Mitchell Faults Budget Critics

Senate majority leader says groups have confused public about cost of economic plan

OPPONENTS of the economic plan working its way through Congress have confused middle-income Americans about how they will be personally affected by the plan, Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine told a Monitor breakfast yesterday.

"There is a widespread misunderstanding and misperception about the president's economic program," he said. "The critics of the president's plan have succeeded in saying to the American people that a very large number of Americans will be paying a very large amount of taxes."

Mr. Mitchell says he carries a table from the Washington Post that lays out tax cuts and increases people would face under the president's plan and those passed by the House and Senate, which will be merged after the July 4 recess.

"Every one of my constituents with whom I've met has raised the question," he says. Then he shows them the table, and "they're astonished."

Under the Senate bill, a family whose income is $40,000 would pay $61 a year more or $5 a month. A family whose income is $50,000 would pay $122 or $10 a month more.

"This is an open plea for everyone to print this on the front page of their newspapers," Mitchell quipped.

What he didn't point out is that President Clinton's plan and the House one would produce larger tax hikes than the Senate's bill. The House plan would cost the $40,000 family $164 a year, while Mr. Clinton's would cost $160. And the $50,000 family would pay $271 under the House and $266 under Clinton.

These figures are theoretical, though, as Congress and the administration prepare for their conference. And there's a move by House Democrats to drop any energy tax for higher corporate and individual-income tax rates.

The energy tax is perceived as the most divisive issue facing the conference, and these House members say they want to skip it altogether. However, Mitchell, who will be a key conference player, is adamant about not allowing the top individual tax rate to go higher than 35 percent.

Looking ahead to 1994 elections, he said: "I'm reasonably confident that we'll retain control of the Senate."

The Democrats now dominate with 56 of 100 seats, but Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum's retirement at the end of next year throws open the question of the party's ability to hold that seat, and the Senate as a whole. Historically, in off-year elections, the party that controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress.

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