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Clinton pushes economic plan; Senate debate to start today

President Clinton led an aggressive lobbying drive for his economic plan Tuesday as it was whipsawed by Republican criticism over its tax increases and liberal complaints about its spending cuts.

Clinton's program is intended to reduce the budget deficit by about $500-billion. He said it makes "the tough choices that have been avoided and evaded for too long here."

Senate Budget Committee Democrats sent the measure to the floor Tuesday on a party-line 12-9 vote. The Senate is to begin debating the bill today. It is expected to be approved by week's end.

Republicans said the bill was overburdened with anti-business taxes. "This will cost jobs, not create them," said Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

Several Democratic senators said they would fight to restore some of the bill's Medicare cuts.

The measure would reduce the growth of the health-care program for the elderly and disabled by $67-billion over the next five years _ about $19-billion more than the House approved in May.

Clinton responded to critics in a speech telecast to the Conference of Mayors' convention in New York.

"Now I ask my critics in Congress, where are your tough choices?" Clinton said. "What are you going to do? If you want to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy, where will you make up the money? What will you do to reduce this deficit?

"I wonder what the middle class, the working poor, the old, the sick and the veterans will do if the failed policies of the past are not abandoned."

Republicans said they would offer an alternative plan without any tax increases that reduces the deficit by at least as much as Clinton's package. They offered no details, other than to say it would limit some fast-growing benefit programs.

Health plan may wait until fall

President Clinton's oft-delayed plan to overhaul the health care system is likely to be postponed until fall because of the battle to shape a new federal budget, administration officials said Tuesday.

Budget Director Leon Panetta, discussing efforts to hammer out a budget for the next fiscal year, said he was confident "the differences will be resolved in August, before the August recess" of Congress.

Asked if that meant Clinton would delay giving Congress details of his health care overhaul at least until September, Panetta said the White House was concentrating on the budget.

"The president's interest is in trying to get this done before the August break," he said. "Our primary focus is in trying to get the economic plan done and then turning to the health care proposal."

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said no final decision has been made on when the plan would be announced.

Court: Private meetings okay

President Clinton's health care task force didn't have to hold meetings in public just because it was chaired by his wife, an appeals court panel says.

While the task force is not subject to open meetings requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) simply because it was chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 500-plus-member working group that put together health care alternatives for consideration by the task force and the president may be, according to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

"We simply cannot determine how to classify the working groups . . . and determine the character of its members . . . based on the record before us," Judge Laurence Silberman wrote in a 33-page ruling sending the case back to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth for reconsideration.

If the lower court determines that the working group and its subgroups were subject to the law, then the thousands of transcripts, drafts, minutes, studies and other documents they generated from January through May could be opened to the public. The task force and working groups were disbanded May 30.

The White House claims nearly all of those papers are exempt from public disclosure because they represent confidential advice to the president.

Russia gets Pentagon passes

Another small military monument of the Cold War toppled Tuesday when the Defense Department announced it was providing regular passes for Russian military officers to visit its Pentagon headquarters.

Passes were issued to two Russian military attaches, one a general and another a colonel, as part of an effort to improve military-to-military contacts with the republics of the former Soviet Union, said Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall.

The Pentagon expects reciprocal passes will be granted to U.S. military attaches in Moscow, he said.

The passes allow the officers to enter the building between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays without signing in at the guard posts, but they must inform the Defense Intelligence Agency about their plans 48 hours in advance, Hall said. The officers must wear their passes and their uniforms at all times inside the building, he said.

Radio, TV Marti funding killed

A House subcommittee has voted to eliminate $28-million for U.S. government television and radio broadcasts to Cuba.

Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., said Tuesday that the money was cut from a bill funding government departments during a closed meeting of the Appropriations subcommittee last week.

Supporters of the broadcasts of news and other programs by Radio Marti and TV Marti are likely to try to restore the funding. The bill will be considered by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Skaggs and other critics say TV Marti is a waste of money because the broadcasts are jammed by the Cuban government.

Skaggs said that while Radio Marti was heard in Cuba it was unnecessary because Cubans could hear dozens of commercial Florida radio stations.

TV Marti began broadcasting in 1990 and has cost more than $52-million, Skaggs said.

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