To Fend Off Clinton, GOP Tries Throwing Money

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With the next fiscal year beginning on Friday and almost none of their budget homework done, congressional Republicans are speeding toward yet another fiscal head-on collision with the White House. From the 1995 shutdown to the 1997 "balanced budget" to last year’s embarrassing rat’s nest of a compromise, the collision has always left the GOP mangled and Clinton gloating – which is why this year, some Republicans are reaching for their seat belts. On Monday night, GOPers in the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee went right after Clinton’s favorite – education – and pushed through a $324 billion social spending bill that gives the White House $500 million morethan it asked for in educational funding. The generosity is, as usual, made possible by creative accounting – $16.5 billion of the bill's spending will be delayed until fiscal 2001 – but for the GOP, it’s all about a trump card in the hand.

Not that there won’t be anything left for Clinton to complain about. The White House’s requests for new teachers, before- and after-school programs, and GEAR-UP college prep were all shaved, with the GOP instead upping the ante on educating handicapped students and Pell grants for low-income undergraduates. Will the Republicans’ generosity pay off this time? "The problem for the GOP is that Clinton has done a good job associating himself with these kinds of issues – education, Medicare, Social Security," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan. "When Clinton says the GOP is wrong because they want to cut back on new teachers, by and large he’ll be believed." It’s the same reason the Republicans lost out on that big tax cut – a lack of fiscal credibility – and the GOP doesn’t help itself by playing a fiscal shell game with next year’s money. Maybe the 2001 model will come with an air bag.