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Vow Vanishes as Clinton Rejects Key GOP Goals

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only a day after pledging to seek cooperation with Congress’ new Republican leaders, President Clinton and his Democratic allies resolved Friday to resist key parts of the GOP program by painting it as a threat to the economic security of working families.

“I will stand against any effort to roll back or to rock the foundations of the (economic) recovery by proposals that explode the deficit or gimmicks that undermine the integrity of the budget,” Clinton said as he opened a strategy meeting with Democratic congressional leaders in the Oval Office.

White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, sharpening the message, demanded that new House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other Republicans spell out how they plan to balance the federal budget. “Are they going to cut Medicare? Are they going to cut Social Security? Are they going to cut benefits for veterans? . . . The American people need to know that.”

The tone was a deliberate shift from the day before, when Clinton met with Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), and both sides promised to work together where they could find common ground.

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“We’re going in with an open mind, looking for areas where we can cooperate,” a senior White House official said. “But we’re not going to abandon our principles. . . . So we had to start to talk (with the Democratic leaders) about the major points of contrast and how we make sure everybody in America knows what we stand for.”

The result, officials said, is a stripped-down message--"We’re fighting for working families"--and the rough outline of a strategy: Clinton and the Democrats will try to soften and amend the Republican program where they can and oppose it where they cannot.

For the most part, aides acknowledged, the President and his allies will be reacting to GOP proposals, not taking the initiative with ideas of their own.

Vice President Al Gore, asked where the Administration will take its stands, replied: “That will depend not on a set of tactical decisions on our part . . . but on what (the Republicans) do, and what opportunities to help the American people present themselves.”

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That decision is based on a realistic assessment that Democratic proposals would not survive long in Gingrich’s House, on hopes that the GOP program will run into trouble as the public, and the more moderate Senate, focus on its details and on a glum recognition that the Democrats--unaccustomed to opposition--do not have many counterproposals ready.

At some point, aides said, Clinton will offer initiatives on welfare reform, health care and other issues, although no final decisions have been made.

The President plans to resume campaigning next week for his “middle-class bill of rights” tax cut proposal with a speech in Galesburg, Ill.

On Friday, Clinton hailed news that the unemployment rate dropped to 5.4% in December, the lowest rate in more than four years, and said that the drop confirms the success of his economic policies. “We’ve had a good first two years. . . . It’s time now to make a commitment to keep it going.”

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Meanwhile, Panetta and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) went on the attack Friday against GOP plans for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, warning that implementing the measure could require deep cuts in Social Security or Medicare.

The Democrats said they would demand that Republicans draw up a detailed budget plan to show what programs they would cut to achieve a deficit-free government before they ask state legislatures to ratify an amendment. A constitutional amendment must be approved by 38 of the 50 legislatures before it goes into effect.

“It is a positive thing to balance the budget,” Gephardt said. “But people need to know exactly what that means in their lives.”

Gephardt also attacked the GOP’s tax cut proposals, which he said “would blow another $1.6-trillion hole in the deficit . . . (and) destroy the economic growth and the job creation that’s gone on.”

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House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) said that Gephardt’s demand for a list of spending cuts is a tactic to derail the amendment.

“He knows that putting together a detailed list beforehand would make passing the balanced-budget amendment virtually impossible,” Armey said.

The Democrats’ focus on dramatizing the likely costs of a balanced-budget amendment reflects an assessment on their part that some such measure is likely to pass both houses of Congress--shifting the battleground to the ratification process.

The amendment almost passed last year in a Congress with Democratic majorities in both houses. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house.

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The House has scheduled a vote on the amendment for Jan. 19 and the Senate may act soon after.


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