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Clinton proposes budget he calls 'tough' on cuts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A front-page graphic in yesterday's Sun should have specified that it is aid to the poor for utility bills that would be cut from $2.1 billion to $791 million next year under President Clinton's proposed budget.

The Sun regrets the errors.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton sent Congress a $1.52 trillion budget yesterday that proposes hundreds of spending cuts but also rearranges a host of federal spending priorities that he believes invest in the future of the nation's children and work ++ force.

"It's the toughest budget on spending cuts that Congress has yet seen," said Mr. Clinton.

Speaking in Houston to a business group, Mr. Clinton also said his economic package would make it possible for the United States "to roar into the 21st century still the greatest nation on earth, with the kids in this country looking forward to the brightest future any generation of young Americans ever had."

If this budget is adopted, it would be, as a result of spending "caps," the first time in a quarter of a century that the government reduced "discretionary" spending. Discretionary spending is everything except for interest on the national debt and spending for "entitlement" programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

The proposed budget calls for reducing discretionary programs from $550.1 billion this year to $542.4 billion. It does so by cutting the budgets of half of the 14 major Cabinet-level departments, chipping away at about 200 specific programs and eliminating altogether more than 100 of them.

"There is no question that this is one tough budget," said Bob Greenstein, a liberal economist who heads the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It belies the claims of those who have tried to paint last year's budget package and the administration's fiscal policies as tax-and-spend."

The Department of Defense budget continues a 10-year decline, NASA takes its first hit in 22 years and the Department of Agriculture is slated to close about 1,200 field offices under the government's new austerity plan. At the same time, Mr. Clinton proposes increased spending for Head Start, nutrition programs for mothers and children, job training and crime-fighting programs.

Prearranged spending caps

Mr. Clinton was forced by the terms of last year's acrimonious budget deal with Congress to prearrange spending caps for the new fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1. The president's budget adheres to the terms of that deal, but congressional Republicans insisted yesterday that he should have cut deeper and should have put more of the savings toward reducing the deficit.

"To his credit, the president has proposed terminating some federal programs," said Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of ++ Kansas. "Even so, federal spending next year will still increase by $34.3 billion."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, warned that the declining deficit figures should not lull Congress into thinking the debt crisis is over. He noted that in 1990, when the looming deficits seemed so threatening that President George Bush agreed to break his anti-tax pledge, the shortfall was $170 billion -- almost exactly what is now projected for the coming year under Mr. Clinton.

"He seems to see the deficit as last year's issue," said former Sens. Paul E. Tsongas and Warren B. Rudman, the bi-partisan founders of the Concord Coalition. "Our goals should be a zero deficit within six years."

But, for better or worse, the president's plan will be tackled by Congress, where the toughest fights may not come over the president's proposed cuts but over the spending increases.

The first phase will come when a broad outline setting the dollar limits in various subject categories is put together by the House and Senate Budget committees. The real work will take place later in the Appropriations subcommittees where the actual dollar-by-dollar spending decisions are made.

Because many of the toughest decisions were made last year, White House officials were optimistic that their budget would pass in something approximating its current form. Except for a proposed and long-discussed 75 cents-per-pack increase in the tax on cigarettes to finance health care reform and a handful of user fee increases, the budget is free of tax increases.

Clinton's main thrusts

With the money he saves from the proposed cuts, Mr. Clinton is asking Congress to expand or create 90 programs at a cost of about $8.2 billion as he seeks to put his own stamp on the nation's priorities.

His main thrusts are in fighting crime, worker retraining, education, technology and programs designed to help children living in poverty.

"As early as the 4th century B.C., the philosopher Plato stressed the importance to a just and prosperous society of investing in children at an early age," the president's budget book says.

This budget attempts to deliver on that rhetoric, too, increasing spending for Head Start, childhood immunization, a federal program to teach parenting skills, and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) -- a program to provide milk and food to expectant mothers who are poor or have small children.

Budget Director Leon E. Panetta said about 700,000 more women and children would be eligible for assistance under the WIC expansion proposed by the president. Head Start, which also grew steadily during the Bush administration, would get a $700 million increase, bringing its total budget to $4 billion a year.

The administration is proposing spending a total of $2.6 billion more on educational programs next year, including a $595 million increase for Goals 2000, a plan to establish national standards for each grade. The administration also is calling for funding increases for its national service program for college students, Title I reading programs for poor children, vocational education and other programs designed to make schools safe and drug-free.

More than $1 billion is set aside to help Americans make the transition to a world in which the president says workers will be asked to change jobs -- and sometimes learn new skills -- a half dozen times in their lives. Most of the money will go for for retraining, re-employment counseling, income support and the creation of "one-stop" career centers.

Responding to increasing public concern about the threat of crime, the administration is also asking for an increase of $3.2 billion in federal crime control spending, a 21 percent rise. While most of that money is intended for grants to state and local governments for law enforcement, the request includes $1.7 billion in new funding for the hiring of police officers. Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Mr. Clinton seeks to spend a total of $6 billion over the next five years to put 100,000 new police officers on the streets.

The White House also is requesting $1 billion more this year for drug control, an increase of 9 percent. The budget includes a $22 million plan for the treatment of 200,000 incarcerated addicts and $355 million for the treatment of "hard core" drug abusers.

On national defense, the Pentagon's $273.7 billion budget, which represents 18 percent of the total federal budget, continues a 10-year decline after the winding down of the Cold War.

"There are no Cold War relics in this budget," said Defense

Secretary William J. Perry. "They could not survive the kind of budget pressures we were working with."

The defense budget is geared to the new security challenges facing the United States, he said, with the emphasis on the readiness and modernization of a smaller force. The active military will number 1.5 million next year, down from 2.15 million in 1985. Eleven weapons programs are to be canceled.

The Pentagon budget, in particular, was haggled over with congressional leaders ahead of time. In fact, Mr. Clinton's budget is a document so devoid of surprises that the president himself, speaking yesterday in Houston, suggested that the fight he is really looking forward to is the one over his health care reform plan.

He wasn't the only one who noticed.

"Most budgets are quickly forgotten," noted Mr. Dole dryly. "But this one will be remembered for what it doesn't contain -- most of the president's health care plan and [the] cuts needed to finance comprehensive welfare reform."

Mr. Clinton used his budget message -- and the spending priorities themselves -- to advance his social policy goals. Nevertheless, the message in the president's budget and in a host of briefings by top administration officials yesterday is that all of these programs, from prenatal care to job training, make good financial sense for the nation as a whole.

"The key to all of this," said Mr. Panetta, "is to help the economy move forward."

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