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Adminstration Steps Up Fight Against Budget Amendment

By Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post

The Clinton administration stepped up its campaign against the balanced budget amendment yesterday, claiming that mandating a balanced budget in 2000 would require sharp tax increases and deep cuts in defense spending, Social Security, and other critical programs.

The White House released a Treasury Department study analyzing various options -- all painful and none politically feasible -- of achieving the $600 billion in deficit reduction over the next five years that the administration says would be needed to balance the budget.

The study is part of an effort by the White House to refocus public attention away from the universally popular idea of balancing the budget and to concentrate instead on what the administration says would be the dire real-world consequences.

With the Senate preparing to debate the measure, the White House wants to shift the burden to proponents of the amendment to explain how they would manage the massive cuts necessary.

"We want the American people to understand the degree of hardship ... which would result from this step and, believe me, it is major league," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, one of a series of administration officials who appeared in the White House briefing room to denounce the amendment.

He called the balanced budget amendment "the ultimate sham," with "a considerable number of people in the country and in the Congress favoring the amendment, virtually all of whom oppose the specific steps necessary to bring about compliance."

The study showed five scenarios for balancing the budget: combining tax increases and spending cuts; cutting spending across the board; cutting spending but sparing defense; cutting spending but shielding Social Security; and cutting spending but exempting defense and Social Security.

The bottom line of each scenario was the same, in the administration analysis: cuts and taxes that would be politically unimaginable. For example, under the analysis, a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts would raise individual income taxes an average of $728 per year and cut $605 yearly for the average Social Security recipient, $480 for each Medicare recipient, plus other difficult cuts.

"A balanced budget amendment is a truly horrible economic idea," said Clinton economic adviser Robert Rubin.

The administration's study comes on the eve of dueling hearings by the chief Senate protagonists in the balanced budget debate, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., the leading critic, and Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., its main proponent.