President Clinton today is set to unveil a $1.7 trillion spending blueprint that far exceeds his promise to balance the federal budget in five years, leaving a $17 billion surplus in 2002, according to White House estimates.
Highlights of the budget show that, overall, the budget proposes gross savings of $388 billion, while providing $98 billion in tax cuts for middle-income families and for college tuition, as well as restoring $18 billion in welfare spending to absorb the deep cuts approved last year as part of the welfare overhaul law. The welfare aid will be restored for legal immigrants who need it and for child nutrition programs.
The budget also joins apparently sizable new funding requests for a host of non-defense programs with cuts of $138 billion in Medicare spending.
Senate Majority Leader Lott reacted more positively Wednesday than did his GOP colleagues to advance word of Clinton's budget proposals, particularly the education initiatives, although he questioned how the administration plans to pay for it all.
"I think we have a unique opportunity to come to agreement on that," Lott said of the president's plan to balance the budget by 2002.
Lott said, however, that finding the money for Clinton's 10- point plan to invest $51 billion in national education during the next five years may be too daunting.
"How's this paid for? And who pays?" Lott said in a speech to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Lott said that unless Congress and Clinton "cannot come to closure" on the White House budget, Republicans will not submit their own alternative plan.
He said it is his understanding that Clinton's budget includes as much as $100 billion in new non-defense discretionary spending during the next five years.
He acknowledged after the speech he had not seen the proposal, but was told "there is significant spending" in the non-defense areas.
In a remarkably conciliatory speech, Lott indicated the two sides are not as far apart as last year and that there may be less bloodshed.
"It sounds like we're getting close. And at least we're in the same arena," he said as he compared Clinton's education proposals to those proposed by Republicans last year.
But, more indicative of the overall relationship between GOP leaders and the president, Lott said the administration will not get everything it wants.
"There will be a lot of dancing back and forth. We won't be able to do it all," he said.
Other Republicans, namely House Budget Chairman Kasich, Senate Budget Chairman Domenici and House Appropriations Chairman Livingston, reacted more harshly to Clinton's plan after his State of the Union Address Tuesday night.