Sweet Talk on Budget Ends

The muted GOP response to President Clinton's budget abruptly ended today, as Senate Majority Leader Lott ripped the plan as having too much spending and too few tax cuts.

While Lott stopped short of declaring the budget dead, he told a news conference: "I must tell you I'm gravely depressed about what I've seen ... This is a disappointment. So much of this budget is recooked from last year ... It looks more like a political document to me than a serious budget."

Lott charged the budget uses "shell games" and optimistic assumptions to reach balance and "also adds a significant amount of entitlement spending." Lott estimated there is about $60 billion in new money for entitlements, and said the $27 billion in user fees is too high. He also complained that trying to raise $22 billion in spectrum fees in a single year is unrealistic.

Lott said he told Clinton his views in a telephone call today, and that Clinton was surprised. "I think he was maybe a little bit taken aback that I felt as strongly as I did," Lott said. The next step is for both sides to talk about how to reach an agreement, Lott said."It is not our intent to go through a positioning process."

Republicans view Clinton's plan as "just the kickoff," Lott said. "We're not going to attempt to run it back at this point. We're just going to fair catch it."

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Michael McCurry took the administration's first shot at Republicans since the budget was unveiled -- aimed at House Budget Chairman Kasich. McCurry contended Kasich could have been critical of the president's budget during Kasich's press conference with Senate Budget Chairman Domenici Thursday. "Instead [Kasich] decided to be indecipherable. I couldn't figure out what the hell he was saying," McCurry said.

And OMB Director Raines today defended the administration's budget as a responsible way to achieve balance by 2002. "The president is proposing a credible budget with real savings, based on conservative assumptions," Raines told the Senate Budget Committee, while urging cooperation with the administration. "Everyone learned the lesson of the last two years -- that conflict over the budget is not a path to political success," Raines said.

Explaining the administration's controversial trigger, Raines said if the administration's economic goals are not met, the tax cut would be phased out in 2001, and other programs, with the exception of Social Security, would be cut by 2.25 percent.

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