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Clinton's $1.61 Trillion Budget Draws Congressional Criticism

By John F. Harris and Clay Chandler
The Washington Post

President Clinton sent Congress Monday a $1.61 trillion budget for next year, a spending plan he said allows him to be simultaneously an apostle of leaner government and an uncompromising defender of its most popular and expensive social programs.

"My budget," Clinton boasted at a news conference, "cuts spending, cuts taxes, cuts the deficit, and does not cut education, or Social Security, or Medicare. That is a good budget."

But congressional Republicans and many budget analysts accused Clinton of ducking virtually all of the tough spending cuts needed to bring the budget into balance, leaving those decisions instead for Republicans, who are struggling to craft proposals to fulfill a campaign vow to balance the budget by 2002. Clinton's budget projects deficits of $200 billion for the rest of the decade.

Although the president's budget exceeded 1,100 pages, its message to Republicans, critics charged, could be boiled down to these three words: "You go first."

"President Clinton's 1996 budget raises the white flag of surrender at the red ink of government spending," scoffed Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Clinton's decision to forgo deep deficit reduction also drew criticism from some Democratic lawmakers.

"I'm disappointed that the proposed 1996 budget does not go further in reducing the deficit," Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., said in a statement. "The president has made real progress in the past on deficit reduction, and I think it is unfortunate that this budget does not go further. Long-term economic growth will come only when we enact real deficit reduction."

Unlike the last two years, Clinton submitted this budget to a Congress controlled by Republican who are likely to make wholesale changes. The president said he relied on spending cuts to pay for a $63 billion program of middle-class tax breaks that he proposed after the Republican triumph in the November midterm elections.

Clinton reconciled his somewhat contradictory budget aims by taking only modest steps in any particular direction. About $10 billion, less than 1 percent of the total budget, represents spending increases for his pet programs, such as Head Start and the AmeriCorps national service program.