WASHINGTON -- Ross Perot declared yesterday that President Clinton's $500 billion deficit reduction package would "damage the country" and vowed to wage an aggressive campaign to defeat it.
The Texas billionaire declared in a telephone interview that he will launch a television blitz and direct his organization, United We Stand, America, in a concerted campaign to kill the president's plan. A House-Senate conference committee is expected to report the plan to the House and Senate by the end of this week, with final action scheduled for next week before Congress recesses for the summer on Aug. 6.
An active campaign by Mr. Perot could deal a crushing blow to the Clinton plan, which is on shaky ground in Congress, and in turn seriously damage the president. Mr. Clinton has identified the sluggish U.S. economy and health care as the most important initiatives of his presidency, and he has said his package of new taxes and spending cuts is a critical step toward improving the nation's long-term economic prospects.
White House counselor David Gergen, after being informed of Mr. Perot's campaign, insisted that Mr. Perot's arguments will have little effect. "His opposition has been clear for a long time, and at this stage I'll be surprised if he changes any votes."
Mr. Perot said his organization will oppose the plan "because it doesn't balance the budget. United We Stand will go in every congressional district and meet with all the senators. The American people have no interest in a tax increase unless it balances the budget eventually and this one doesn't."
The organization, he said, is "already gearing up around the country" and he is planning to speak at a series of rallies.
Pointing out that the entire House and one-third of the Senate will face re-election campaigns next year, Mr. Perot said it would be a tough campaign for anyone who votes for the package. "I would hate to be campaigning after voting for the plan," he said. "That's not a threat, it's based on an enormous amount of contact with the American people."
Mr. Perot said he supports Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., in calling for a bipartisan summit to draw up a new plan.
"Since people are willing to sacrifice to balance the budget, there's a simple solution," he said. "Put together a bipartisan coalition, stop playing politics, stop trying to have a Democratic victory or a victory for the president and have a victory for the American people."
Mr. Perot said he will begin a series of invited appearances on television this morning on CBS, where he will focus on "raising money for the flood victims."
The budget plan may not come up on the CBS program, he said, but it will be the subject of appearances he has scheduled on ABC and NBC tomorrow morning, the taping of two CNN weekend programs today, and NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.