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
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
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
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice