Clinton puts re-election hopes in the balance

In putting forward his own plan to balance the federal budget, President Bill Clinton has taken a hugely risky step - one that could give him the initiative in the dominating political issue of the hour, or prove a blunder that alienates key supporters and costs him the White House next year.

The nub of Mr Clinton's proposals, sketched out in a five-minute Oval Office speech on Tuesday evening was as expected: smaller cuts in federal health care programmes than proposed by the Republicans, coupled with scaled down tax reductions, and a balanced budget by 2005, compared with the more ambitious target of 2002 set by the Republican plans approved by the House and Senate.

Overall his package envisages $1.2 trillion (pounds 720bn) of cuts over 10 years, slightly more than the Senate but rather less than the House, which must also offset $350bn (pounds 210bn) of tax cuts prescribed in Speaker Newt Gingrich's 'Contract with America'. But far more important than the figures were the politics. And the initial fall-out has been mixed at best.

After weeks of discussion among his divided aides, the advice which ultimately prevailed was that Mr Clinton could no longer simply sit out the Republican-driven debate, hoping to capitalise on public disenchantment once the scale of the cuts became apparent and relying on his ability to veto the final package this autumn.

Instead, the President has put down a marker, and perhaps prepared the ground for a deal with Congress. This in turn would avert what Mr Gingrich calls the "train wreck scenario" of a Republican budget rejected by the White House, leading to a stand-off that would virtually shutdown the federal government when the new fiscal year begins in October.

No one knows better than Mr Clinton what happened when a similar deadlock arose in 1990. Then the roles were reversed, and a Republican President was obliged to go back on previous pledges and agree tax increases demanded by a Democratic Congress. That infuriated the Republican right and is widely believed to have cost George Bush the 1992 election.

By making an early bargaining bid, Mr Clinton seeks to have a say in events, and reduce the risk of such confrontation. But as with Mr Bush, the cost could be high - as a corresponding rebellion in Democratic ranks was already suggesting yesterday.

Even before the Tuesday broadcast, Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leaders in Senate and House respectively, vainly urged him to stay out of the fray, arguing their strategy of accusing the Republicans of slashing benefits for the poor to pay for massive tax breaks for the rich was starting to pay dividends.

By announcing his own balanced budget plan, Mr Clinton has given the Republicans cover. He has acknowledged it was possible in seven rather than 10 years, but "the pain we would inflict on our elderly, our students and our economy just isn't worth it".

The Republican response was favourable: "He's running to catch up but let's welcome him aboard," said House Majority leader Dick Armey of Texas. And although the Democratic response was furious, Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin took comfort in past experience: "If you don't like the President's position on a particular issue, you simply need to wait a few weeks." However, moderates were more sympathetic, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey saying: "You can't fight something with nothing."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine