President Presents GOP With Budget Dilemma

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This lame duck just keeps on quacking. And now that President Clinton has delivered an ambitious budget proposal, the Republican-controlled Congress has to decide how far to put its foot down — and how much to risk alienating an electorate about to go to the polls to pick a new commander in chief. It was all there Monday morning — Clinton, chart at his back and Magic Marker in hand, announcing a host of Great Society-esque initiatives, including generous spending on education and health benefits for the poor. "Election years are the best time for a president to get his agenda passed," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Some of Clinton's most crucial achievements — the minimum wage hike and the balanced budget — came in 1996. This year the Republicans have two problems: First, they've got this popular president with an ambitious agenda, and they don't want to be a do-nothing Congress; second, a lot of his issues, such as the Patient's Bill of Rights and gun control, are very popular with the public."

Still, the budget issue sure to inspire the heaviest cross-party sparring is tax cuts. Clinton proposed $150 billion over 10 years, including $45 billion to reduce the marriage penalty. The GOP has scaled back last year's failed $780 billion tax cut proposal, but still wants a considerably larger cut than Clinton proposed. The Republicans are facing an ugly dilemma: If they offer too large a cut, they look imprudent next to Clinton's anti-debt stance, but if they offer too small a package, they make the trillion-dollar cut favored by GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush look completely frivolous. Let the horse trading begin.