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
  • Get to the point
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

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before