After gunning down President Clinton's 1999 budget, Republicans are ready to take a $1.73 trillion fiscal blueprint to the Senate floor that offers a first peek at GOP priorities in the era of federal surpluses.
On a 12-10 party-line vote Wednesday night, the Senate Budget Committee approved a package mapping modest tax cuts and promising $147 billion in federal surpluses over the next five years. The plan, which could go to the full Senate as early as next week, ignores Clinton's proposals to build more classrooms, hire more teachers and let people aged 55-64 buy Medicare coverage.For good measure, the committee voted 14-8 to reject a Democratic package modeled on Clinton's proposals, though some of its spending was trimmed back. Democratic Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina joined Republicans in that vote.
"I don't believe that's an American budget, I don't believe that's what America would vote for in a minute," budget panel Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told Democrats.
That remark prompted shouts from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who said, "Let's not talk about being un-American. That's over the line."
Congress' budget sets ceilings on federal spending and taxes but leaves decisions on details for later. Nonetheless, the committee's votes provided an indicator of the Senate's sentiments on several issues - notably on tobacco.
Public Citizen, meanwhile, reported that the tobacco industry spent $35.5 million last year on lobbying, a 23 percent increase over 1996. Much of it was used trying to persuade Congress to approve legislation limiting the industry's exposure to lawsuits, said the group, which opposes the legislation. The industry spent $19 million on outside lobbyists, three times the amount in 1996.
Hoping to squeeze Democrats into an uncomfortable political corner, the GOP budget plan siphons all money that might be raised by tobacco settlement legislation this year to Medicare, the hugely popular health-insurance program for the elderly and disabled. Republicans argued that tobacco funds should go there because the program will run out of money in a decade and because smoking-related diseases cost Medicare more than $25 billion a year.
Six times Democrats tried amendments that instead would use tobacco money for anti-smoking, health care or other social programs - much as Clinton proposed in his budget.