WASHINGTON -- The balanced budget agreement between the White House and Congress began its path toward formal approval yesterday amid signs that plenty of battles will yet be waged before it becomes law.
Even as President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders congratulated themselves on translating their 2-week-old handshake into a written accord, they displayed sharp disagreements over how Clinton's education proposals will be reflected in the tax cut package.
Meanwhile, a handful of lawmakers on the Republican right and the Democratic left served notice that they planned to resist the budget deal at almost every turn, delaying, agitating and pointing out flaws in the bipartisan plan.
What's more, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee declared himself independent of any agreements on minimum spending levels for specific programs within his domain.
But yesterday was a huge relief for the Republican and Democratic negotiators who spent difficult hours over the past couple weeks struggling to get their bargain on paper in a form all could sign.
"This is not only the first balanced budget in a generation; it is an American balanced budget that protects our values for future generations," a beaming Clinton boasted at a Rose Garden press conference. "So I say to all members of Congress, of both parties: Take this balanced-budget agreement and write it into law."
The first step came relatively easy. In less than five hours, the House Budget Committee adopted a resolution reflecting the basic outlines of the accord on a 31-7 vote, with the panel's most liberal Democrats dissenting.
Baltimore Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, as well as Baltimore County Republican Robert L. Ehrlich, voted with the GOP-led majority.
No major changes were made to the resolution, which calls for a balanced budget by 2002, $85 billion in net tax cuts, and $204 billion in cutbacks in federal programs. More than half the savings are to come from Medicare and Medicaid. The resolution also calls for protecting certain Clinton priorities.
Some fireworks are likely next week, when the budget resolution is taken up by the full House and the Senate. Overwhelming votes of approval are nearly certain by the end of the week, but the debate may set the framework for less predictable budget battles ahead.
Among the lightning rod issues will be the design of the tax cuts, as lawmakers try to squeeze a $300 billion tax-break wish list into a package of $85 billion.
During the past two weeks, White House negotiators secured a promise form House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott that they would try to include his tax cut priorities, especially in education. But the actual agreement doesn't spell out any specifics. It just designates $35 billion in education tax relief.
So, while the president proclaimed yesterday that a key element of the plan provides for his Hope scholarship tuition-tax-credit proposal and for $10,000 in tax credits for college tuition costs, Lott said those proposals would probably be changed.
"Unfortunately, the president's [education] plan is not a good plan," the Senate GOP leader said in a speech to a petroleum industry group. "The Democrats don't even like it. The president insists that we force all this money up in the top end of the American education system, higher education. The problem, ladies and gentlemen, in America is not higher education. We're going to do something about that."
Rep. Bill Archer, the Texas Republican who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, said he doesn't feel compelled to follow any direction from the White House or the GOP leadership in shaping the tax bill in his committee. Indeed, the budget agreement leaves most decisions to him.
Robert L. Livingston, the Louisiana Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, asserted a similar right to shape the spending bills that come out of his committee, despite leadership promises to protect Clinton priorities there, too.
"This agreement does not prevent my committee from attempting to terminate or cut programs of questionable worth, such as the National Endowment for the Arts," Livingstone said.
Rep. Thomas D. DeLay of Texas, the House majority whip, expects to lose votes for the proposal from conservative Republican "purists" but says that the majority of his party will support the deal.
House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, is likely to lead the liberal opposition in the House.
Gephardt declined yesterday to comment on the accord, but is expected to address the topic in a floor speech Tuesday night during which he will attack the likely tax cut package as aiding the rich at the expense of the poor.
Opposition in the Senate is coming from the unlikely duo of conservative Republican Phil Gramm of Texas and liberal Democrat Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.
"Congressional leaders and the president have joined to achieve what no Democrat or no Republican has ever before accomplished, a bipartisan deal to raise the deficit, hurt Medicare, and save the National Endowment for the Arts," Gramm said in a blistering critique. "They've managed to outspend the president's own budget proposal and slash the Republican tax cut package in half."
But if Gramm thinks the plan is too generous, Wellstone says it's too harsh. He plans a tour of some of the poorest communities in the nation to demonstrate its potential effect.
Pub Date: 5/17/97