Key Players Battle Over Budget

New Republican and Democratic `warriors' are at odds over nation's finances. CONGRESS AND SPENDING

FRESH troops are attacking the budget deficit this year. On the Democratic side, there are two new budget generals - Sen. Jim Sasser of Tennessee and Rep. Leon Panetta of California. Commanding for the Republicans is Richard Darman, in his first real battle. And in the trenches are scores of others such as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri.

On the Democratic side, the former budget negotiators have either retired or moved to new jobs. Rep. William Gray III of Pennsylvania is now majority whip. And Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida retired. The Republicans, in the minority, have not changed much. But they are expected to do little except represent the administration's positions.

The changing of the guard may be good for the process. These ``budget people are different because they understand the limits of the budget better than their predecessors'' did, says Stan Collender, author of the Federal Budget Guide and an analyst at Price Waterhouse.

Bruce Davie, a budget specialist at Arthur Andersen & Co., says the fact the two new Democratic budget chairmen have presented their own plans for dealing with Social Security ``indicates both want to take activist roles and not be mediators between the administration and the other committee chairmen.''

The following is a brief guide to the budget warriors:


Sen. Jim Sasser, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Senator Sasser seems to prefer doing the partisan road work. ``He really does not care that much about the numbers,'' says Mr. Collender. Although Sasser does not like heavy accounting work, analysts say he has a first-rate staff.

This year Sasser has introduced his own legislation to get Social Security off the budget. His plan entails a $17 billion annual cut in payroll taxes with a mandatory deficit reduction of $30 billion a year. He would extend the Gramm-Rudman deadline of a balanced budget to 1996.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the Finance Committee: The New York senator turned the budget process on its ear this year by proposing a cut in Social Security payroll tax at the same time as Social Security is taken out of the budget for Gramm-Rudman purposes. ``It's a true wild card,'' says David Makarechian, director of tax and budget policy at the Citizens for a Sound Economy.

The Moynihan proposal suddenly placed President Bush in a defensive position: against a tax cut for working Americans. And if the president accepted the Moynihan proposal, there was no way to reach the Gramm-Rudman target without new taxes.

Over the years, Moynihan has successfully represented himself as a defender of Social Security benefits. The personable New York senator relishes the spotlight.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Any tax proposals will have to get past the Texas senator. Last year his opposition to the capital-gains proposal was a key reason for its defeat. This year, Bentsen is still opposed to capital-gains cuts. But he also doubts the wisdom of cutting the payroll tax and taking Social Security out of the budget.

Rep. Leon Panetta, chairman of the House Budget Committee. As a member of the budget committee for seven years, the California lawmaker has some of the skills of an accountant.

Panetta prefers a ``balanced'' approach to the budget, combining tax increases with cuts in defense spending. He would prefer to scrap Gramm-Rudman and take Social Security out of the budget.

Members of both parties like Panetta for his self-deprecating wit. Recently, he told a story about being introduced at a Sons of Italy dinner by an old friend of the family. ``We're really proud of the fact Representative Panetta is budget chairman. There's just one problem: I wish he weren't chairman when the country was going broke,'' said the speaker.

Rep. Richard Gephardt, House majority leader. Although the Indiana Democrat is better known for his trade positions, Gephardt will now become part of the budget process. Gephardt is also now a member of the budget committee.


Richard Darman, director of Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Darman, alias ``Charmin' Darman,'' has a reputation as a budget wizard. He has the intellectual ability to argue budget strategies with anyone. As Collender notes, ``If you play budget chess with Darman, thinking one move ahead is not good enough. Darman is thinking three moves ahead.''

Darman has also restored some of OMB's credibility with Congress on the quality of the budget numbers. However, Darman also angered many members by forcing Congress to stay in session late last year as it struggled to resolve the capital gains issue. ``A lot of members are still bitter,'' says Gary Bass, director of OMB Watch.

Within OMB, Darman's management style has created some strains. Unlike past budget directors, Darman does not share his thoughts with the staff.

Although Darman does not have the idealogical bent of his predecessor, James Miller, he is supportive of President Bush's ``no new taxes pledge.''

Sen. Phil Gramm, member of the Budget Committee. The Texas lawmaker, with a doctorate in economics, has a way of becoming an important part of any budget changes. Because he is the co-author of the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law, Congress will need his blessing on any changes that are made.

Sen. Pete Dominici, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. The New Mexico senator will represent the administration's views in the Senate.

Rep. Bill Frenzel, ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee. Last year the Minnesota congressman was frustrated over the negotiation process. Since it appears there will be no budget summit this year, Mr. Frenzel could become the administration's point man on the Hill. ``He is a very able person,'' says Mr. Makarechia. Frenzel has become famous for his ``points of order,'' calls which can hold up proceedings while obscure legislative issues are raised. This could benefit the White House since it may need a wily legislator to do its work this year.

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