Congress gives Clinton a double victory: Votes for deficit-cutting and boost to economy mark end of reaganomics

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CONVINCING approval by the House of Representatives both for Bill Clinton's dollars 500bn ( pounds 338bn) four- year deficit reduction plan and for his carefully targeted short-term stimulus for the economy offers double-barrelled proof that both Reaganomics and debilitating government by gridlock are at last things of the past in Washington.

In two separate votes late on Thursday night, Democratic congressmen rallied behind their President to push through the measures. By 243 to 183 they endorsed the broad deficit-cutting resolution, and by 235 to 190 they overcame Republican resistance to the dollars 16.3bn 'emergency' package aimed at creating tens of thousands of new jobs over the next 12 months.

Together they amount to a massive early fillip for Mr Clinton, who had staked his prestige with an intensive personal lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill worthy of Ronald Reagan or Lyndon Johnson in their prime. Only 11 conservative Democrats opposed the budget plan, and 22 voted against the stimulus package.

The success was a 'wonderful beginning', declared a jubilant Mr Clinton yesterday, surrounded by House Democrats summoned to a celebratory breakfast at the White House after proving their party discipline during the voting marathon the day before, in which one Republican wrecking amendment after another had been defeated.

But, warned the President, 'it's just a beginning, we still have a great deal of work to do' - a reference to the tussle which may yet be waiting in the Senate, which is expected to vote on its version of the Clinton package within the next 10 days.

Indeed, however resounding the victory, the war is by no means won. Although the Democrats theoretically have a comfortable 57-43 majority, the Senate is much more thickly populated by conservatives, unhappy with both the stimulus measures and the tax increases which form the backbone of the deficit-reduction scheme. Senate rules, moreover, give Republicans considerably greater leeway for mischief-making than the tightly regulated House.

None the less, it was a well-satisfied President who left for Atlanta, Georgia, on the latest of his regular weekly forays to carry his message to the country in person. The House vote, enshrining a bigger deficit cut even than originally proposed by Mr Clinton last month, signifies that this time Congress means business in bringing the country's finances into line. The era of laissez-faire, trickle- down economics, in short, is over.

No less important, most Democrats are in no mood to risk public wrath by obstructing the will of the White House. Even limited success for a rebellion on Thursday night would have encouraged far more damaging ones later. But this President, for whom cajoling and wheedling is second nature, has shown he can control the troops on Capitol Hill.

Under the budget draft ratified by the House, a total of dollars 510bn would be slashed from the deficit over the next five years, split roughly equally between tax increases and spending cuts. The Senate version would lop dollars 502bn, with more emphasis on tax increases. Both, though, preserve the essence of the Clinton plan: higher taxes on the rich and a new energy tax, balanced by cuts in defence and federal health and welfare spending.

But even assuming the line is held in the Senate, the devil may yet be in the detail. This summer, the proposals must run the gauntlet of formal budget legislation, and even best-intentioned Democrats may baulk at painful proposals affecting their own constituencies. Mr Clinton may have to accept significant changes to get the package through.

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