Lott: Clock Ticking on Budget

Lott: Clock Ticking on Budget

The White House must show some flexibility on Medicare, new entitlement programs and tax cuts by next week or Republicans will begin moving a budget plan on their own -- hopefully with the help of moderate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Lott said on Monday.

"We could split the difference, for goodness sake," Lott told reporters. "But someone's got to do it and that someone should be the president." The majority leader said President Clinton must abandon his Medicare reform plan, which Lott said accomplishes little, and cannot push for $70 billion in new spending.

In addition, Clinton must show some flexibility on tax cuts, Lott said. He added, however, that he will not insist the White House take the lead on the issue of adjusting the Consumer Price Index. The president "talked good on CPI, but then he headed for the woods," Lott said. By suggesting a CPI commission, Lott said he attempted to provide political cover. But, he added, "I kind of got left holding the bag."

Lott said congressional budget-writing staff and Clinton administration officials met during the recess, but that "I have the impression that not much happened." A key Senate Republican staff member said last week that staff had been meeting to identify options, with the anticipation that serious budget talks could begin this week.

Lott said he was not impressed with the reports of the staff meetings. "They should make some progress ... We've been having good, sweet meetings ... for three months," he said. Lott added that he had thought GOP leaders would meet with the president this week, but that meeting may be delayed until next week at the earliest.

Lott said that without White House movement, "Plan A, for the most part, has been exhausted." He said Republicans may have to implement Plan B -- which he said is developing a budget resolution that attracts support from moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill.

However, members of the "Blue Dog" coalition of moderate-to-conservative Democrats have said they want to see a Republican budget plan before they begin talks with GOP colleagues.

Asked when Republicans might move, Lott said: "I'd like to see us do something in the next two or three weeks. It doesn't have to be the final product."

Lott said if Republicans write a budget resolution, it will include room for a tax cut, adding that he still wants a family tax credit, changes to the estate tax and a capital gains tax cut.