GOP keeps playing a losing budget game; Poor strategy: Clinton holds all the high cards as congressional leaders seek edge over Democrats.


AFTER having been beaten repeatedly by Bill Clinton on budget issues, you'd think Republicans would wise up. Instead, they're again pursuing a losing strategy.

When it comes to drawing up and approving the federal budget, the president -- any president -- holds the high cards. Mr. Clinton is a master at this game.

Yet the GOP's chief strategist, House Majority Whip Tom De Lay, won't give in. Instead, he seeks political advantage over the president that Republicans can use in next year's election.

It isn't going to happen. Already, the GOP has been forced to abandon a massive tax-cut package -- it's top priority. Congress is a week late passing a budget and GOP leaders seem incapable of coming up with a spending program the president will accept.

They tried accounting gimmicks, which were widely derided. They tried to balance the budget by monkeying with a tax credit for the working poor. That earned them condemnation from the GOP's top presidential candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Now Republicans want to balance the federal books through across-the-board spending reductions, which would hurt education, the military and environmental programs. That would be wildly unpopular.

In the end, look for GOP leaders to abandon their political goals and cut a deal with the president.

The notion that Congress could pass a budget without dipping into this year's projected $147 million surplus was unrealistic. Worthy activities must be supported.

That could mean using a third of the surplus for increased domestic spending. The rest of the extra cash should go to reduce the nation's debt -- not for tax cuts.

The president says he'll veto GOP spending bills that slight important programs. If no budget is passed by Oct. 21, he'll start blaming Congress for this government deadlock.

That's a situation Republicans ought to avoid at all costs.

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