WASHINGTON -- Budget director Richard G. Darman derided the economic proposals of presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot yesterday in an unusual session with reporters, cleared by the Bush-Quayle election campaign.
Mr. Darman invited a group of journalists for coffee and cookies in his conference room in the Old Executive Office Building to lower the boom on the two challenges to President Bush's approach to reviving the moribund economy.
Somewhat theatrically thumbing a copy of the administration's 2,000-page fiscal 1993 budget -- which was rejected by Congress earlier this year -- he dismissed Mr. Clinton's 22-page economic blueprint as appearing "to have been put together late at night by someone wearing very dark glasses, perhaps while playing a saxophone." Not once did he refer to either candidate by name, but said he would discuss "two new budget plans in the public domain."
He repeatedly called Mr. Clinton's economic plan the "written TTC budget," and Mr. Perot's the "oral budget."
"Neither approach is serious," he said.
Asked why a federal official was engaging in political point-scoring,he replied that the Office of Management and Budget was routinely asked to analyze budget proposals from within and without the government, and he was simply fulfilling that responsibility.
He challenged the assertion that the Clinton blueprint would save almost $300 billion over four years, halving the deficit by 1996. Mr. Darman said the true savings figure was nearer $75 billion, or less than $20 billion a year in the face of a deficit this year approaching $400 billion.
"The principal reason this plan fails so completely is it ignores totally two-thirds of the federal budget, the heart of the federal budget problem, the rapidly growing so-called mandatory proposals," he said.
He said the Clinton plan would save a grand total of $1.8 billion in mandatory programs that will cost an estimated $840 billion in 1996. The administration has called for capping the growth of mandatory programs, excluding Social Security, and is working on a precise formula.
Mr. Clinton also supports capping health care costs and has proposed a system of universal coverage, administered either privately or publicly.
Estimating the economic growth rate that would be necessary to achieve the Clinton targets, Mr. Darman said it would take an annual average growth rate of 3.5 percent.
"Unfortunately there is no respectable economist I know of with any such forecast," he said. This year's growth rate is expected to be around 2 percent, and the rate is generally projected to be little above 3 percent for the next three years.
The Democratic nominee-apparent promoted his budget plan to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington yesterday, saying: "This country has to produce in order to get its growth rates back."
Mr. Darman, in his critique of the Clinton and Perot budget plans, acknowledged "unsatisfactory" economic growth over recent years, saying: "It's much too slow. We need much stronger growth."
Mr. Darman took Mr. Perot to task for claiming that he would save $20 billion by making "rich people like me [Mr. Perot]" ineligible for Social Security.
Mr. Darman said that eliminating all billionaires from Social Security and Medicare entitlements would save only $110,000 a year. To save the targeted $20 billion, all retirees with incomes over $50,000 would have to be eliminated from the rolls.
He also queried the viability of Mr. Perot's proposal to charge the Germans and Japanese $100 billion a year for U.S. defense cost, and said it would be impossible to save $100 billion by reforming the Internal Revenue Service, which has a budget totaling only $6 billion.