Republicans Seek `Bites' to Balance Budget

CONGRESSIONAL Republicans, dismayed at President Clinton's calls for higher taxes and new spending, are developing alternative plans to cut federal outlays and bring the budget into better balance.

Rep. John Kasich (R) of Ohio vows that the GOP plan will be "specific," and will cut the deficit "significantly" without relying on new taxes or reducing Social Security benefits.

Mr. Kasich, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, says a draft of the plan should be ready in early March, when it will go to the Republican leadership.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and other Democrats have challenged Republicans to itemize cuts they would like to see in the Clinton budget proposals.

Some Republicans are reluctant to play Secretary Bentsen's game. Senate minority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas prefers to debate President Clinton's plan on its merits, rather than pitting a Republican plan against a Democratic plan.

House Republicans, however, have already invested five weeks developing a program-by-program analysis of federal spending and searching for savings.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Kasich said it will not be enough to take "nibbles" out of the federal budget, as he says Clinton has done. "We're going to have to take bites. All areas of the federal budget except for Social Security are under review."

A dozen members of the Republican congressional staff and several House members have divided into working groups to hammer out the new budget proposals. They have looked at everything from defense and foreign aid to expenditures for housing and entitlements like food stamps and Medicaid.

"We intend to produce a serious, credible effort," Kasich says.

Senator Dole says that after an initially favorable public reaction to Clinton's budget proposals, comments pouring into his office from his constituents in Kansas have turned highly negative.

Even so, Republicans know they have an uphill fight against a popular, young president. Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the Republican whip, says the Democrats' overwhelming strength in the House, where they hold a 255-to-175 majority, may enable most of Clinton's program to pass.

The Senate may be another story, he predicts, especially when people get more details about Clinton's spending and taxing plans.

In a TV interview, Mr. Gingrich noted: "By the time it gets to the Senate, the country will have rebelled so much, there'll be so much anger and so many people seeing their senators, that large parts of this package will be taken apart."

Those in the White House recognize the threat. They have agreed with congressional Democratic leaders to delay voting on new spending until the more painful deficit-reduction package is passed. Democratic leaders worry that otherwise, conservatives in their party may abandon the Clinton plan.

INTEREST groups already are trying to make that happen. The American Petroleum Institute (API) charged this week that Clinton's proposed energy taxes will cost a typical family $475 a year - or more than double what the president estimated in his speech to the Congress.

Republican critics say the Clinton plan is imbalanced, with too much from taxes and too little taken out of spending. Dole dubs the Clinton White House "a very taxing administration."

Republicans say the proposed four-year Clinton tax increase is not $246 billion, as the White House claims, but closer to $270 billion when fees and new taxes on Social Security income are included.

The White House currently claims savings of about $250 billion through spending cuts and expresses willingness to designate additional cuts, but Republicans claim that the savings net only about $80 billion when all the new spending is factored in.

Kasich particularly objects to Clinton's decision to put most of the taxes up-front in the next four years, with spending cuts coming at the end.

"In the first year, [Clinton proposes] $36 billion in new taxes, and $2 billion in cuts," Kasich says. "The taxes come now, and they come forever, and the spending cuts come tomorrow."

There is concern among some Republicans, including House minority leader Robert Michel of Illinois, that the GOP will sound like an army of naysayers for criticizing Clinton's plan.

Dole, Gingrich, Kasich, & Co. don't seem worried about that, however.

Kasich says: "It isn't my job to roll over for `tax-and-spend' [Democrats]. The public hasn't read this [Clinton] plan. It's my job to show them that the government can function without this tax-and-spend philosophy."

Kasich rejects the naysayer label. "There is not another Republican in the House of Representatives who has worked more with Democrats than me," he says.

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