WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said yesterday that behind-the-scenes changes in President Clinton's proposed energy tax may have made it possible to move his massive package of revenue increases through the Senate "virtually intact."
Other top Democrats also sounded notes of optimism after the House Ways and Means Committee handed Mr. Clinton's economic program a significant victory last week and the Senate began preparing to consider the tax package.
Mr. Bentsen did not specify what changes had been made in the energy tax, but expressed hope that they would be supported by three oil-state Democrats who have resisted it. The broad-based levy is intended to encourage energy conservation as well as to raise money to reduce the federal deficit.
The three Democrats, Sens. David L. Boren of Oklahoma, John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, sit on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee and have the power to join the panel's Republican members to scuttle or severely dilute the energy tax.
However Mr. Bentsen, who until December was the chairman of the finance committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday: "I think you're seeing some changes in the energy tax that may be of some help in accommodating some of their [Mr. Boren's, Mr. Breaux's and Mr. Conrad's] concerns. We've made some of them already."
Administration Budget Director Leon E. Panetta and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, also were optimistic that Mr. Clinton's deficit-reduction plan would clear the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
"We think that we have a very good chance of not only passing the House floor but doing the same thing in the Senate," Mr. Panetta said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I think we'll do well by the president's program," Mr. Mitchell told Cable News Network.