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Less Politics, More Economics : Gridlock gets the upper hand in Washington

April 17, 1993

It's back, that old gremlin: gridlock in Washington.

Even President Clinton's offer of an olive branch to break the stranglehold that Senate Republicans have put on his $16.3-billion emergency jobs bill seems to have gone for naught. The Administration reluctantly offered Friday to cut the package by 25%, but Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas was quick-- too quick--to reject the compromise outright.

It's time to cut a thoughtful deal and move on. Senate Republicans successfully stalled the package in a filibuster before Congress left for spring break, which ends this week. The confrontation has become a political test of wills between the Administration and Senate Republicans.

The Republicans mounted a fierce united stand against the jobs bill to embarrass the President. They are annoyed by, among other things, not being consulted by the Administration about its health care reform effort.

Had Clinton been more adept in handling the Republicans, perhaps he may not have had to put so much on the table with his compromise. Indeed, maybe he would not have had to compromise so much. As it stands, his revised $12-billion package would leave in place money for summer jobs, highway construction, childhood immunization, AIDS prevention, waste-water treatment, meat inspection, small business loans and extended jobless benefits.

But the President also offered to impose 44% across-the-board cuts in dozens of other proposed programs, such as community development block grants for big cities, including Los Angeles. This city will probably receive less aid than originally proposed--but more than if there is no emergency jobs bill. The Administration's jobs bill is designed to help cushion the economy, should growth slow further.

Both sides should realize the extent of the political risk they are running. For the White House, the risk of compromising before determining that its compromise bid will be accepted by the other side is to project an image of ineptitude all too reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's first year of relations with Capitol Hill.

But for the Republicans, the risk is also great. If the economy should sink, the American people will begin hearing Clinton regularly say that it was the Republicans who blocked a jobs bill.

A compromise program to create jobs would help the economy--and shield both sides from further political risk. When Congress returns next week, the spirit of compromise ought to prevail. The Republicans have made their point, but it will soon be lost on the people if business as usual prevails in Washington.

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