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Senate Approves Revolutionary Bill to Balance Budget : Government: The Republican-backed measure includes $245-billion tax cut and sharp curbs on spending, social programs. Clinton repeats veto promise.


WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled Senate, moving toward a major confrontation with President Clinton, approved a revolutionary budget plan early today that would provide for a $245-billion tax cut at the same time that it sharply curbs federal spending and social programs.

The legislation, approved by a 52-47 vote--Republican William S. Cohen of Maine joined all 46 Democrats in opposition--would reverse three decades of nonstop deficit spending and is intended to deliver a balanced budget for the first time since 1969 by the year 2002.

"This will be a radical change in the way this government is operated," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

But the plan is far from its final form. Congress must first reconcile differing House and Senate versions of the legislation into a final bill that is acceptable to both houses. Then the measure will be sent to the President, who has said he will veto it. Republican leaders then would have to negotiate changes with the White House, since they do not have the two-thirds majority needed in both houses to override his veto.

Clinton urged Democratic leaders Friday to tell the party's legislators "not to worry about it--I'm going to veto it anyway."

Speaking in a conference call with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) that was monitored by reporters, Clinton characterized the GOP effort as "excessive" and "wrong."

The President, however, also pledged to work with Congress after a veto so that "we'll make it work out for America."

Daschle called the measure "fundamentally flawed" and said that it would weaken rather than strengthen America.

"This budget is mean and extreme," Daschle said. "It rewards the rich and ravages the rest. It punishes families who need our help most--to pay for tax breaks for those who need handouts the least."

But, said Dole, "it is a vote for putting America on a path to a balanced budget. . . . It is a vote for real, meaningful and fundamental change."

Passage of the landmark bill came on the Senate's 39th roll call vote of the day--a single-day record for what is often called the world's most deliberative body. The previous record of 34 votes came on June 16, 1964, when the Senate considered the Civil Rights Act, according to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), a keeper of Senate history who was a senator in 1964.


Just before final passage at 10 minutes after midnight, Democrats used a technical parliamentary procedure that forced out of the huge bill numerous provisions of a previously adopted welfare reform bill, which also had been wrapped into the reconciliation measure.

But Dole said this morning that that action could be remedied later during a conference committee with House members to iron out the differences in the budget details.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), the bill's floor manager and budget committee chairman, said the vote sends a message to the world that America is "just not going to continue to borrow to give people what they can't afford."

Dole also said the Democrats would like to see the welfare reform bill passed and signed by Clinton as a stand-alone measure, thus allowing the President to claim the credit.

The House passed its version of the bill Thursday on a 227-203 vote that largely followed party lines. Rolled into both the House and Senate budget bills are provisions to cut the growth of Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and an array of other assistance programs.

The Senate plan would trim $482 billion in projected spending for Medicare and Medicaid over the next seven years. It also would scale back the earned-income tax credit, which provides assistance to the working poor, convert federal welfare spending into block grants to states, open the Alaska wilderness to oil and gas drilling, virtually eliminate the Commerce Department and impose new fees on student loans.

The House and Senate versions of the plan have far more similarities than differences. But there are important distinctions and how they are resolved will say a great deal about the direction and cohesion of the Republican majority that took control of Congress in January for the first time in 40 years.

On one end of the GOP spectrum are half-a-dozen or so moderates in the Senate who increasingly have been able to soften an array of social-spending cuts.

At the other extreme are a larger, equally committed group of conservatives in the House, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) but perhaps influenced more by 73 zealous first-year members who often have preferred fighting to compromise.

On numerous issues, including farm policy and welfare, the Senate bill proposes less sweeping changes than the House bill.

"It won't be easy at all," Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) said Friday, referring to the upcoming House-Senate conference committee that will attempt to resolve differences between the two measures.

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