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Approval of GOP Budget Near

April 15, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans hope congressional approval of a $1.74 trillion budget for fiscal 2000 will sharpen their image as tax cutters and as a party that has moved beyond President Clinton’s impeachment.

The Senate was likely to give final approval to the blueprint today, a day after the House passed it by a near party-line 220-208 vote.

The measure, which does not require Clinton’s signature, sets overall tax and spending targets for later legislation that will fill in the details. Clashes with Clinton over those bills seem certain.

In addition to its 10-year tax cut of at least $778 billion, the budget underlines other issues the GOP will emphasize during this year’s run-up to the 2000 elections: using Social Security’s enormous surpluses to reduce the national debt and spending more for defense and schools.

Passage on April 15 offered a twofold message for Republicans.

By coinciding with the day income tax returns are due, it spotlighted GOP tax-cutting plans that are one of the budget’s banner promises. Democrats say that money, which comes from anticipated federal surpluses, should be used mostly to strengthen Medicare and other social programs.

``If not when you have a surplus, when can you″ cut taxes, asked Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in a dig at Democrats. ``If you can’t do it with a surplus, when should you?″

Today is the legal deadline for completion of the budget, but passage would mark only the second time it has been met since it was established in 1987. Eager to counter Democratic charges that Congress has done little beyond impeachment of the president in recent months, GOP leaders want to cast themselves as performing the public’s work on time.

``It’s a good blueprint for America’s future,″ House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said after the House approved the measure. ``We’re also pleased this Congress can get its work done.″

Last year, internal GOP bickering over tax cuts resulted in no congressional budget for the first time since the current system began in 1975.

Clinton said the GOP plan would do nothing to extend the fiscal solvency of Social Security and Medicare, which face pressures in coming years from the retirement of baby boomers.

``The budget ... falls short of what the American people need for meeting the challenges of the 21st century,″ he said in a written statement.

``This is not a budget that is going to survive,″ said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., ranking Democrat on the Senate budget panel.

Clinton wants smaller tax cuts. In addition, Republicans say they will pay for their defense and domestic spending increases by cutting other programs, which Democrats and even some Republicans say will never survive votes in Congress.

This year’s measure was a compromise between similar House and Senate budgets approved last month. It envisions a surplus of $141 billion next year, virtually all of which would come from Social Security.

The GOP plan calls for using all $1.8 trillion in expected Social Security surpluses over the next decade to reduce the national debt _ or to revamp Social Security or Medicare, should a bipartisan compromise emerge on either.

Clinton would spend a small portion of those surpluses on domestic programs. Neither side has proposed changes in benefits or taxes for Social Security and Medicare that many experts say will be needed to buttress both programs for the long run.

Most economists agree that reducing the national debt would strengthen the economy by keeping interest rates lower. A larger economy should make it easier for the government to raise money to pay benefits to future retirees, they say.

By setting aside the Social Security surpluses, Republicans also hope to prevent Democrats from accusing them of diverting the money to tax cuts for the wealthy.

Republicans say their tax cut might grow if new projections expected this summer show larger surpluses than now expected. It will start relatively small, about $15 billion next year if Republicans can find spending cuts or new revenue to pay for it.

GOP leaders plan to decide which taxes to cut later this year. Lawmakers will also decide later this year how much to spend on specific programs.

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