Clinton lobbies hard to win fight on deficit bill: The US President must fight hard to save his deficit bill

BILL CLINTON is this week pulling out every stop in a last-ditch lobbying effort to save his dollars 500bn (pounds 333bn) deficit-cutting package of tax increases and spending cuts, and ward off a Congressional defeat that would probably doom his presidency.

Yesterday a new foe joined the fray, in the unwelcome person of Ross Perot, the Texas businessman whose national standing is, if anything, higher than at last year's presidential election. The plan would 'damage the country', said Mr Perot as he promised an all-out TV campaign to kill it.

The core of the problem lies not with the negotiations between House and Senate specialists to reconcile the differing bills they separately passed earlier this summer. They were expected last night to come up with an agreed version incorporating a flat petrol tax of six to seven cents a gallon, to replace Mr Clinton's plan for a broad energy tax that was rejected by Senate.

Only at that point does the real battle start. The final compromise has to be endorsed by both chambers. None of the six Democrats in the Senate who voted against the package in June have given any sign of a change of heart. Instead, three more, including Nebraska's Bob Kerrey, who ran for the 1992 Democratic nomination, are hinting they might break ranks.

But with Republicans set to vote en masse against the package, the White House cannot afford a single extra defection. Hence Mr Clinton's fierce campaign.

If anything, however, public opinion is moving against him. Nothing Mr Clinton does seems able to erase the impression created by Republicans that he is at heart just another unreconstructed tax-and-spend liberal.

All other things being equal, an unloved package would be doomed. But Mr Clinton's strongest card is negative. If Senate Democrats kill the bill, they would both cripple a President from their own party and demonstrate that even with control of both the White House and Capitol Hill, the party is incapable of governing.

Such is the enduring public disenchantment with Washington, there could be no greater recipe for trouble for Democrats in the 1994 Congressional elections. Hence the odds remain that the President will have his way, albeit by a whisker.

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