WASHINGTON - President Clinton will submit his proposed $1.6 trillion budget for 1997 today, calling for a balanced budget in seven years, a tax break for college tuition and modest tax cuts for many families with children under 13.
The president's tax breaks will add up to $100 billion over the next seven years half what the Republicans want and his spending curbs will include some trims in Medicare and Medicaid growth that are modest in comparison with Republican proposals. The president also wants increases in federal spending for education and job retraining.
But Mr. Clinton is in the strange position the first ever for a president of proposing a budget for a new year before the current budget has passed.
So far in the 1996 fiscal year, the Democrat-controlled White House and the Republican-controlled Congress have produced two government shutdowns, 50 hours of summit talks, hundreds of thousands of words of recriminations but no budget agreement.
As a result, Mr. Clinton's spending proposals for 1997 are not of primary concern on Capitol Hill. Nor are they new.
"It's the deja vu budget," said Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich, Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Once upon a time, the release of the president's budget even during a presidential election year was an annual event that reduced the capital to a city of accountants and bean-counters as every lobbyist, journalist and member of Congress pored through the phone book-size document in search of gold.
Today, the 2,000-page, budget Mr. Clinton will send to Capitol Hill will be greeted with a collective yawn. Rep. John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, quipped that it might provide "comic relief," but even that is wishful thinking.
So far, the budget battles between the Clinton White House and the Republican 104th Congress have produced little but acrimony.
Republicans complain that the Clinton budget plans are flawed because they don't do enough to control the 8 or 9 percent annual increases in Medicare and Medicaid, count on cuts in discretionary spending that no Congress would actually make, defer tough decisions until the year 2000 and phase out the family tax cuts.
Congress passed budgets calling for lower spending on entitlement programs and more generous tax cuts bills that were vetoed by the president.
Mr. Clinton and his aides insist that in their zeal to balance the budget in seven years to fulfill the House Republicans' 1994 "Contract with America," the Republicans were too willing to sacrifice environmental protection, federal support for education and the safety-net programs for poor children and the elderly.
White House officials also insist that Republicans have missed the larger point: that for the first time in recent history, a president has sent a budget to Capitol Hill that puts the nation on the path to a balance budget.
"We are submitting a budget that is balanced in seven years, with Congressional Budget Office numbers," said Barry Toiv, a White House aide. "It's what they insisted on and what they got."
Stephen Moore, an economist with the conservative Cato Institute, agrees, and asserts that Republican congressional leaders should quit "whining" about what they didn't achieve on the budget and instead inform voters that the deficit is lower because of the budget cuts they were already able to achieve.
Beneath the rhetoric and the numbers lie real philosophical differences. Republicans' spending priorities and proposed tax cuts are tailored to benefit working families of almost all income brackets above the poverty line.
The Democrats' plans are oriented more toward the poor, the elderly, the retired and those who need education or retraining to re-enter the job market.
Republicans, insisting that families, not bureaucrats, are best-able to decide how to spend their money, have proposed $500-per-child tax credits for all but the wealthiest families.
Mr. Clinton, by contrast, proposes a more modest family tax cut that begins at $300 a year, is phased out for families making between $60,000 and $75,000 a year and ends in five years unless the economy is performing above expectations.
"That's the cut we think we can afford," said one administration budget official.
White House aides have been expressing faith that the man who can somehow bridge these two positions and help hammer out a budget compromise is Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
The Kansas Republican has consistently been described by Mr. Clinton's advisers as having been "reasonable" during the long and fruitless budget negotiations of last year. The White House's hope was that once Mr. Dole emerged as the inevitable Republican presidential nominee, it would be easier for Mr. Dole to get his troops in line.
But that view may have ignored the dynamic of an election campaign: Mr. Dole's impulse to solve the impasse must prevail over his desire to contrast himself from Mr. Clinton.
Pub Date: 3/19/96