WASHINGTON — LOOK for a ''titanic struggle'' over the budget in the weeks ahead.
So said Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin at a Monitor breakfast yesterday. The White House and the Republican Congress will clash over welfare reform, tax cuts, and ''programs [designed to] bring disadvantaged people into the economy that are in our budget and not theirs.''
Will President Clinton really buck GOP demands on reform measures he opposes, or eventually come around in order to avoid a shutdown of the federal government?
''People who suspect that [he will give in at the last minute] are just plain dead wrong,'' Mr. Rubin said. Think back to 1993, he suggested, when the new president endorsed a politically prickly deficit-reduction program. He followed through, Rubin said, ''despite political advisers telling him not to do it ... he has enormous fortitude.''
What if he is thrown off track by House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich (R) of Ohio, who threatens to remove the right of the government to borrow trillions of dollars?
''To use the debt limit as a mechanism for leverage in the budget debate is extremely dangerous and irresponsible,'' Rubin said. ''Congress ought to raise the debt limit - they ought to have a continuing resolution that enables the government to continue its activities. The US has never, ever defaulted on its debt. It's unthinkable that we do so.''
The Clinton administration will sustain a good economic record right up to the November 1996 elections, the secretary predicted. ''A year from now, by Labor Day, the economy will have solid growth, moderate inflation, and unemployment somewhere in the high 5 [percent range].''
In the interim, Clinton will not endorse tax reform unless there is a compelling economic reason to do so, Rubin said.