Clinton's budget vote victory fails to impress: Deep divisions over benefits of hard-won cost-cutting package

AS PRESIDENT Bill Clinton prepares for a 10-day sweep across the United States to sell his hard-won budget package to a doubting public, one question is rising through the political clamour and economic hot air that accompanied its passage through Congress: did he achieve anything significant?

The battle-weary President yesterday strode out on to the White House lawn to sign the bill into law, hailing its passage both as a crucial first step in a gridlock-busting assault on the growth of the federal deficit, and part of a programme of radical economic reforms.

But the US remains deeply divided over its worth. Has Mr Clinton, as some claim, at last reversed Reaganomics and grasped the wheel of the runaway economy in a geniune effort to steer it towards the brave new world of balanced budgets? Or did he spend days bullying and deal- making with dissident Democrats to achieve nothing more than a short-term, political victory in a bitterly split Congress. In the end, the bill passed by the slimmest possible margins - 218-216 in the House of Representatives, and with a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

The criticisms are many, but the main ones can be boiled down to a fairly short list. One: that the plan was far removed from the grand rhetoric of last November's election, in which Mr Clinton promised tax relief for middle-class families with children, as well as sweeping investment in jobs. Two: after being chopped about by Congress, it no longer constitutes much of a 'shared sacrifice' by the US public - the strategy that the President for so long insisted was the key to his battle against the federal budget deficit.

Three: the package's figures are suspect. Some dollars 46bn ( pounds 30.8bn) of its dollars 254bn spending cuts were mandated three years ago, and a further dollars 65bn are merely savings the administration hopes to make on the cost of servicing the national debt. Four: people are waking up to the fact it is only restrains the deficit's rate of increase (the deficit is projected to go up dollars 887bn in the next four years).

And five: it runs the risk of throttling the teetering revival of the US economy. The White House says the commitment to tackling the deficit will ensure low interest rates, which should stimulate the economy. But others are less sure. Some economists say the best way of cutting the deficit is through a more direct approach to promoting growth, quoting figures which show that each percentage point on the GNP adds dollars 100bn to the government's tax coffers.

Nor is at all clear that his difficult experience over the budget has done much to help Mr Clinton's future political battles - especially his plans to reform health care. As he signed the bill yesterday, he made yet another call for an end to partisan politics, and grumbled bitterly about 'five months in which the American people heard too little about the real debate and too much from those who oversimplify and often downright misrepresent the question of taxes and spending cuts'.

But it is questionable whether Congress will be any less partisan the next time around. There is some resentment among Democrats that the White House made no attempt to woo a handful of Republicans with a generally liberal voting record, who may have supported the plan. The fact that Mr Clinton was forced to strike deals with reluctant Democrats in order to secure their votes may increase their appetite to extract further concessions in the future.

Nor is the public likely to be easy to win around, especially if it becomes clear that the promised deficit reduction is not likely to materialise. The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll found that less than half the respondents believed the plan would live up to its promise to reduce the deficit by dollars 496bn over five years. Two out of three felt it taxes too much and cuts spending too little.

Mr Clinton's popularity polls are none too encouraging. Fifty one per cent gave him a negative rating, compared to a positive view by 45 per cent. His trip this week - through the Midwest, Colorado, California, Arkansas and Oklahoma - is therefore likely to be hard work. And, with rumblings about US policy over Bosnia, and nasty question- marks over the US presence in Somalia, the euphoria over his latest victory will soon evaporate - leaving him with a long and arduous summer.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable