Senators Come Back Swinging
WASHINGTON — PRESIDENT Clinton's problems with Congress on his $16.3 billion stimulus package are deepening.
As members fly back into town after their two-week spring recess, Mr. Clinton's much-heralded program appears to be losing crucial support, even with Democrats.
One Democratic insider says the situation has grown so serious that the Clinton package might even lose on a straight vote if a few more Democrats switch sides.
Meanwhile, Republicans show no signs of backing down in their determination to filibuster the measure, even after the president scaled back the spending plans in his stimulus package.
The White House moved strongly during the recess to woo several Republican moderates, including Sen. James Jeffords (R) of Vermont and Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania.
Progress was nil. Further, some Democrats, such as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Sen. Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin, are growing uneasy with the Clinton proposal.
Interview by car phone as he drove toward a town meeting in Grant County, Wis., Senator Feingold expressed growing reservations about the Clinton package, which would be financed entirely out of deficit spending.
"I remain concerned about the package from the point of view that I am not anxious to add to the deficit," Feingold explained.
"My hope has been that the president would get his entire package, including spending cuts and [additional] revenues. All along I've been less enthusiastic about the spending parts."
What has given Feingold and other Democrats new concerns is that the president has wobbled on some revenue aspects of his budget plan, including higher grazing fees for cattlemen and increased revenues from timber harvests on federal land.
They worry that if Clinton keeps chipping away at revenues and spending cuts under pressure from key interests, the budget resolution will collapse under the weight of new spending programs.
Meanwhile, the president's full-court-press to attract Republican support has failed, so far, to score any points.
Vermont's Senator Jeffords, who sometimes backs Democratic policies to the consternation of his fellow Republicans, isn't budging this time in his opposition to the Clinton stimulus package.
In an interview yesterday, Jeffords says he would be willing to support portions of Clinton's stimulus plan with one big proviso: The president must find a way to pay for it besides deficit spending.
The preferred route: cut other programs.
Jeffords is one of perhaps a half-dozen Republicans that the White House has tried for the past few days to chip away from the solid, 43-vote Republican minority in the Senate. Using the filibuster, the GOP has successfully blocked votes on the president's stimulus package.
It takes 60 votes to get cloture and force the end of a filibuster. So long as the 41 of the 43 Republicans support the filibuster, it cannot be blocked.
During the recess, the White House hoped that perhaps a half-dozen Republicans might be persuaded to support at least a scaled back plan and support cloture. Besides Jeffords and Senator Specter, those Republicans included Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York, Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon.
JEFFORDS was among those feeling heat from the White House. He was telephoned by Vice President Al Gore, Education Secretary Richard Riley, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, and White House aide Ira Magaziner.
The White House also tried to exert pressure through the Vermont media. According to Jeffords' staff, at least one Vermont paper was offered a one-on-one interview with the president if the reporter would fly to Pittsburgh where Clinton was giving a speech. The vice president, meanwhile, was doing live feeds with Vermont television stations.
It hasn't worked. Jeffords says: "The White House must pay for the stimulus package, or I will not go for cloture. That is the bottom line."
Increasingly, it may also be the bottom line for several Democrats, including Senators Kohl and Feingold.