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Spending plan aims at GOP's tax-cut hopes

In submitting the first budget in 30 years that's in balance, President Clinton angled to catch Republicans off balance. His strategy, which includes a raft of appealing programs and a promise to use surpluses to repair Social Security, could spell trouble for GOP plans for a big election-year tax cut.

His fiscal 1999 budget will help frame the issues that will dominate the 1998 congressional election races. And Clinton afforded Vice President Al Gore a ready platform for his expected 2000 presidential race.Just when Republicans were hoping to reap political advantage from the sex allegations against the president, he managed to put the GOP on the defensive on policy. Rather than being weakened, Clinton is enjoying an astounding surge in public opinion polls.

And the $1.7 trillion fiscal 1999 budget he sent to Congress on Mon-day seems calculated to thwart the Republicans' top 1998 priority: a surplus-powered tax cut.

Clinton's budget also may help passage of a generous tobacco-litigation settlement bill, something else that wasn't high on the GOP list of 1998 priorities.

Republicans still control both houses of Congress. And GOP leaders made it clear Monday that they weren't about to cede the battlefield to Clinton.

"This is a budget only a liberal could love," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He and other Republicans pledged to come up with their own, leaner plan that would emphasize tax cuts rather than new spending.

The Senate Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., predicted "a classic debate. Do we want more government or less? Do we want to give the people of the United States a tax break?"

But no one was underestimating the president's resiliency.