Clinton proposes his last federal budget

Search for legacy: President stresses debt reduction, limits new domestic spending and tax cuts.

February 09, 2000

THERE was something for everyone in Bill Clinton's final budget of his presidency: new domestic spending, tax cuts and a determined effort to pay off the nation's debt. In his search for a place in history, Mr. Clinton tried to have it all in his $1.8 trillion budget.

Politics is woven into the fabric of this budget. Many Clinton initiatives dovetail with Vice President Al Gore's campaign pledges, especially in education and health care. Republican leaders in Congress have dismissed these proposals.

The president may have set the stage for another battle with Congress over his fiscal policies, a battle he is likely to win. This, too, has heavy political overtones. But the president's fiscal approach -- including a more cautious surplus forecast -- is far more prudent than the congressional leadership's plan. It also appears to be more in sync with what Americans say they want Washington to do.

Mr. Clinton already has gotten Congress to carve out two-thirds of the projected 10-year surplus to fortify the Social Security trust funds. Now, the president seeks a big chunk of the remaining surplus to bolster Medicare.

What's left is enough for modest tax cuts and some new spending. Among the Clinton proposals: Money to improve living conditions and pay for those in the military; a prescription-drug program for the elderly; health care for children of the working poor; and more aid to Head Start, the pre-school learning program.

Republicans could find it politically dangerous to oppose some of Mr. Clinton's budget objectives, especially efforts to bolster Medicare. Polls show that Medicare's future worries many voters.

That won't leave much room in the budget for a massive tax cut that Republicans champion.

In the end, they probably will have to settle for modest tax relief that is acceptable to the Democratic White House -- and set aside their more ambitious agenda until after Mr. Clinton leaves office.

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