- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

President Clinton's submission yesterday of a big-spending budget is, Republicans say, a political move to help elect Al Gore president.

"It has all things for everyone they feel they'll need to get Al Gore elected president," said House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, Ohio Republican. He called the document "the president's fantasy budget."

Mr. Clinton has proposed a lengthy list of new social-welfare spending programs carefully tailored to appeal to every constituency in the Democratic Party's political base. Mr. Gore will need such broad support to beat the Republicans in November and keep the White House in Democratic hands.

With tens of billions in new spending crammed into his plan, there doesn't seem to be a single voter bloc that Mr. Clinton overlooked: $1 billion more for Head Start; a prescription drug benefit for the elderly under Medicare; expanded health insurance coverage for 5 million more Americans; and higher spending to repair rundown schools, wire them for the Internet and hire more teachers to reduce class size.

Mr. Clinton's budget also contains some limited, targeted tax cuts focused largely on lower- and middle-income taxpayers that form the bulk of his party's base. He offers some partial "marriage penalty" tax relief for two-earner couples who are forced to pay at a higher rate if they file jointly; a deduction of up to $10,000 in college expenses; a $3,000 tax credit for long-term health care; and subsidies to help lower-income people save for retirement.

Mr. Clinton, who declared in 1996 that "the era of big government is over," said his last budget as president "makes really strong and significant steps toward achieving the great goals that I believe America should pursue in this new century."

Democrats hailed the president's $1.84 trillion budget for addressing many of the nation's unmet domestic needs. For the fourth year in a row, it is a balanced budget.

"We have come a long way since 1992, when the deficit was $290 billion and headed up," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat.

But Republican leaders see the president's budget in a much different light: a taxpayer-funded political tool to help Mr. Gore's presidential campaign. And GOP officials give it no chance of ever becoming law.

"The president is proposing the era of big government come back with a vengeance. This is a document designed to help Al Gore win the election," said Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican.

There is broad agreement between Republicans and the administration on the need to use all of the estimated $2 trillion in forthcoming Social Security surpluses to shore up the New Deal program. And both parties agree on the need to beef up defense spending this year.

Beyond that, there does not appear to be much agreement on spending, raising the specter of an election-year showdown on the budget in the fall.

Republicans said they have no intention of raising non-defense spending to the higher levels Mr. Clinton has proposed. At a weekend retreat, Republican lawmakers agreed they would hold spending on domestic programs to this year's levels in the aggregate.

But if the higher spending that Mr. Clinton proposed is aimed at helping Mr. Gore in the general election, it would also leave him open to charges of being a big spender who cannot set priorities, a senior House Republican budget official said yesterday.

A huge gulf also exists between the White House and Republicans on tax cuts.

Party leaders said yesterday that the president's relatively small 10-year tax-cut package despite non-Social Security revenue surpluses that could total nearly $2 trillion over that period was dead on arrival.

Mr. Clinton proposed $351 billion over 10 years in targeted tax cuts, but in reality the cuts totaled only $170 billion in net cuts because he wants to raise other tax levies by $181 billion, including a 25-cent-a-pack boost in cigarette taxes.

"Let me be very clear. This Congress will not raise taxes," House Majority Leader Dick Armey said.

"How can we address the issue of tax fairness when his budget does not substantially ease the marriage penalty?" said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Mr. Clinton vetoed the Republicans' nearly $800 billion tax-cut plan this year and party leaders have no plans to pass that bill again and face another veto in an election year.

Instead, Republicans intend to send Mr. Clinton individual bills that propose a smaller number of popular tax cuts. One bill being readied would cut the marriage penalty by $182 billion over 10 years. The White House said yesterday that the bill would be vetoed.

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