WASHINGTON - President Clinton contended Saturday that tax cuts sought by the Republican-led Congress over the past two years are so enormous they would ''completely erase'' the projected budget surplus and disproportionately benefit the wealthy.
''Now we have the chance to pass responsible tax cuts as we continue to pursue solid economic policy,'' the president said in his weekly radio address. ''But instead of following this sensible path that got us here, congressional Republicans are treating this surplus as if they won it in the lottery.''
In the GOP's radio response, Sen. Rod Grams laid out a case for Clinton to reconsider his threat to veto recently passed bills intended to ease the income tax marriage penalty and repeal inheritance taxes.
''Every single dollar of that surplus was created by the American taxpayers and a strong economy,'' said Grams, R-Minn. ''It's the workers' property. It doesn't belong to the White House or Congress.''
Clinton cited a White House analysis released Saturday that estimated the 10-year cost of major tax cuts passed or moving in the Republican-led Congress at $712 billion. Because the public debt would also be paid back in a slower pace, the White House analysis predicted higher interest costs would raise the overall price tag of the tax cuts to $913 billion over a decade.
Combined with the GOP's $792 billion tax cut Clinton vetoed last year, which contained many of the tax measures moving again this year, the total comes to almost $1.8 trillion over 10 years, including additional debt interest of $349 million.
''Taken together, the tax cuts passed last year and this year by this Congress would completely erase the entire projected surplus over 10 years,'' the president said in his address, taped during a visit to Japan. ''The majority seems to have forgotten that projections in a report are not the same as dollars in the bank.''
The total projected surplus is actually much larger, but Republicans and Democrats alike have committed to walling off money earmarked for Social Security and Medicare.
Grams said, however, that ample room is available in the non-Social Security surplus - $2.17 trillion over 10 years, including Medicare - to cut taxes rather than to allow extra revenue collections to pay for bigger government.
''Taxpayers fund every agency, program, project and bureaucrat, yet somehow they're the most used, abused and underappreciated people in America,'' Grams said. ''The Republican Congress believes that Americans already spend too much of their money paying taxes.''
Clinton agreed that a portion of the surplus could go back to taxpayers, but he said the GOP proposals would disproportionately benefit the wealthy. A Treasury Department analysis shows that the major tax cuts passed by the House this year would give 27.5 percent of the benefits, or $18 billion a year, to people with the top 1 percent in annual incomes.
''Now, we should have tax cuts this year, but they should be the right ones, targeted to working families that help our economy grow - not tax breaks that help only a few while putting our prosperity at risk,'' the president said.
Less costly tax cuts, Clinton added, would enable some of the surplus to be spent on a Medicare prescription drug benefit, efforts to keep Social Security solvent and pay off the public debt by 2012.
''We have the resources. What we need is a common vision that extends beyond the November elections and a commitment to benefit all Americans, not just a few,'' the president said.
Grams said the claim that the tax cuts are skewed to the wealthy is ''just plain rhetoric, not reality. A young family struggling to meet the mortgage and pay for their kid's braces is by no means rich.''
''Mr. Clinton, we're asking you to put aside election-year politics and help families live the American dream,'' Grams added. ''If you do your part and sign the bills we have sent you, ... Americans can keep a little more of their hard-earned money.''
The inheritance tax repeal is H.R. 8. The marriage penalty bill is H.R. 4810.
On the Net: Congressional site: http://thomas.loc.gov
White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov