President Clinton asked many of the nation's most powerful business leaders Friday to use their influence with congressional Republicans to bring about a compromise on proposals to balance the budget.
"America needs and demands a balanced budget," Clinton said. "There is no earthly reason why we shouldn't do this."
Clinton made the remarks to members of the Business Council, which consists of the chief executive officers of 100 of the nation's biggest corporations. In asking them to pressure Republicans to compromise, the President said, "You have more influence with those folks than I do."
Congressional Republicans want to balance the budget by saving $900 billion over seven years, and to offer $245 billion in tax cuts in the process.
Clinton opposes that plan, arguing that it would wreck cherished social programs. He wants smaller spending reductions over a longer period--nine years--and would offer a much smaller tax cut than the Republicans. In his remarks to the Business Council, Clinton also listed the advances he said the country has made under his Administration--citing 7 million new jobs, a low inflation rate and an export boom. That segment of his speech drew scattered applause from the group, whose members generally favor conservative economics and politics.
Adopting a humble tone, Clinton asked the group to work for a budget deal. "I am not the source of all wisdom," he said, and suggested that a budget compromise would be better than either his plan or the GOP blueprint.
"What I want is to get together with Congress and work out a budget that is better than theirs and better than mine," he said. "We can work this out, folks," he said.
The chief executives, who represent such giant firms as AT&T;, Ford Motor Co., BankAmerica, Johnson & Johnson and DuPont, already are on record as favoring a balanced budget as the best way to help lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.
The Business Council is embarking on a campaign "to do what you describe . . . building support throughout the country for a balanced budget," said Edgar Woolard, the current head of the Business Council and the chairman of DuPont, in remarks to Clinton after the speech.
Larry Bossidy, the head of AlliedSignal Inc., is leading the Business Council's effort to work with other groups toward a balanced budget.
Bossidy and other executives indicated that getting a balanced budget was more important than the clashing seven-year and nine-year timetables of the President and the Republican leaders in Congress.
At a news conference, Bossidy described the Washington fighting as "political theater," and he said officials need to resolve it soon.
The President said that, although he will compromise, he would fight Republican plans that he said could "serve as a cover for destroying the social compact" by cutting deeply into Medicare, Medicaid and other critical national social programs.
Together, these programs would provide $450 billion, or half the amount the GOP wants to save over the seven years.
If a compromise cannot be achieved, it is possible that the government would run out of money. The Treasury will reach the $4.9 trillion debt ceiling on Oct. 31, said Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The Republicans say they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the President signs legislation containing their proposals to cut taxes and balance the budget in seven years.
But in remarks to the Business Council, Rubin predicted the issue would be settled without a default.
"In the final analysis," Rubin said, "the Congress of the United States is not going to want to default on the full faith and credit of the United States."