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Clinton Chides GOP On Tax Cut

An election-year tax-cut battle kicked into higher gear Wednesday.

In the Republican-controlled House, the push is on for an $800 billion tax-cut plan. But President Clinton calls the plan way too risky, a view also taken by some Republicans, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

The House Republican leaders who planned to pass that huge tax cut ran into a huge roadblock on Wednesday: moderate Republicans. Instead, they had to postpone the debate and spent the afternoon trying to convince members of their own party to vote for the Republican plan.

While GOP leaders say the plan works for everyone, Democrats say the rich are in a better position to benefit from it, and to such a degree that there would be no money left to run the government.

Republicans are thinking big, with a bill that proposes $792 billion in tax cuts over the next ten years. Among other things, their bill proposes to phase in a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in income taxes and phase out the estate taxes that come due when a person dies.

The bill would also reduce the so-called marriage penalty (which causes higher taxes for couples filing joint returns), and reduces capital gains taxes from 20 percent to 15 percent.

Even with a projected surplus, the president says such a huge tax cut is unrealistic.

"They can't even fund my defense budget, much less the one they want," the president told reporters Wednesday. "If Congress passes the wrong kind [of tax cut], of course I will not sign it," he said. "I will not allow a risky plan to become law."

Cuts are slated for defense, education and environmental concerns.

While Republican leaders are still convinced they can push the bill through, it's going to be so close that even Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy, grieving the death of his cousin John F. Kennedy, Jr., sent word to the Democratic leadership that he would fly back to Washington from Hyannisport just to cast his vote.

The latest CBS News poll indicates that tax cuts are not a top priority with the public. Only 5 percent of Americans cited taxes as the most important issue for the government to address. Health care and social security both ranked higher in the public

Turning to domestic policy, the president praised Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and said he will decide "in a timely fashion" whether to reappoint him. He said Greenspan's seat should not become an election-year issue.

He ventured into the 2000 presidential race, claiming he was just "having a little fun" when he seemed to criticize GOP front-runner George W. Bush in recent weeks.

The president had high praise for Gore and for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is campaigning for a New York Senate seat. Mr. Clinton said he will do whatever he can to help both get elected.

As for his political future, Mr. Clinton refused to rule out running for public office afer leaving the White House. He did say he looks forward to being "a good citizen in the country and the world for the rest of my life."

Mr. Clinton also touched on his foreign policy initiatives, repeating concerns for peace in China and in the Mideast. He was reluctant to discuss demonstrations in Iran, saying he hoped that "forces of reform" will succeed.

Mr. Clinton said he was disappointed by a snag in the move toward peace in Northern Ireland, but said he was heartened that neither side had abandoned the peace accords.