IT may be only slightly less startling than the fall of the Berlin Wall: Congressional Democrats, who have traditionally fought tooth-and-nail against reductions in nondefense spending, this week made greater cuts in the federal budget than President Clinton had proposed.
Mr. Clinton and congressional leaders had agreed on March 8 to trim an extra $55 billion over five years from the federal budget. But only a few hours later, Democrats on the House Budget Committee decided to chop an extra $8 billion, for a total of $63 billion in spending cuts. The reductions would apparently hit defense spending ($870 million), science and space ($500 million), education and job training ($400 million), and transportation ($300 million).
Clinton, asked while he was jogging if he would accept the additional reductions, said, "Looks like it."
The extra cuts were made to satisfy middle-of-the-road Democrats, who have complained that Clinton's economic package contains too much extra spending. While they scored a victory March 8, moderate Democrats, whose votes will be crucial in passing Clinton's plan, will continue to press the president to downscale his $16 billion jobs program. The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to take up the jobs package March 9. Congressional leaders hope to have the entire economic plan approved by late Ap ril. First lady defends health-reform panel
Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady cum first health-care reformer, defended her health-reform task force's work against critics' charges that (1) the panel is violating open-meeting laws and (2) that it will propose massive tax increases to pay for its plans.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mrs. Clinton said that meetings of the health-reform task force are closed to the press and public because she wants to prevent "special interests" from influencing the proceedings.
Three groups - the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the American Council for Health Care Reform, and the conservative National Legal Policy Center - have asserted in a federal suit that closed meetings between task force members and working groups advising the panel are illegal under the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act. Under the law, any federal advisory committee that renders advice to the president or to Congress that is not wholly composed of public officials or federal employees must hold its meetings in public. The suit argues that Mrs. Clinton is not a federal employee.
The first lady also said that the administration would delay implementing some of its health-care plans or consider limiting doctors' fees rather than taxing the middle class to pay for the system. "In terms of any broad, general middle-class tax increase, it's just not going to happen," she said. However, she added that "sin taxes," such as those on cigarettes or alcohol, might be boosted to pay for the plan. (See related story, right.) Nixon returns to the White House
If Richard Nixon hasn't completely succeeded in reforming his image in the public eye, it isn't for lack of trying. The former president, forced to leave the White House during the Watergate scandal, has tirelessly sought to change his reputation from villain to distinguished elder statesman. Another step in that process took place March 8 when Mr. Nixon met for 30 minutes at the White House with Clinton.
The subject of the meeting was Russia. "The president (Clinton) wanted to find out from him his impressions of the state of the Russian economy and his specific ideas on what the United States and its allies might do to help Russia at this time," White House communications director George Stephanopoulos said.
Clinton may find the advice useful in preparing for his April 3-4 summit in Vancouver, British Columbia, with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But Nixon undoubtedly found it useful in another way: advancing his rehabilitation.
After all, who would have thought a few years ago that Nixon would be meeting with a president whose wife was a staff member on the congressional committee that tried to impeach him during Watergate?