Republicans Open Second Front With Budget Plan

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WASHINGTON: Under cover of the bombs falling on Kosovo, Republicans in both houses of Congress worked into the night Thursday and quietly pushed their 2000 budget past Democrats on two largely party-line votes. The votes free Congress to leave on a two-week recess, but the substance of the bill -- which hawks huge future tax cuts in addition to Social Security fixes and increases in defense spending -- is sure to spark a Washington war when the bombs stop falling. It's a battle in which Republicans will be cast as the underdogs. "Tax cuts haven't polled that well for Republicans," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "But they're still the only issue that brings the party together and allows the GOP to distinguish itself from Clinton."

The proposed cuts aren't as dramatic as the 10 and 20 percent across-the-board slashes that are likely to be a centerpiece of the GOP's 2000 primaries, but they're pretty big: $800 billion over the next decade. And the GOP plan claims all the rest of the Clinton goodies -- protecting Social Security surpluses, bolstering education -- that have earned the White House its current benefit-of-the-doubt status with the public on domestic issues. Said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay: "The Republican budget does it all." But President Clinton took time out of his mini-war (which is running at a tenuous 50 percent approval rating) to dismiss the GOP plan as "a series of missed opportunities." Unfortunately for the Republicans, it's Clinton who has the public's ear on this one. And it may take a tragedy in Kosovo to change that.