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Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, is helping lead Republican freshmen who charge that President Clinton is absent without leave when it comes to leadership on the budget.

Waldholtz and three other leaders of GOP freshmen complained at a press conference Thursday that Clinton is unwilling to produce his own plan on how to balance the budget by 2002 - choosing instead to merely complain about GOP efforts.They then led freshmen in signing a letter that said, in part, "The American people have a right to expect our president to exercise some leadership in the budget process" - but charged he abandoned that in hopes of inflicting damage on Republicans.

"Abandoning the responsibility of your office this early in your first term in pursuit of a second term demeans the stature of your high office," the freshmen's letter said.

Waldholtz, the first freshman Republican on the House Rules Committee in three-quarters of a century, blasted the president at the press conference for saying Republican budgets would devastate Medicare.

"Medicare is going bankrupt," Waldholtz said. "Unless we act now, in seven short years there will be nothing left to protect our seniors with, and no reimbursement for their hospital care. It's that simple."

Waldholtz said Republicans seek to keep Medicare solvent while allowing spending to increase from $4,800 average annually per recipient now to $6,400 in 2002.

"This summer, Congress and the American people are going to work together to find the best ways to preserve and protect Medicare," she said. "Mr. President, the American people need for you to be a productive part of this effort."

She added, "We need for you to be a president - a leader - not a bystander or, worse, a naysayer. . . . Join us. Work with us. Our parents and grandparents deserve it."