October 21, 1999 2:00AM
BUDGET ENDGAME: CUTS ON THE WAY?
Yesterday's budget powwow at the White House was a theatrical prelude to
the endgame that will play out over the next week.
The public message following the get-together was that everyone is
prepared to be nice to everyone else. Substantively, only one of the
options for finalizing next year's budget seems to have been eliminated.
The President made no pitch for his tax increases, which had been
unanimously rejected by the House earlier in the day. Enough said.
This leaves three options for White House and Hill budget negotiators: 1)
dip into the trust fund; 2) more budget gimmicks; or 3) across-the-board
cuts in spending. Republicans who have staked their yearlong strategy and
entire communications campaign on not touching the Social Security trust
fund won't now join the President in raiding it. So, that leaves either
budget trickery to mask a Social Security raid, or trimming all the
remaining appropriations bills to keep their pledge. Republicans fear
that more gimmickry will give credence to the administration's claim that
they have already raided the fund. If you can't trust the Republicans to
be straight on the rest of the budget, why believe them on Social
Security? So, a small (in the one-percent range) cut in spending is
increasingly viewed on the Hill as a way to give credibility to the GOP's
commitment on Social Security.
How will it play out? The preferred option for the administration, and
even some Republican appropriators, is to bundle the remaining spending
bills all together in order to make it easier to move funding from one to
another. This should be avoided. Once the President signs the pending
defense bill, he will lose the cash cow he'd like to use to beef up his
favorite spending programs.
Get out your Cajun scalpels.
Elizabeth Dole dropped out of the presidential race today, blaming her
inability to go the distance on George W. Bush's financial advantage. Bush
does indeed have advantages over Dole: not least, that he governs the
second-largest state in the union while she has never been elected to
anything. But Mrs. Dole entered the race in a strong position herself,
having won enormous goodwill from her time at the Red Cross and respect
for the discipline and savvy she has shown throughout her career. If she
was unable to capitalize on these strengths, it was because she started
her campaign by running to the left (on issues such as gun control) and
then, when that did not work, flailed around ineffectually. Her sex was
not enough to attract voters -- something the eventual Republican nominee
should consider when choosing his running mate.
MCCONNELL BEATS MCCAIN
Corporate donations to political parties - a.k.a., soft money - are
supposed to be corrupting because they are unlimited. Sen. John McCain,
arguing for a ban, says that, if not for these contributions, the budget
would be trimmed of pork. Yet politicians support pork-barrel project for
the sakes of their constituents, not their contributors, which is why the
projects are generally in the pols' home districts. (The biggest offender,
by the way, when it comes to "unauthorized appropriations," which McCain
describes as pork, is the Commerce Committee. Chairman: John McCain.) In
any case, McCain's bill is dead for the year. Kentucky Republican Mitch
McConnell worked tirelessly and with remorseless logic to kill it,
ignoring the vituperation of a media obsessed with campaign-finance
reform. Standing up to the powers that be, holding fast to principle,
being one's own man: These are the qualities reformers say they want in
politicians, and, as Mitch McConnell demonstrates, they have nothing to do
with soft money or its absence.
Ramesh Ponnuru - Senior Editor
John J. Miller - National Political Reporter
Kate Dwyer - Editorial Associate
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