In a hint of movement, a White House official said Monday that if Republicans would agree to a $250-billion, 10-year tax cut for the middle class, the administration would be open to negotiations over the package's details.
"As long as we agree on the size, and that it should be targeted to working families, we certainly would be willing to compromise with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress on its exact composition," Gene Sperling, chairman of the White House National Economic Council, said.
President Clinton on Sunday made conciliatory comments about his hopes for a compromise with Republicans this fall over tax cuts and spending.
However, Sperling's remarks seemed to be the first time the White House has explicitly suggested that it is not necessarily wedded to the targeted tax cuts for retirement savings, long-term health care and other expenses it has espoused so far this year.
The comments still leave the White House significantly short of the $792-billion, 10-year measure Republicans pushed through last week. Clinton has promised to veto the bill, and GOP leaders have shown little interest in settling for a $250-billion version.
"It pales in comparison to what a majority of members of Congress have voted to put on the president's desk," said Pete Jeffries, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
The GOP bill includes a 1 percent reduction in all income-tax rates, an easing of the "marriage penalty" tax paid by many married couples, a capital gains tax-rate cut, elimination of the inheritance tax on large estates and a slew of tax breaks for business.
In an alternative that the Senate rejected, Democrats proposed increasing the standard deduction for joint and single filers and the itemized deduction for married couples. They did not embrace universal savings accounts, federally subsidized retirement accounts for individuals that were the core of Clinton's tax-cut plan.
Sperling emphasized that before discussing tax cuts, the two sides would first have to agree on extending Medicare's solvency, providing a prescription drug benefit and financing other domestic priorities.
Sperling said that if Republicans would agree to using $250-billion in tax cuts for the middle class, "we can save for another day whether you also have a broader, larger tax cut that affects well-off Americans."
GOP lawmakers are out in their districts trying to raise interest in their tax package. Most polls have shown that when asked how they would like to use projected surpluses, most Americans consider tax cuts a low priority.