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Clinton Names Staff, Holds to Short List of Priorities

January 15, 1993|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President-elect Bill Clinton announced his White House staff Thursday and reiterated his short list of priorities: improving the nation's economy, cutting the federal deficit, reforming the health care system, setting up a national service program for young people and advancing political reform.

Those priorities are "the big things that we were running on," Clinton said in answer to a question about what campaign promises he considers of primary importance. "I think that you can look forward to seeing major initiatives in those areas . . . early in the session of Congress and a real effort to pass them all," he added.

Unspoken, but clearly implied, in Clinton's statement was the corollary that other ideas floated in the campaign--from welfare reform to urban policy initiatives--may have to wait as he and his top aides limit the measures they push forward in the early days of his Administration.

Clinton and those close to him often have said that one reason he was defeated after his first term as Arkansas' governor was his attempt to do too much at once. In recent weeks, aides have worked on ways to ensure that similar problems will not mar his first year in the Oval Office.

Clinton also defended backing away from campaign pledges, notably his proposed middle-class tax cut, but he said he was merely responding to changing circumstances, such as the widening of the federal deficit.

"The American people would think I was foolish if I said: 'I will not respond to changing circumstances,' " he said.

In any case, Clinton insisted, the press has always made the tax cut a bigger issue than has the public.

"From New Hampshire forward, for reasons that absolutely mystified me, the press thought the most important issue in the race was the middle-class tax cut. I never did meet any voter who thought that," he said.

Clinton made a similar argument last spring when he abandoned his initial plan to cut taxes for middle-income Americans and substituted a scaled-down version.

In fact, Clinton used the tax cut as a key weapon in defeating former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, who opposed the idea, in the Democratic primaries.

Once Tsongas was out of the way, Clinton began retreating from the tax cut, but he and his aides have reiterated support for some form of middle-class tax relief on more than one occasion since his election.

Another campaign pledge that Clinton seems to be scrapping is reducing the White House staff by 25%. The appointments Thursday seemed, if anything, to head in the other direction.

In the always status-conscious White House, Clinton will have 16 aides with the coveted title "assistant to the President." President Bush has had 13.

Clinton seemed to do better on his pledge of diversity. Of the roughly 50 staff members named Thursday, about half were women and many were members of minority groups.

* Clinton gave special importance to four aides by introducing them personally. Eli Segal, a longtime Clinton friend who served as his campaign chief of staff, will head the White House office in charge of carrying out Clinton's national service plan, which would allow students to work off some of their college loans by taking reduced-pay jobs as teachers, nurses or other types of public servants.

Segal, noting that he would turn 50 today, invoked the spirit of the John F. Kennedy Administration, saying that programs such as the Peace Corps had inspired his generation and he hoped that the national service plan would once more enable the country to "make service the abiding ethic of our people."

Clinton tapped Carol Rasco, his longtime aide in Arkansas, to head the White House domestic policy office and announced, as expected, that his campaign manager, David Wilhelm, is his choice to head the Democratic National Committee, with another close Arkansas associate, Craig Smith, as a top deputy.

Wilhelm is expected to ensure that the DNC effectively works as the political arm of the White House. A close friend of Wilhelm and a colleague from Chicago politics, Rahm Emmanuel, who was Clinton's chief campaign fund-raiser, will serve as the White House political director.

The rest of the White House staff, announced by Chief of Staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty, represents a mix of the various ideological and political factions that contributed to Clinton's campaign coalition--from the market-oriented moderates of the Democratic Leadership Council, who will staff the domestic policy machinery, to more traditional liberal Democrats in jobs involving political affairs.

Most are veterans of Clinton's campaign and transition organization.

Clinton tapped Katie McGinty, a longtime aide to Vice President-elect Al Gore, as White House environmental policy director and asked an old friend, business consultant Ira Magaziner, to take a loosely defined post in charge of policy development.

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