The House and Senate are bracing for their first votes on milestone Republican budget-balancing plans, as leaders of the two chambers continue cutting deals to solidify their expected victory margins.
Brandishing fresh agreements with wavering lawmakers on Medicaid and agriculture, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., marched their chambers toward passage of similar measures, despite a veto threat from the White House.The House was poised to approve the legislation Thursday, while the Senate seemed likely to follow Friday. Both bills claim to balance the budget by 2002 by extracting savings from Medicare, Medicaid, benefits for veterans, and hundreds of other government programs.
Pieces of the government itself would be sold, such as the air rights above railroad tracks near the Capitol so a commercial building could be erected.
Simultaneously, Republicans would dispense $245 billion in tax reductions to families, companies and investors. The overall effect would be to rein in the steady growth and reach of the federal bureaucracy - "the most sweeping amount of change that we have seen in this country over the last 60 years," as House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, put it Wednesday.
"The big thing is we have this big package that is fundamentally going to change this government of ours, and it's going to pass," Dole told reporters.
That didn't sway President Clinton. He said the GOP proposal plundered programs for the vulnerable, tossed tax cuts at wealthy people who don't need them and diverted money from efforts to improve education, the environment and other productive programs.
"If the Republicans plunge ahead and pass this budget, I will veto it and demand a budget that is balanced in a way that reflects our values and promotes our economy," Clinton told reporters.
He was echoed by congressional Democrats, who hammered away most at the GOP's plans to shrink taxes for the well-off while trimming Medicare, Medicaid and the earned income tax credit for the working poor.
"It is this bill that fires the first shot of class warfare," said Sen. James Exon, D-Neb. "It is this bill that goes to war against the working person on behalf of the wealthy."
Since the GOP lacks the votes to overturn a veto, only a compromise package can eventually become law. But neither side extended an olive branch Wednesday.
Clinton rejected the GOP strategy of including must-pass language extending the Treasury's borrowing authority in the budget bill, saying, "I am not going to let anybody hold Medicare or education or the environment or the future of this country hostage."
Republicans replied that there was little to discuss until Clinton shows more clearly what his ideas are for balancing the budget, a goal the president says he shares.
"He's going to have to bring something new to the table," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said.
As the words flew, Gingrich and Dole continued their frenetic private meetings with GOP legislators troubled by various provisions of the massive legislation. The sessions were fueled, in part, by an extra $10 billion to $16 billion lawmakers and aides said budget writers had found, in part thanks to lower-than-expected inflation.
Dole said he would provide an additional $8 billion to $10 billion for Texas and several other states whose senators said were being shortchanged under the revamped Medicaid proposals.
And in the House, unhappy farm-state lawmakers announced they would support the budget-balancing bill - but seek changes later.