Budget Squeeze Plays

BUDGET brinksmanship is under way again in Washington.

House Budget Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois and Senate Finance Committee chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York are ironing out the remaining differences between their respective budget resolutions, a task they hope to finish this week. This would pave the way for a vote on the budget reconciliation package next week before the August recess.

Everyone involved senses that failure to pass the budget would be a serious blow to the Clinton presidency, which is why lawmakers as politically diverse as Senate Majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia maintain that, in the end, the package that emerges from the House-Senate conference will pass.

This makes some of the 11th-hour political theatrics all the more tedious. Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma, who led a successful revolt against the proposed Btu tax, now says he is leaning against budget plan because it doesn't adequately address entitlements and it lacks bipartisan support. He called on President Clinton to halt the reconciliation process and convene a budget summit with Republicans.

Although some of his colleagues dismiss this as grandstanding, the administration and budget negotiators can ill afford to ignore his vote. The budget resolution that passed the Senate did so by one vote - Vice President Al Gore Jr.'s.

Given the drastic impact Mr. Boren's proposal for a summit would have on the process at this stage, the net effect may be to force negotiators to make more concessions to their conservative Senate colleagues than they might otherwise in order to offset any Boren defection.

Negotiators already have been working on Sen. Richard Bryan (D) of Nevada by reducing Mr. Clinton's proposed cut in tax deductions for meals and entertainment - a potential lure given Nevada's convention business.

Entitlements, as well as the proposed gasoline tax increase, trouble many House Democrats as well. There the budget passed by only six votes.

No one expects unanimity on budget matters among Democrats. And entitlements remain a serious budge problem. But no Republican is expected, given earlier votes, to back the reconciliation package - itself an unusual situation. With the House-Senate negotiations so delicate, the president himself does no one any favor by reverting to bashing Congress, as he did in a speech in Chicago earlier this week. The time for closing ranks is here.

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