Critical Week for Budget

Budget negotiations this week must make more progress than last week, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned on Monday.

"We've got to see more movement on a budget agreement than we did last week," Lott told reporters. "We saw a little movement the first day and nothing after that."

And Lott said he has no desire to attend a White House meeting on the budget this week unless more progress is made during the early part of the week. "I don't want to go down there for a show-and-tell and then come out with nothing," he said.

Nonetheless, Lott said he is more optimistic today than he was last week. He cautioned, however, that the optimism is only based on that "it's early in the week, the weather and my overall outlook on life."

Lott's comments came as budget negotiators were scheduled to resume discussions Monday afternoon. At the White House, Press Secretary Michael McCurry said, "I think this is obviously a critical week." He indicated President Clinton takes seriously the Republicans' threats to move ahead with their own budget plan if negotiations this week fail to produce an agreement or at least pave the way for one.

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M. -- addressing a group of general contractors on Monday -- said the White House must accept $10 billion to $30 billion worth of additional curbs on the growth of Medicare spending.

Lott said he was pleased with comments about the budget made Sunday by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., a member of the Senate centrist group. Breaux said he believes a net tax cut of between $80 billion and $85 billion is possible and that the budget deal should include an adjustment of the Social Security cost-of- living increase and a compromise on economic assumptions. Lott said, however, that he would like to see a larger tax cut than Breaux advocated.

The Senate centrists, led by Breaux and Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., have not yet released a budget plan this year. A Chafee aide today said the group is waiting to see how the talks progress, adding that if anyone needs to turn to an outside group to help broker a deal, the senators are available.

On another budget issue, Lott said he would like Congress to stop using the 4.3-cent gasoline tax contribution to the highway trust fund for deficit reduction, and the money used for highway projects or returned to taxpayers. And four senators have sent Domenici a letter asking him to consider "adjustments" that would provide funds to help legal immigrants now receiving federal benefits who will begin losing welfare benefits later this year.

"The impact on our states will be significant," Sens. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Michael DeWine, R- Ohio, and Chafee said in asking Domenici to include room in any budget proposal to help states and those welfare recipients.

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