Now, for the real showdown Hard dealing ahead: Budget clash gets to heart of Republican vs. Democratic principles.

November 21, 1995

THOUGH FURLOUGHED federal workers may not believe it, the face-off between President Clinton and the Republican Congress over a balanced budget accord was the easy part. These government employees were pawns in a bigger chess game between the two parties' leaders. Now comes the really hard part: A showdown over sharply differing views of government.

The two sides backed away from their brinkmanship long enough to release -- at least for now -- their federal-worker hostages. Both President Clinton and Republicans Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich recognized public opinion was turning against them for shutting down the government. Republicans in particular were getting bludgeoned. The resulting compromise gives the GOP some grand victories, but also gives Mr. Clinton face-saving wiggle room.

Now there is agreement on a seven-year framework for erasing the deficit. And in an important move, the president relented in giving the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office a key role as scorekeeper on budget assumptions. These are two points we have stressed: The sooner we get to a deficit-free situation, the better for the nation's economy; using CBO projections reduces the potential for political manipulation of the budget numbers.

Some of the gap between the two sides can be bridged through fairly simple compromises. For instance, the CBO's August estimates turned out to be far too pessimistic. Revised CBO forecasts, especially if done after consulting private economists, could lead to brighter revenue predictions for the next few years and lower inflation-sensitive outlays.

Another possible bridge would be revising the consumer price index so it is more accurate. This would lower outlays for entitlements linked to the CPI. A third desirable compromise would be to take all tax-cut plans off the table. The primary objective should be a balanced budget, period.

But there's no easy way to reconcile Republicans' desire to sharply curtail government's role and Democrats' determination to retain government's influence in education, health care, welfare and the environment. Look for difficult negotiations as seven spending bills make their way to the president's desk. Unless hard-line Republicans in Congress are willing to bend, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Dole could be in a bind, possibly leading to a second federal shutdown just a week before Christmas.

All the top players expressed a willingness yesterday to keep the give-and-take attitude alive. They had better, if they want to stay on the good side of public opinion as an election year fast approaches.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.