Washington -- The heads of three prominent Wall Street bond houses joined with 66 other chief executive officers at the White House yesterday to urge quick passage of President Clinton's $500 billion deficit reduction plan.

"I believe there is no alternative ... it is a critical first step to bring America back to fiscal sanity." said Felix G. Rohatyn, a partner at Lazard Freres & Co.

"One can disagree with individual parts of the plan," he said, but "if Congress does not pass [it], we can expect highly negative reactions from the financial markets."

Vice President Gore had introduced Rohatyn as the first business speaker at the gathering, praising him for his innovative ideas on infrastructure financing and his role in "helping steer New York City away from bankruptcy" in the 1970s.

Robert E. Denham, chairman of Salomon Inc., said the budget package "has sent a strong signal to the people, the governments, and markets of the world that America is serious about putting its economic house in order." He praised Clinton for a "courageous and credible effort to reduce the deficit" and for "facing up to the defining economic challenge of our era.

Donald Marron, chairman of Paine Webber Group Inc., who stood with the other executives, did not speak or issue a statement.

Clinton used the occasion to tackle rumors that the final budget package currently being negotiated faces defeat in the Senate next week because between 10 and 15 Democratic senators, including some who previously voted for the plan, are now considering voting against the package if it includes an energy tax.

"They have to make up their minds whether the consequences of voting 'no' are greater than the consequences of voting 'yes,'" Clinton said. "And if they do that, I think they will all vote 'yes.'"

Clinton said he does not intend to drop the energy tax at this late date, because it is needed to ensure the plan is "credible" in attaining $500 billion of deficit cuts and paying for some of his economic and business incentives.

"It becomes an arithmetic problem at some point" if you try to do without it, the President said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.