Man In The Middle Of The Budget Battle

Ask Leon Panetta about his reputation as a deficit hawk, and the genial Californian is likely to launch into the parable of the '50 Chevy and the credit card. When he was 18 and seeking mobility in Carmel, Panetta acquired the car and, with it, his first charge card for gasoline. The car was O. K. But Panetta recalls that his father, Carmelo, who was a penny-pinching Italian immigrant, responded "by raising hell" when he found out about the credit card. The Panetta family was strictly cash-and-carry.Thirty-six years later, Leon E. Panetta is director of the Office of Management & Budget, and his father's warnings about credit still ring in his memory. But this time, budget-watchers are wondering whether Panetta hasn't been treated to another earful--this time for trying to be too thrifty. That's because President Clinton didn't cotton to his budget chief's goal of trimming $2 of spending for every $1 in new taxes. The reason: The Administration fretted that deeper cuts would render its economic plan dead on arrival in Congress.

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