WASHINGTON — HOUSE Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri says Democrats would like to find more areas to cut federal spending, but "it's not as easy as it looks."
Mr. Gephardt, under pressure this week from both Republicans and freshman Democrats to reduce President Clinton's proposed budget outlays, says that when "we get to the specifics of it, it gets a lot harder, it gets a lot tougher."
At a luncheon organized by the Monitor, Gephardt told reporters that the Democratic leadership wants to move swiftly on the Clinton economic package.
Despite the government's $300 billion budget deficit, Gephardt was firm in supporting the president's call for additional short-term spending to stimulate the economy, and for stepped up, long-term "investments" in highways, education, and other government programs.
Without a stimulus, Gephardt says there is danger that the economy could fall back into a recession for the third time since 1990.
"No one knows if we are really out of this recession," he says - and as proof he points to extensive layoffs at General Motors and McDonnell Douglas plants in his home state.
Although Republicans are complaining loudly about Mr. Clinton's spending plans, Gephardt says the programs are crucial to the president's vision of America's future. The programs will assure that America sustains, and improves, its high standard of living, he says.
"A high-wage, high-skill economy is what we want," Gephardt says. "This is not saying the government leads economic success. Wealth is created, jobs are created in the private sector, not in the government. But [government has] a vital role to play in aiding ... what needs to happen in the private sector."
The majority leader points to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as the type of federal program which can help private industry.
With a $1.5 billion budget, DARPA explores the frontiers of many areas of basic and applied research.
When President Bush was in the White House, he resisted using DARPA to aid private industry, Gephardt says. But Clinton takes exactly the opposite view.
The value of joint public-private research efforts recently was demonstrated in the semiconductor industry, where the United States had fallen far behind Japan. Gephardt observes that a joint public-private project enabled the US to regain its No. 1 position.