President Bush and congressional leaders have reached a historic agreement to show the world the United States is on the path to fiscal responsibility but have yet to persuade Congress to follow on the painful road to budget cuts.
The Senate Budget Committee's ranking member, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, called it "truly a historic event that has a lot of pain in it."He said it was the first time the United States had decided on a long-term, enforceable five-year plan to cut the deficit.
The agreement, unveiled less than 12 hours before huge automatic spending cuts would have gone into effect, hits Americans with higher taxes on gasoline, alcohol, cigarettes and luxury items.
The politically unpopular tax hikes, if accepted by a reluctant Congress, will help slash the federal budget deficit by $500 billion over five years.
"There will be some tough fights ahead," Bush said Sunday at a Rose Garden ceremony celebrating completion of the pact, which has something to displease almost everyone.
The package is aimed at convincing world financial markets that the United States is embarking on a serious course to fight deficit spending. Investors overseas have been increasingly wary of a United States that tripled its debt in a decade to more than $3 trillion.
The negotiators all made political sacrifices to reach the bipartisan agreement.
"Sometimes you don't get it just the way you want, and this is such a time for me," said Bush, who for his part was forced to abandon a demand for a reduction in capital gains taxes and accept new taxes.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser, a liberal Tennessee Democrat, said flatly he was not pleased with the agreement because it did too little for the middle class and did not raise taxes on the rich.
But he said he would support it.
Conservative Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who badly wanted to see the capital gains tax reduced, traveled to the White House but then refused to appear on the same platform with the president.What such painful cuts purchased was $40 billion of deficit reduction in fiscal 1991 alone.
Stanley Collender, a vice president with the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse, said the pact was surprising in both its size "and the fact that these are for the most part real savings. There's very little smoke and mirrors here."
There are some doubtful savings, such as the $3 billion that will supposedly emerge from more efficient tax collections and the exclusion of costs associated with the Persian Gulf, but most items in the agreement have real bite.
About $60 billion will be cut over five years from Medicare. One advocate for the elderly, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said flatly he would vote against the plan.
Another $45 billion is to be raised over five years from a new gasoline tax that rises by 5 cents a gallon, climbing to a 10-cent increase by July 1.
Bush has said he will personally campaign for an agreement, but if Congress does not agree within 19 days, draconian cuts that were delayed from Oct. 1 would take effect. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees would find themselves facing layoffs.