force on "reinventing government," which the president said would make the federal government "leaner, smarter and more efficient."

Also on the horizon, Mr. Panetta said in an interview, is the North American Free Trade Agreement. "It's a pretty full agenda for the fall," he said.

Savoring the moment, however, Mr. Clinton delivered his radio address in an Oval Office jammed with cheerful White House aides and their relatives. "It's a bright, sunny day in Washington -- in more ways than one," he said.

"The political fog that has surrounded this town for so long is at long last lifting."

The president and his cadre of top aides seemed conflicted after the Senate vote in which a 50-50 tie was broken by Mr. Gore. Part of them wanted to savor the hard-fought victory -- and party all weekend. Another part, knowing that Congress and the public are demanding further budget cuts this fall, wanted to roll up their sleeves and get to work on other issues that will give definition to Mr. Clinton's tax increases and his $1.5 trillion budget.

Paul Begala, a political adviser, was shaking hands and hugging his colleagues on the White House portico after the president spoke late Friday night. Then he turned and leaned into an old friend's ear and said, "Now, on to health care!"

The president did take time out to go golfing yesterday with three Democrats who voted for his plan, but Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary, acknowledged: "He's already looking ahead though, thinking, 'We've got a health care meeting. We've got to do this, got to do that.' "

Appeal to Republicans

Mr. Clinton knows he will need Republican votes for health care and his other major initiatives. All 44 Republicans in the Senate and all 175 in the House voted against the president's budget on all four roll call votes. Yesterday, the president tried to appeal to these Republicans.

"Now . . . it's time for all of us to stand together -- and that includes those who opposed my plan on Capitol Hill," the president said. "I say to those critics, we must now put aside bitterness and rancor, move beyond partisanship and work together to give the country we all love the new direction it needs."

But it might take more than words to bring Republicans into the fold.

Rep. Jim Lightfoot, an Iowa Republican who was chosen to deliver this week's Republican response to Mr. Clinton, gave a blistering counterattack in which he denounced the president for "strong-arm tactics, back-room deals, buying votes with threats and promises, unethical and highly questionable business practices in the operation of the White House and a disregard for the opinions of the majority of Americans."

More opposition

"We do not accept your form of change," Mr. Lightfoot said. "We will be back to fight another day and we will win."

Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader, scoffed at the idea that winning by two votes in the House and on a tie-breaker in the Senate is truly "the mandate" for change claimed by the Clinton White House.

If there is a silver lining, Mr. Dole suggested, it is that the budget is behind them now. "At least it permits us to move on to other areas where we think we'll be not only helping the president, but probably out front."

Interviewed on CNN, Sen. Bob Packwood, an Oregon Republican, predicted that in trying to pass NAFTA, Mr. Clinton will probably get more Republican than Democratic votes. But Mr. Packwood continued to complain that Mr. Clinton never sought Republican input into his budget program and was risking making the same mistake on health care.

And Rep. Richard K. Armey, a Texas Republican, took issue with a point made by Sen. Bob Kerrey, the Nebraska Democrat who cast the tying vote in favor of the budget package late Friday night.

In his floor speech, Mr. Kerrey told the Republicans that they had "locked yourselves together into the idea of opposition -- opposition not to an idea, but to a man who came to this town green and inexperienced in our ways, and who wants America to do better. . . ."

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