Democrats trumpet cost of 'Contract'

January 13, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Trying to carry their legislative fight beyond Washington, Democrats warned state governments yesterday that the Republicans' "Contract with America" would cost them hundreds of billions of dollars for Medicaid, welfare, education and highways.

The Democrats had asked the Congressional Budget Office to produce a state-by-state analysis of the likely effects of adopting a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, one of the chief components of the contract, a package of proposed legislation.

With the report, they predicted that each of the states would have to enact at least double-digit tax increases to make up for the losses in federal grants.

"These numbers prove that the Republicans can't balance the federal budget on a wish and prayer," said the House Democratic leader, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

The Budget Office is a nonpartisan arm of Congress that assesses budget changes. The Democrats wasted little time yesterday in turning the information on their rivals.

Republicans seemed untroubled by the Democrats' initiative.

"This sort of thing is to be expected," said Rep. Robert L. Livingston Jr. of Louisiana, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "If I were in the minority and faced with an overwhelming opposition, that is exactly what I would do."

The budget analysis estimated that the Republicans' plans would cost New York $26.4 billion a year in federal grants, while California, the most populous state, would lose $38.5 billion. Sparsely populated Wyoming would lose $693 million.

The numbers are rough estimates because the Republicans have not said specifically what they plan to cut. But they have talked of consolidating programs into block grants that would go directly to the states while reducing overall amounts and have put forth a variety of proposals for tax cuts.

Using those as guidelines, the Budget Office estimated the effects of the promises in the Contract, the political manifesto that became the centerpiece of the Republicans' taking control of Congress in last year's elections.

Unlikely to be able to block the Republican majority's legislation on the floor of Congress, Democrats have resorted to the sort of political guerrilla warfare that helped the Republicans take power.

Democratic representatives and senators have challenged the Republicans to say exactly what their budget proposals would cost.

They hope to stir up popular opposition to the Republicans' plans.

A senior White House official said that Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association and one of the party's chief strategists, had come up with the idea of using the analysis and had put the request to the Budget Office.

The administration official said the White House had known of the project for at least a week but let Governor Dean and the Democratic leaders in Congress take the lead on using the information to hammer the Republicans.

Mr. Dean led the attack yesterday, using figures gleaned from the analysis during his testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee's hearing on the Contract.

Later, Mr. Dean joined Mr. Gephardt and the Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Daschle, at a news conference to press the issue.

Representative Livingston said he had not seen the analysis, but after briefly looking over a reporter's copy of the breakdown on his home state -- which could lose $5.9 billion -- he said Republicans would still press for cuts.

"My answer is that the American people understand that there is something fundamentally wrong, and I think they are prepared to take cuts in favorite programs in order to assure themselves that they leave their children the long-term health of the United States," he said.

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