Plan threatens the president's domestic agenda

November 22, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Less than a week after his victory on the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Clinton faces another critical challenge in Congress today when the House votes on a bipartisan budget-cutting plan that threatens to strangle Mr. Clinton's domestic agenda for the rest of his term.

The president and his congressional allies worked furiously against the deficit-reduction measure through the past weekend and seemed to be making progress in their efforts to defeat it.

"We're moving, we're moving," said Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., chief vote-counter in the House Democratic leadership's bid to defeat the budget-cutting plan sponsored by Reps. Timothy J. Penny, D-Minn., and John R. Kasich, R-Ohio.

Yet the White House remained fearful that a congressional stampede for spending cuts far beyond those imposed by Mr. Clinton's own budget would make it nearly impossible for the president to live up to his campaign promise to fund long-neglected domestic programs such as job training, public works, education and health care reform.

If approved, the budget-cutting measure would almost certainly mean that many of the initiatives begun this year -- Mr. Clinton's national service program, for instance -- would never be able to grow beyond minor pilot projects.

The Penny-Kasich proposal calls for $90.3 billion in new spending cuts over the next five years. If approved, the cuts would come on top of reductions already included in Mr. Clinton's five-year, $500 billion deficit reduction package passed August.

The administration is especially worried about the effect of such large reductions on Mr. Clinton's health care reform effort. The Penny-Kasich measure includes $37 billion in Medicare savings, money that Mr. Clinton hopes to use to help finance his health plan. Without those funds, the administration warns that it will have to either phase in its health care plan more slowly or raise more taxes to pay for it.

Yesterday, the White House and its supporters also warned that the Penny-Kasich plan to slash Medicare funding would force the states to pay more for health care services for the poor who are elderly or disabled.

To combat the Penny-Kasich bill, the Clinton administration has introduced its own, much smaller budget-cutting package, totaling about $37 billion.

But the two plans do overlap in other areas. Both call for the elimination of 252,000 federal jobs over the next five years -- locking into law a proposal first unveiled in the administration's "reinventing government" report in September.

Originally, the administration hoped that the reinventing government report would provide enough spending cuts to satisfy the deficit hawks in Congress. But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office judged that the task force report included far fewer genuine spending reductions than the administration had claimed.

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