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Clinton--Now On to the Senate : A political victory, yes; but the deficit-reduction bill is still a big question

May 29, 1993

It took long days of argument, pressure, logrolling and persuasion for President Clinton to muster the bare-majority 219 votes--all of them Democrats--that he needed to push his deficit reduction plan through the House, and that exhausting process was the easier part of the legislative battle. The harder part comes next month, when the more independent-minded Senate--22 of whose 57 Democrats face reelection next year--has its say on the complex package of tax hikes and spending cuts that aims to reduce federal deficits by nearly $500 billion over the next five years.

Deficits are now near-universally recognized as imperiling the nation's economic health. What's also accepted is that only two ways exist to bring deficits under control. Revenues from taxes and fees have to rise, while spending has to fall. Political reality demands that these occur simultaneously.

Of course no one likes paying higher taxes and no legislator revels in voting for them. Neither does anyone welcome reducing the benefits and services that government offers. That applies especially to any trimming of Medicare and Social Security, the so-called entitlement programs that represent a steadily rising proportion of federal spending. The House bill, however, raises from 50% to 85% the portion of Social Security benefits that can be taxed for couples earning more than $32,000 a year or individuals earning more than $25,000. At the same time there's talk in the Senate of moving to cap Medicare outlays, at least for better-off recipients. This targeting of long-sacrosanct programs suggests that a deep seriousness about deficit-cutting may finally be taking hold.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen acknowledges that further changes in the Clinton package will have to be made to win Senate passage. The energy tax, which would bring in $70 billion over the next five years, is a prime candidate for revision. Meanwhile, the hard-pressed President can enjoy for now the most significant political victory of his brief Administration. If only barely, he found the needed votes in the House. His quest in the Senate promises to be a lot more challenging.

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