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Clinton Budget Triumphs, 51-50 : Gore Casts a Tie-Breaking Vote in the Senate : Deficit: President says Congress 'laid the foundation for the renewal of the American dream.' Sen. Kerrey's decision to back plan in last hours assured its passage.

August 07, 1993|KAREN TUMULTY and WILLIAM J. EATON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In a much-needed victory for his young Administration, President Clinton's sweeping economic program of tax increases and spending cuts cleared its final congressional hurdle Friday night, when the Senate narrowly approved it, 51 to 50, on a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Al Gore.

Immediately after the outcome was announced, cheers erupted from the floor of the Senate and its spectator galleries and a stern-looking vice president called for order.

When the final tally was in, all of the Senate's 44 Republicans had voted against the plan, as expected, along with six of the chamber's 56 Democrats. The measure, approved by a 218-216 margin in the House Thursday, now requires only Clinton's signature to enact it into law.

Despite having won by the slimmest of margins, an exuberant President, flanked by Gore, appeared after the vote at the North Portico of the White House.

"After a long season of denial and drift and decline, we are seizing control of our economic destiny," Clinton said, adding, "this is not easy, but real change is never easy."

Calling the outcome "a very, very important beginning," he said that by acting on the economic plan, Congress "laid the foundation for the renewal of the American dream."

Meanwhile, the President's chief opponent in the six-month-long battle over the program, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), declared: "This was not a battle against a President. It was a battle against a plan that we didn't think was very good."

Victory in the tortuous process was assured only in the last hours before the vote, when Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), whose vote was essential for passage, announced that he would reluctantly support the plan rather than bring down the first Democratic presidency in 12 years.

"This plan is a first step--not the only one, not the last one--but a first one," Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) promised the senators as they prepared to vote on the unpopular package that some feared could end their political careers. "Join me in voting yes on this bill, not for your reelection. . . . Make the decision based upon what is best for our country."

But it was a vote that few cast with enthusiasm.

In a dramatic speech in the Senate that ended days of Hamlet-like public agonizing, Kerrey accused Clinton of backing away from his call for "shared sacrifice" to conquer the deficit. "The price of this proposal is too low. It's too little to match the greatness needed from Americans now, at this critical moment in this world's history," he lectured Clinton, pleading: "Get back on the high road, Mr. President, where you are at your best."

Nonetheless, Clinton's onetime rival for the Democratic presidential nomination added: "I could not, and should not, cast a vote that brings down your presidency. . . . I do not trust (the Senate's) 44 Republicans enough to say no to this bill."

With Kerrey's commitment, the Senate was evenly divided, opening the way for Gore to cast the vote that would send it to Clinton's desk to be signed into law. Gore played the same role when the Senate stalemated over its original version of the budget bill earlier this summer.

When Kerrey made clear which way he would vote, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) leapt to his feet and applauded and Kerrey's Democratic colleagues rushed to congratulate the Nebraska senator. White House aides, watching on television, broke into applause.

Kerrey, talking to reporters after his speech, said that he would have voted "no" if the vote had occurred Thursday because he was unhappy over the Administration's acceptance of a $3-billion increase in funds for Midwestern flood relief.

"I was upset," Kerrey said, because the White House failed to oppose the move by a bipartisan group of senators to increase the size of the disaster aid. "He (Clinton) almost lost Sen. (Robert C.) Byrd (D-W.Va.) for the same reason."

Throughout the day, Clinton himself, along with senior Administration officials and Senate leaders, spared no effort to win Kerrey's support. The President spoke to his onetime rival for the presidency three times Friday, once in person at the White House and twice by phone.

As the wooing of Kerrey wore on, 10 hours of debate raged on the Senate floor over the highly controversial bill that is designed to reduce the soaring federal deficit by $496 billion over five years through a complex web of spending cuts and tax increases. The tone of the seemingly endless oratory was marked by the same bitter partisanship that has characterized the negotiations over the budget package since Clinton introduced it in mid-February.

Clearly, both sides recognized that the vote on the bill represented the most significant test faced thus far by the President and could indicate how he might fare in the major initiatives still to come, among them, health care and welfare reform.

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