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Make cuts first, Perot tells Congress Taxes, spending should come later, he informs panel


WASHINGTON -- Texas billionaire Ross Perot criticized the stimulus side of President Clinton's economic plan, telling Congress that the American people want to see real budget cuts before they are asked to pay more taxes for new spending programs.

Testifying before a congressional reform committee yesterday, the former presidential candidate expounded on the issues that animated his campaign, from ethics reform and the influence of lobbyists to the budget deficit and the need to shrink government.

He also exhorted members of Congress to give up their lives of "royal splendor" if they expect Americans to agree to higher taxes.

"Sacrifice should begin at the top . . . You must eliminate all of the perks and practices that have caused the American people to lose confidence in Congress," he said.

Although asked to make recommendations for congressional reform, Mr. Perot directed most of his remarks to the economy, which he said had been so mismanaged in recent years that "all income taxes west of the Mississippi River are needed just to pay the interest on our national debt." If the government were a business, he added, "we would be bankrupt right now."

Mr. Perot received additional encouragement from several hundred supporters, who packed the Senate's largest hearing room to overflowing and gave him a standing ovation when he entered the room.

But one member, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., broke the friendly mood and sharply challenged Mr. Perot's criticism of both Mr. Clinton and the 1990 budget agreement that Congress negotiated with the Bush administration. Mr. Perot had implied that the agreement was a fraud and that lawmakers had deceived the public into believing Congress had been serious about reducing the budget deficit.

Noting that Mr. Perot had complained that the American people were fed up with sound bites, Mr. Reid said Mr. Perot's testimony was itself "long on sound bites" and short on facts that were mostly inaccurate as he presented them.

Mr. Perot also took a tougher stand against the stimulus side of the package, saying "additional federal expenditures to create jobs will not be the answer" to America's economic woes.

"The American people must have the facts. They want details -- not sound bites. And they absolutely do not want tax and spending programs first . . . with only a dream of the possibility of cuts and savings at a later time," he said.

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