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Democrats are also planning to stick to the argument that a big tax cut means you can forget about using the burgeoning federal budget surplus to pay down the national debt. In an adroit bit of political gamesmanship, Bill Clinton played up the goal of debt elimination last week when he unveiled new White House budget calculations that show the total surplus over the next 10 years rising to nearly $5 trillion, an $800 billion increase over the last estimate issued just six months ago. "We should be shooting for a debt-free America by the end of the decade," he said. But Bush and his team say the skyrocketing surplus is evidence that a tax cut is not only necessary but affordable.
In the view of many economists, interest-rate modifications are better than tax cuts as a way of combating slowdowns, in which case the main weapon of recession fighting would rest with Greenspan. All the same, Bush is hoping that he can get the Fed chairman to signal in some way that he too would agree to a big slice, perhaps during his upcoming testimony before Congress. Greenspan thinks the surplus should be used to pay down the national debt, but he would accept seeing some of it go back as a tax cut before he would allow Congress to use it for more spending programs.
Bush's adviser Lindsey is a good friend of the Fed chairman's. So are Cheney and Paul O'Neill, Bush's choice as Treasury Secretary. Both worked with Greenspan in Gerald Ford's White House. All of them will be going to work on Greenspan to persuade him that Congress would simply spend the surplus before it can be used for bill paying. And George W., whose father had notoriously frosty relations with Greenspan, has gone out of his way to court the chairman. A few weeks ago, after their get-acquainted meeting in Washington, he even squeezed the uncomfortable-looking Greenspan on camera. But when you start talking like the bears, as Bush has been doing, maybe bear hugs are just what come naturally. --Reported by Sally B. Donnelly/Washington