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Clinton Will Sign Tax-Break Bill to Democrats' Dismay

By Ann Devroy
The Washington Post

President Clinton Thursday agreed to sign a Republican-sponsored tax-break bill and angrily defended himself in a meeting with House Democrats against a charge that his reluctance to fight the GOP on all fronts leaves the impression he lacks conviction.

More than 150 congressional Democrats and some of the president's aides had recommended he issue the first veto of his presidency to reject legislation that includes a multi-million-dollar tax break for media giant Rupert Murdoch. That break was attached to legislation in the Senate that reinstates and expands a tax deduction for self-employed workers who buy their own health insurance. It permits them to deduct 25 percent of the cost of the premiums for 1994 and 30 percent this year.

Clinton said the legislation is "good for the country" because of the health-care-insurance provision and for that reason he would sign it. But several Democrats had argued that Congress would have stripped out the Murdoch tax break if the president had vetoed it and insisted on a clean extension of the insurance provision. They said he would be contributing to business as usual in Washington by agreeing to the bill.

Some House Democrats saw much political potential in vetoing the legislation and blasting Republicans for giving breaks to friends of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Gingrich has a book deal with Murdoch's publishing firm, Harper-Collins, but he has said he opposed the break and noted it was sponsored by Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun, D-Ill.

The president was asked to veto the legislation at a White House session he held with four dozen House Democrats to discuss a wide range of issues. At the end of the session, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, told the president that the public perception is he lacks conviction and won't stand firm for his principles, according to two attendees.

The two described Clinton as exploding in anger, recounting controversial positions he has taken over the past two years and suggesting House Democrats who spent the last election cycle fleeing from him showed little of the conviction they were seeking from him.

But Clinton, attendees said, pledged that with the first 100 days of the GOP-controlled Congress over, he intended a more-focused, aggressive period in which to contrast Democratic ideas versus Republican ones. That process is billed as starting Friday with a presidential address in Dallas, and continue through April with extensive presidential travel and speechmaking and perhaps a primetime press conference next week.

One congressional Democrat said Clinton lectured the group that they ought to start defending him and standing together on principle to provide a united Democrat front.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," the legislator said of Clinton's burst of anger, which this Democrat admired as a sign Clinton was going to launch into a more-aggressive offense. Many Democrats have been uncomfortable with Clinton's strategy of accepting some GOP proposals, trying to negotiate on others, and rejecting selected ones only at key moments and on big issues.

Another congressional Democrat who was at the session, Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., said Clinton had "energized" the Democrats and he predicted he would "take the gloves off, set forth a positive vision for the country" and contest the GOP. The American people, he said, "are waiting for him to make his case."

Clinton Thursday left the politicking to his press secretary, Michael McCurry. He launched a pre-emptive move on House Republicans who were preparing to accuse the administration of stonewalling Republican requests for information for congressional oversight hearings and inquiries.

McCurry said House GOP staffers and some of their congressional bosses were trying to "intimidate and harass the executive branch" by making overwhelming requests for information from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department and White House itself.

"We work hard to satisfy the legitimate inquiries of members of Congress," a stern McCurry intoned at his daily briefing, "But we will not accept or tolerate an effort by overzealous House staff members to use an oversight function to prevent us from doing the work the president has been elected to do."