WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has agreed to scale back and delay key elements of his long-term domestic agenda, signaling his willingness to slash funds for transportation, public health, environmental and poverty programs in the face of congressional demands for further spending cuts, according to administration officials.
In highly sensitive, closed-door negotiations with congressional leaders, administration officials have made it clear that they will not fight congressional efforts to cut back spending on a wide range of programs that only a few weeks ago the White House considered central to the president's long-term economic agenda.
Among the most controversial moves could be the administration's decision to drop its request for $161 million in new subsidies to help poor people pay their home heating bills.
Leon E. Panetta, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has told congressional leaders that Mr. Clinton's top domestic spending priorities now are increased funding for Head Start; the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program; his national service initiative and further assistance for displaced workers from ailing industries like defense. The White House has indicated that it intends to make those programs the core of a down-sized "investment agenda" that it will fight to protect as the president's budget moves through the congressional committee process.
The president's decision to emphasize such programs as Head Start and the nutrition program -- while scaling back public works initiatives in areas like highway construction -- raises questions about whether his package can still be characterized as a public "investment" agenda, since it will offer far less spending that might enhance the nation's productivity and competitiveness.
"To the extent that all this gets whittled down, you are left with traditional Democratic programs and that becomes a much harder sell for Clinton," warned Jeff Faux, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank with close ties to the administration.
To preserve at least part of the president's agenda, the White House gave key committee chairmen a list of which domestic initiatives it wants the most and which it would be willing to sacrifice.