Congressional Republicans Tuesday night welcomed President Clinton's calls for bipartisanship, while indicating the real test of whether the Democratic chief executive and the GOP- controlled Congress can work together will come Thursday when the administration's FY98 budget proposal is sent to Capitol Hill.
"The president took a good first step toward cooperation," Senate Majority Leader Lott said of the State of the Union address. "Words are nice. We're waiting for deeds. The first deed will be the balanced budget."
And several of Lott's Senate charges questioned how Clinton will balance the budget while also paying for the numerous initiatives he detailed in the speech. "A year ago, the president told us all that `the era of big government is over'," said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind. "But tonight, the president seemed to suggest that the era of big government might be on the comeback." Agreed Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., "I think this year he resurrected big government."
House Republicans voiced similar sentiments. "The era of big government may be over, but the era of big spending isn't over," House Appropriations Chairman Livingston contended. "If he got everything he wanted, we wouldn't balance the budget by the year 3002. It wasn't a speech. It was a wish list of items to please everybody in humanity."
More junior Republicans sounded a similar theme. "We have a lot of nice rhetoric. He started by saying we must balance the budget, and then we go off and spend all this money," Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., said. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R- Mich., declared: "What a laundry list. I can't wait to see his balanced budget plan."
Responding to Republican criticism that Clinton called for billions of dollars in new spending, House Minority Leader Gephardt said: "He is committed to a balanced budget. You can do these things and still balance the budget." Predictably, Gephardt and most of his Democratic colleagues had high praise for the address.
"It probably was one of the best speeches I've heard him give," Gephardt declared.
House Chief Deputy Minority Whip John Lewis, D-Ga., termed it a "magnificent speech," while saying he was particularly impressed with Clinton's call for a non-partisan education policy.
At least some Republicans appeared to agree.
"I was glad to hear his comments about education," Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R- Pa., said, adding he believes appropriators can find the money necessary to pay for Clinton's initiatives.
Rep. Steve Horn of California, one of the Republicans who appeared to stand up and applaud the most during Clinton's speech, said afterward that on the education proposals, "I've advocated those ideas for 20 years so I'm not about to change my mind just because the president said it."
But House Budget Chairman Kasich complained, "I think he laid out so many things, I don't quite know what his priorities are." He said the president demonstrated a "lack of faith that America can be changed from the bottom up."