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Bentsen Claims Bow to Oil States Helps Tax Bill : Budget: Treasury secretary says the energy tax changes will grease skids in Senate. But a GOP strategist is counting the 'sacred cows.'


WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said Sunday that behind-the-scenes changes in President Clinton's proposed energy tax may have made it possible to move his massive package of revenue increases through the Senate "virtually intact."

Other top Democrats also sounded notes of optimism after the House Ways and Means Committee handed Clinton's economic program a significant victory last week and the Senate began preparing to consider the tax package.

Bentsen did not specify what changes have been made in the energy tax but expressed hope that they would be supported by three oil-state Democrats who have resisted it. The broad-based levy is intended to encourage energy conservation as well as to raise money to reduce the federal deficit.

The three Democrats, Sens. David L. Boren of Oklahoma, John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, sit on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee and have the power to join the panel's Republican members to scuttle or severely dilute the energy tax.

However Bentsen, who until December was the chairman of the finance committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday: "I think you're seeing some changes in the energy tax that may be of some help in accommodating some of their (Boren's, Breaux's and Conrad's) concerns. We've made some of them already."

He added: "I look forward to it (the tax package) moving through the Senate and moving through it virtually intact, without any great, major changes in it."

White House Budget Director Leon E. Panetta and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) also were optimistic that Clinton's deficit-reduction plan, which combines spending cuts with tax increases, would clear the Democrat-controlled House and Senate. The House Ways and Means Committee gave the package a major boost last week, approving $246 billion in tax increases, $54 billion in spending cuts and $80 billion in tax breaks over the next five years.

"We think that we have a very good chance of not only passing on the House floor but doing the same thing in the Senate," Panetta said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"I think we'll do well by the President's program," Mitchell told Cable News Network.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) spoke more cautiously, calling for Clinton to mount a vigorous lobbying campaign for his program.

"I think the President's going to have to participate on a personal basis because it's not going to be easy," he said on "Face the Nation."

Panetta boasted that the package takes on "every sacred cow," cutting farm, Social Security, Medicare and veterans' programs in addition to raising taxes.

"If you're serious about doing deficit reduction, those are the issues you have to take on," he said.

However, Republican political strategist William Kristol said it was "really laughable" for the Administration to claim it was taking on sacred cows in its budget.

"The Clinton budget is like a giant pasture full of sacred cows, cheerfully moving and contentedly munching at the federal taxpayers' expense," he contended on "Face the Nation."

Both Bentsen and Panetta said that signs of rising prices are not strong enough to boost interest rates.

"I think it's a serious mistake to say you determine something by a month-to-month" inflation rate, Bentsen said.

Wholesale prices rose 0.6% in April, the biggest increase in 2 1/2 years, while consumer prices went up 0.4%, raising speculation that the Fed might consider raising interest rates to ease inflationary pressures.

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