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
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
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. …