Clinton faces party revolt: Conservative Democrats threaten to ditch White House economic plan

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The Independent Online
JUST AS President Bill Clinton travels the country to convince voters that his economic plan is the right one for taming the deficit and spurring recovery, conservative Democrats in Congress are threatening to shoot down the package.

With Mr Clinton's tax-raising and deficit-cutting proposals due for the House of Representatives next week, conservatives of his own party are serving notice that they will withhold their votes unless steps are taken to cut federal spending even more.

Further underlining the difficulties, one of his foremost supporters during the election campaign, conservative Democrat David McCurdy, a Representative from Oklahoma, has begun publicly criticising him for betraying his pledge to govern the country as a 'new Democrat' and falling into the hands of the party's traditional 'tax-and- spend' liberals.

All this as Mr Clinton is attempting to turn round his waning fortunes with a series of campaign swings that yesterday took him to south-central Los Angeles, the scene of last year's riots. Earlier he was in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and in San Diego, southern California, where he held a televised 'town meeting' on Monday. At the end of the week he goes to New England.

There is as yet no sign of the White House wavering from its deficit-reduction bill that envisions dollars 246bn ( pounds 158bn) in higher levies, including an energy tax, and dollars 100bn in spending. At the end of last week he received some encouragement, when the House Ways and Means Committee passed the deficit bill with only minor amendments.

But the rebellious conservatives have estimated that as many as 50 Democrats will refuse to support the bill when it comes to a full House vote next week, unless Mr Clinton agrees to impose spending caps on welfare programmes such as Social Security and Medicare. Known as 'entitlements', these commitments account for more than half of all government spending.

Though the extent of the mutiny may be being exaggerated, it certainly poses a serious threat for the President, who has pinned his whole presidency on this package and on the soon-to- be-unveiled health-care reform proposals. If, indeed, there are 50 Democrat defections, the bill would fail, because no Republicans are expected to support it.

Mr McCurdy, who yesterday led a delegation of conservatives to a meeting with Howard Paster, the White House link- man between the President and Congress, says he and his like- minded Democrats are 'shaking their heads that the deficit at the end of the Clinton administration - after the largest tax increase in history - will be as large as during the Bush administration'. He added: 'The soulmates are feeling left out.'

Mr Clinton's approval ratings have slipped further in recent days to a level of around 45 per cent - the lowest of any president at this juncture expect for Gerald Ford, who was appointed to the White House after Watergate. The erosion of confidence in Mr Clinton was amply illustrated in his 'town hall' meeting on Monday.

'A malaise is beginning to set in, like the Carter era,' Lorne Fleming, a San Diego businessman, told him. 'Can you name one country that has ever taxed and spent itself into prosperity?' The President answered that he could not, but countered that it was a 'big myth' that he was not proposing genuine spending cuts.