Republicans warned Saturday that President Clinton's forthcoming 1999 budget and its $100 billion in new domestic programs would reignite a push toward big government just as federal surpluses are in sight.
Hoping to counter that argument, officials familiar with Clinton's spending plan said Saturday it would reduce the government's civilian work force next year to 1,824,000 employees. That is 315,000 workers fewer than when Clinton took office in 1993 and the lowest level in almost four decades.Clinton was ready to unveil his $1.7 trillion spending blueprint Monday, a plan that claims the first balanced budget in 30 years. The president says his proposals to ease access to Medicare and child care and boost education, biomedical research and other programs are all paid for. The plan claims a $9.5 billion surplus next year and a huge $218.7 billion in surpluses through 2003, according to Democrats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even so, Republicans said they believed Clinton and congressional Democrats would end up spending the extra money - a theme they are likely to emphasize all year.
"They see a surplus and it burns a hole in their pocket," Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told conservatives Saturday at a conference in Arlington, Va. "We see a surplus, and we want to give it back with a down payment on the debt and with tax cuts for American fam-i-lies."
In Saturday's GOP radio response to Clinton's weekly broadcast address, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said spending limits enacted in last summer's budget deal between the president and Congress must be obeyed.
"If we stick to those limits, we'll have the first balanced budget in a generation," said Boehner, the No. 4 House GOP leader. "If we don't stick to those limits, it's a devastating step backward. It's back to business as usual."
In fact, Boehner and other Republicans conceded this week that pressure for more spending is coming from GOP lawmakers as well. These include Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who are leading fights to increase spending for road-building.
The White House insists that Clinton's proposal lives within the budget pact's spending caps. According to budget documents and Democrats knowledgeable about his proposal, it does so in part by relying on $65.5 billion over five years that the government would pocket from tobacco settlement legislation. It is uncertain whether such a measure can be completed this year, since it must address numerous complicated questions about liability as well as money.
Some Republicans worry that Clinton's spending plans - for items such as medical research and schools - could prove so politically appealing that there might be pressure on GOP moderates to support some of them. If the tobacco legislation goes nowhere, that could raise questions about whether anticipated surpluses might be used to for extra spending.
Clinton also will propose raising nearly $25 billion over the next five years by increasing taxes on some businesses and investors, Democrats said. And he would save about $30 billion from some benefit programs by such proposals as reducing Medicare waste and fraud.