Eleven Democratic senators have warned that they will oppose any new version of President Clinton's deficit-reduction package that shifts too much of the burden away from the rich and business and to the poor and middle class.
The threat Friday represented the latest complication to Clinton's troubled efforts to push the heart of his package through Congress.
"We believe that the package must . . . (protect) those who took the brunt of failed Republican trickle-down policies over the past 12 years," the senators wrote to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who chairs the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee.
The 11 liberals, led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said they would oppose cuts in Medicare and Medicaid hitting recipients, reduced taxes on the rich and added levies on the middle class. All are under consideration by Democrats on Moynihan's committee, who are reworking Clinton's plan to satisfy conservatives.
With Republicans likely to oppose the bill solidly, Democrats could not lose 11 votes and still push the bill through the Senate.
Meanwhile, Clinton administration officials rebuffed Transportation Secretary Federico Pena on Friday for criticizing a fuel tax Senate Democrats may add to the bill.
"He's been talked to," White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said of Pena. "I think he's speaking for himself here. The president's view is this is hard no matter what you do."
Myers said White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty had spoken to Pena.
A House-approved package of tax increases and spending cuts included a broad energy tax based on Btus. But Democrats on the Senate Finance panel have been hunting for an alternative to the measure, which conservatives say would hit businesses and taxpayers too hard.
Also under discussion are:
Raising the current 34 percent income-tax rate for the most profitable corporations to 36 percent.
Eliminating the extra spending Clinton wants for food stamps.
Easing some proposed tax breaks for business and the well-to-do.
Delaying some tax increases Clinton wants to impose on higher-income people.
Also signing Harkin's letter were Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Russell Feingold, D-Wis.; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Paul Simon, D-Ill.; and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.