Clinton favors increased spending
President Clinton is threatening to veto several major spending bills and again blame Republicans leaders in Congress for "shutting down the government." This ploy worked very well in 1995, but to successfully repeat it the president will have to use all of his political skills, including his unmatched ability to obscure the real issues.
The differences between the two sides are relatively small, but Clinton no doubt hopes to use them to boost the election prospects of Al Gore and Democrats running for Congress.
In 1995, when Congress was still wrestling with a massive federal budget deficit, Clinton was able to take a fairly minor disagreement over how much to reduce the growth of Medicare spending and depict it as a titanic clash over the future of the health care program for the elderly and the future of government in general.
The president emerged in news accounts as the compassionate defender of popular government services while the Republicans, led by the much-vilified Newt Gingrich, were assigned the role of heartless bean counters.
Clinton doesn't have Newt Gingrich to kick around anymore. And if he intends to use the budget to batter congressional leaders again this year, he will have to keep from the public the fact that he favors spending the budget surplus, not using it to pay down the national debt.
Clinton has invoked the need to reduce the national debt as a justification for vetoing Republican-backed bills that would eliminate the marriage tax penalty and the estate tax. But he's declining an opportunity to apply the real surplus — not 10-year projections — to debt reduction.
A report from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington D.C.-based think tank, notes that Congress is prepared to increase federal spending by $28 billion above the inflation rate.
Clinton doesn't think that's enough spending. He wants to add at least $25 billion to congressional spending bills, a move that would wipe out most of the $70 billion on-budget surplus.
Congress and the president have agreed to put surplus revenue generated by Social Security and Medicare off-limits. However, congressional leaders plan to devote most of the on-budget surplus to debt reduction.
The president will have a difficult time convincing people that it's better to funnel the surplus into increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Legal Services Corporation than it is to use it to pay down the national debt. According to the Heritage Foundation, Clinton has threatened to veto two spending bills if Congress doesn't fork over more money for the IRS and the legal aid group.
Clinton scored political points in 1995 by claiming that elderly Medicare recipients would suffer from hard-hearted Republican policies. But it's unlikely that even a master communicator like the president could persuade taxpayers that the IRS deserves compassion.
It needs noting, too, that Clinton is threatening to veto a $23 billion energy and water projects bill that contains $100 million for environmental and worker health programs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
The president is unhappy because the bill prohibits the administration from altering the controlled flow of the Missouri River to preserve wildlife habitat.
If Clinton puts wildlife protection along the Missouri River above health screening for workers at the gaseous diffusion plant, he certainly won't improve the election prospects of Democrats in western Kentucky.
Republicans understandably fear the prospect of another government shutdown. But they have reason to doubt that the president's famous spin machine is powerful enough to enable him to get away with shutting down the government over issues that have so little apparent political appeal.