Democrats vow to temper GOP agenda

November 19, 1994|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Standing stony-faced and joyless, House Democratic leaders vowed yesterday to do the best they could with their diminished ranks to block elements of the Republican agenda that they consider "extremist" and "outrageous."

"We're not about to roll over and play dead while the Republicans rubber-stamp their extremist supply-side agenda," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House majority leader, who expects to be minority leader in the new Republican-led Congress.

"We're going to stand up and fight for our party's interests, and we're going to stand up and fight for America's interests during the next two years," he said at a news conference.

Top party officials said they would use every tactic at their disposal to block attempts to cut taxes that would increase the federal budget deficit.

The thrust of the Republican agenda, "is to take us back to the days when this country became the greatest debtor nation on earth," said Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, now the House majority whip and a candidate for the comparable position in the minority.

Democrats have been quiet in the gloomy days after the Nov. 8 election in which the GOP gained control of the Senate and the House for the first time since 1953 and captured statehouses in seven of the largest eight states.

The national stage has belonged almost exclusively to Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who engineered the victory and is about to take over as the speaker of the House.

Yesterday's news conference marked the Democratic leaders' re-emergence, but in the unfamiliar role of minority party officials who can only hope to influence an agenda they no longer control.

The 10 points of Mr. Gingrich's "Contract with America," a package of tax cuts and anti-government proposals that formed the Republican campaign platform in the House, are the first order of business the House will take up when the new Congress convenes Jan. 4.

Mr. Gingrich has vowed to seek House approval of the 10-item contract within the first 100 days.

Republicans insist they will propose enough spending cuts to offset the $193 billion in tax money they want to cut over the next five years.

They also plan to propose an additional $400 billion in spending cuts over that period to gradually shrink the budget deficit and plan to eliminate it by 2002.

'A cheap hawk'

Mr. Gingrich told reporters in Georgia yesterday that he would consider cuts in every government program other than Social Security, including defense, which the GOP has made a top priority. "I'm a hawk, but I'm a cheap hawk," he said.

Democrats fear, however, that the Republicans will use mostly bookkeeping gimmicks to balance the budget.

Some Republicans are considering changing the way the cost of tax cuts are calculated so that any offsetting spending cuts would not have to be as great.

The Republican theory is that tax cuts that encourage investment and economic growth actually produce greater revenue for the federal government.

"In other words, when they propose a huge giveaway for the rich -- and if you read their contract, they're proposing tons of them -- they don't have to tell us honestly and forthrightly what it will cost and what they'll cut to pay for it," Mr. Gephardt said.

"Instead, they can give us more of the pie-in-the-sky promises and platitudes that ran this country into the ground in the 1980s."

'That's outrageous'

Mr. Bonior complained that Mr. Gingrich's "contract agenda" is far too ambitious to be completed by the House in less than four months.

"I think that's outrageous," Mr. Bonior said, referring to the timetable.

In addition to the tax-and-spending package, the GOP agenda includes constitutional amendments calling for a balanced budget and congressional term limits, an overhaul of the welfare system and new limits on damages that can be obtained through lawsuits.

The Democrats' ability to block Republican proposals is limited by their numbers. With four races still undecided, the Democrats now have 201 members out of 435. A minimum of 218 votes is required to secure a majority.

But the Republicans' margin is thin enough that the Democrats can cause plenty of trouble if they keep their troops in line.

Mr. Gephardt noted that there are a host of delaying and obstructionist tactics that Democrats can borrow from Mr. Gingrich's days as minority whip. These include demanding roll-call votes on procedural issues.

"We are going to fight for what we believe in," he said. "We are not going to capitulate."

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