Congressional Score Card

Article excerpt

CONGRESS and President Clinton now have about six weeks to bridge their differences and pass a budget. Plenty of room for compromise exists, but the president and the most conservative faction of House Republicans (including most of the freshman class) must both realize they won't get all they want. The president in most cases can't command a simple majority of congressional votes. The House conservatives can't come up with the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto.

How the battle ends depends on the interplay among several power centers. The compromises will probably be worked out in the Senate, and the president and House Republicans will have to swallow hard and accept them.

The president set the wrong tone last week when he vetoed the legislative-branch appropriations bill. In that measure, Congress practiced what it preaches, trimming $200 million from its own funding. We opposed killing the Office of Technology Assessment, but we nonetheless believe Mr. Clinton should have signed a bill he said he favored. He can teach Congress a lesson elsewhere. (Oddly, he signed a military operations bill he criticized as $479 million too much.)

The debate should go on within the following boundaries:

*The budget should be balanced in seven years. That's long enough to let the economy and the public get through deficit detox.

*A tax cut should be secondary and should be passed only when it's clear that funding it won't undermine seven-year budget balancing or unfairly impact the poor and elderly. That means, among other things, a tougher line on surviving pork-barrel projects like the B-2 bomber.

*House and Senate Republicans should get off the stick and pass the line-item veto they promised. If past presidents had the power to eliminate waste in the budget, the country might not be in such a fiscal mess.

On specific bills:

Reconciliation. This bill covers taxes and entitlements. Clinton has endorsed the reasonable welfare-reform package passed by the Senate. House Republicans want to eliminate payments to teenagers who have children. While something must be done to break the cycle of children having children, the House should adopt the Senate bill and look for another approach on the problem of repeat teen pregnancy.

Major reform of Medicare is needed, which the GOP bill addresses and the congressional Democrats' proposal does not. The House Republicans' bill probably goes too far. The president's proposed cuts move in the right direction but are insufficient for deficit cutting purposes. …