Congressional Democrats, still deeply divided over the massive budget bill, appealed Wednesday to President Clinton to provide clearer guidelines for a compromise between the differing Senate and House versions of the measure.
Many House Democrats asked the President to define more precisely how he wants to raise the revenue necessary to reduce the deficit by $500 billion over five years and still pay for a series of "investments" that he also favors.
The complaints were aired as Senate and House conferees moved slowly toward agreement on less controversial provisions of the legislation.
A spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she was told Senate conferees would drop a provision to impose a 10% surtax on capital gains of more than $250,000. The provision, which is not in the House bill, drew a storm of protest from the business community.
The call for greater clarity in the Administration's position came a day after the President listed some of his priorities during a rally-the-troops address to House Democrats shaping the final version of the controversial package of tax increases and spending cuts.
Administration officials said Clinton has embraced a Senate-passed gasoline tax increase of 4.3 cents a gallon, or a slightly higher figure, which would raise almost $50 billion less over the next five years than the wide-ranging energy tax approved by the House.
At the same time, however, Clinton endorsed tax breaks for business investment in distressed urban areas, known as enterprise zones, and other costly provisions that are in the House bill but were dropped by the Senate.
"Whatever he is signaling doesn't help if you don't have the revenue to pay for the programs he wants," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the House negotiators and an advocate of enterprise zones.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, made the same point after the caucus met with the President on Wednesday morning.
"If we're going to do away with (the House-passed energy tax), if we're going to find a way to cushion the effect on the middle class and the working poor, if we are honest about clear deficit reduction, then we have got to be very honest about raising the revenues to do that," Mfume said. "It's a car that's going to require four wheels to run on and not two, and it may even require a gasoline tax to run."