WASHINGTON — JACK KEMP and Vin Weber, two leading lights of the GOP, say that Republican congressmen who have taken up President Clinton's challenge to come up with an alternative plan for deeper spending cuts are making a "mistake." They urge Republicans to refocus the national debate on promoting economic growth, and not debate the president on his own terms.
"The issue is what you're doing to the economy, stupid - not just spending," Mr. Kemp, former secretary of housing and urban development and the early front-runner for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, told a Monitor luncheon Feb. 26. "We're focusing on the most important economic issue in America today: how you create more jobs, get more growth, reduce the influence of the government on the lives of the American people, and bring the deficit into balance through higher levels of growth."
In contrast, many Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, such as Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Phil Gramm of Texas, have aggressively challenged President Clinton over deficit-reduction by suggesting their own budget cuts.
Mr. Weber, a former Republican congressman, implicitly criticized their approach, saying: "To accept Clinton's terms of debate and then to come up with a Republican alternative is not really a Republican alternative. It's our version of the Clinton plan."
The Kemp-Weber prescription for increasing growth is supply-side economics: Cut tax rates to encourage people to invest more money in the economy. Clinton's economic program, which includes stimulus spending and tax hikes, will send the economy into a tailspin, they contend.
"It's been demonstrably and empirically proven that ... raising tax rates on the productive sector of the economy does not raise but lowers revenues, does not bring down but increases the deficit, does not create jobs but loses jobs," Kemp said.
Kemp and Weber are leaders of a new conservative group called Empower America and have tried in recent days to drum up public attention for their views by holding a series of press conferences and interviews.
They acknowledge they are swimming against the tide not only in the country at large, but also among many Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"A few people on earth should get the message out [about supply-side economics]," Kemp said. "I'm self-anointed. So is Vin." But Weber told the supply-side guru: "I'm not self-anointed, Jack. I was anointed by you."