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Republican Filibuster Looms on Clinton Stimulus Plan

By Eric Pianin
and Helen Dewar

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

All 43 Senate Republicans Thursday threatened to block President Clinton's $16.3 billion economic stimulus package unless he reduces it to their satisfaction.

Without the support of at least some Republicans, Democrats, who are also threatened with defections within their ranks, cannot muster the 60 votes necessary to end any GOP filibuster and force a vote.

Unless a compromise is reached Friday, the debate could extend into Congress' Easter recess, which is to begin Saturday, and seriously delay completion of action on the president's economic plan.

"Up to this point, the president assumed he could do anything he wanted to do without working with Republicans on substantive matters," said Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas). "There will have to be dramatic changes if this bill is to be passed."

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) accused Republicans of trying to "pull the rug out from under" Clinton as he prepares for a summit on Saturday with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and he vowed, "We're going to stay here till we get this done."

Minority Leader Robert J. Dole, (R-Kan.) said both sides were "fairly determined," adding, "So it's the playoffs."

The stimulus package, a jobs and investment plan that would add to this year's deficit, was offered by Clinton separately from the budget as an insurance policy against a relapse in the economic recovery.

Congress completed work Thursday on the five-year budget blueprint that would implement Clinton's long-term economic plans and reduce the deficit by $496 billion. The Senate approved the budget resolution, 55 to 45, with Democrats Bob Krueger (Tex.) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) voting against it. All Republicans opposed the bill. The House approved the compromise measure Wednesday evening.

After pushing the stimulus package through the House last month with aggressive personal lobbying, Clinton and his aides ran into a major problem in the Senate, where an emboldened GOP minority has seized on what they consider some blatant porkbarrel spending within the plan that has also added to Democratic unease with the package.

Faced with this potentially fatal threat to the bill, the administration Thursday put out a feeler to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, suggesting a compromise that the Republicans termed too little and too late.

The White House suggested discussion of a $1 billion cut in the stimulus proposal, according to Republicans, but some of the GOP leaders said they could accept no less than $7 billion or $8 billion in spending cuts -- half of the Clinton package.

They said they could accept the funds in the stimulus package for unemployment benefits and some of the summer jobs for youth, highway construction and child immunization.

But they are insistent that Clinton delete billions in community development block grant funds, which the Republicans say would be used for frivolous or non-essential projects like parking garages, bike paths, a boardwalk and a performing arts center.

Throughout debate on the bill, Clinton has insisted that he would oppose any significant changes in his package. But Republicans and some Democrats, especially those who favored delaying or scaling back the program, said the administration may have no choice but to accept some changes.