Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), conceding that he expects to lose some preliminary skirmishes in the fight over deficit reductions that opens today on the Senate floor, appealed strongly yesterday for Democratic help and said he cannot win without it.
Urging Democrats not to "sit this one out," Dole acknowledged on NBC's "Meet The Press" that the Senate GOP majority, which is divided on some critical issues, cannot by itself pass the compromise Dole worked out with the White House earlier this month.
"If it becomes party-line, we can't win," he said. "We need Democratic help in the Senate . . . . Failing that, we're not going to win."
The Republican plan would cut current budget deficits of more than $200 billion a year by half over the next three years, largely by deep cuts in domestic spending, including limits on cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security. Defense spending would grow, although at half the after-inflation rate that the administration proposed. There would be no tax increase.
Democrats, even conservative ones, have been sharply critical of the GOP plan, although divided about substance and strategy in dealing with it. But a plan being circulated by Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), which includes elimination of Social Security cost-of-living increases for one year, is believed by some to offer potential for compromise.
Dole said yesterday that Chiles' plan was unacceptable because it includes tax increases, though he repeated that revenue-raisers might be considered as a "last resort."
While not going as far as Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman, who has warned that the GOP plan could quickly unravel if any amendments are approved, Dole conceded that "we're probably going to lose some" votes during work on the deficit plan.
Although he claimed to have 50 to 51 votes for most parts of the package, Dole said there are "some very hot buttons" in it and some "nervous" senators, especially the 22 Republicans facing reelection next year. "It's very close, and it's very serious," he said.
Dole did not specify which parts of the package are in deepest trouble, although he mentioned votes on Social Security, defense and Amtrak, which would lose its federal subsidies under the plan, as likely flash points. Even if some elements of the plan are defeated early in the debate, they could be restored in a "wrap-up" vote at the end, he said.
"I'm confident that, should we even lose some of those major items like Social Security and defense and then come at the end with a wrap-up amendment to restore some of the savings, we [would] have a good chance to succeed," Dole said