WASHINGTON — President Clinton accused congressional Republicans on Saturday of steering the federal budget into fiscal peril with huge, risky tax cuts that he said endanger prosperity and shortchange Social Security, Medicare and education.
Republicans said the $1.8-trillion agreement reached Friday between leaders of the House and Senate budget committees embodies tax cuts as a "moral issue" to help working people while supporting important national priorities such as education and the environment.
Setting the stage for battles to come, Clinton used his weekly radio address to state the case that tax cuts targeted to benefit people saving for college or retirement and to reduce the so-called marriage penalty on two-income households are possible "if Congress takes care of first things first."
"For me, above all, that means maintaining the fiscal discipline that has brought us to this point of unprecedented prosperity," the president said.
He said it also means pushing efforts to pay down the national debt by 2013, securing the future of Social Security, modernizing Medicare with a prescription drug benefit, providing more and better trained teachers and modernizing the nation's schools.
"But it seems the congressional majority has hardly given [these priorities] a second thought" and instead has allocated "nearly half a trillion dollars to risky tax cuts," the president said.
"More than half our money already spent [on tax cuts], and not a penny on our most pressing priorities," Clinton reiterated.
"Last year they went for one big tax cut with one big grab," he said. "This year, they're doing it piece by piece, one tax cut after another.
"Just this week, we saw Republican leaders attach special-interest tax breaks to what should have been a simple raise in the minimum wage," he said, citing a bill he has now threatened to veto because of the tax provisions.
But Republicans said significant tax cuts are a fair and essential element of any budget package.
"Instead of penalizing hard-working Americans for being successful, we are now helping them share that success with their families," said Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Kasich said in the GOP's radio talk that the House-Senate budget agreement reduces the tax burden on Americans and in no way risks national priorities.
Kasich and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) announced agreement Friday on a framework for a fiscal 2001 budget. They hope to push the measure through their panels this month and for Congress to complete it by mid-April.
Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the GOP budget will pay down the national debt by 2013, improve education, protect Medicare, help older people pay for prescription drugs, bolster the military and "provide real tax relief for married couples."