In search of an exit strategy Deficit-hawk Democrats: They offer a better solution than either Clinton or Gingrich.


IF CITIZENS ARE LOOKING for a solution to the budget impasse that has shut down non-essential government operations, the last people they should turn to are Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. The president and the speaker vow they are ready to let this confrontation continue until the national election a year from now. What pleases the egos of highly partisan politicians, however, is not what is right for the country.

Mr. Gingrich has let fly the blooper that he toughened the Republican stand because Mr. Clinton was beastly to him on the round-trip to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. This has cost him a lot of credibility, especially in light of his added comment that the seven-year time frame he has chosen for balancing the budget was selected mainly through "intuition."

The president's riposte has been to veto the latest GOP proposal because it is based on long-term fiscal estimates by the Congressional Budget Office that he considers too pessimistic. Yet when Mr. Clinton first came to office he bragged that he would accept CBO figures. When Republicans snorted loudly, he declared that the non-partisan CBO had been "closer to right" than previous presidents who relied on their own Office of Management and Budget.

That was Bill Clinton then. Bill Clinton now is a fellow who embraces the rosier projections of his own OMB and makes the CBO figures the main basis for rejecting the seven-year path to budget balance. He would have been better off pouncing on Mr. Gingrich's "intuition."

If the nation cannot rely on the president and the speaker, where can it turn? To a "Coalition" of 73 deficit-hawk Democrats in Congress, including Maryland Reps. Ben Cardin and Steny Hoyer. They have dared to stand up and say there should be no -- repeat, no -- tax cuts at a time when the country is wallowing in debt. They have accepted CBO projections and smaller yearly increases in entitlement programs. And having done all that, they have proposed cuts in government spending that are far less than the Gingrich blueprint but still hit the seven-year target for eliminating the deficit.

Polls show that the American people are (a) for a balanced budget, (b) against tax cuts and (c) for less punitive spending reductions. But the president's attitude toward the coalition is HTC one of dismissive condescension. Nice fellows, to be sure, but such babes in the woods they would give the Republicans the tax-cut issue.

It's time for citizens to let Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich know they are not buying the lemons each is offering. It's time to insist on a sensible exit strategy from a political standoff that is damaging the country. The "coalition plan," in our view, will -- and should -- be closer to the final compromise, whenever it comes, than the concoctions of the president and the speaker.

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