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Gridlock Debacle: Sign of Things to Come? : Big trouble for Clinton as partisanship, incompetence reign

April 23, 1993

It appears for now that the only part of President Clinton's economic stimulus program that will survive the successful filibuster mounted against it by Senate Republicans is $4 billion to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. The rest of the package may be gone, including $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $300 million for early-childhood immunization--only some of the bill's elements that were of key importance to the cities.

Opponents called the bill "pork"--but tell that to the thousands of low-income Los Angeles teen-agers who now will remain jobless this summer. Or scream "pork" to the elderly in Wilmington who won't get that senior citizens center. The projects lost to Los Angeles were hardly luxuries to a city trying to recover from recession and urban upheaval.

The GOP under Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas presented a monolith, and Clinton in consequence has suffered a major defeat. Does this portend a return of the Washington gridlock that Ross Perot so relentlessly campaigned against? Certainly that's possible. No less certainly, it's avoidable, if this week's vote is taken as a timely warning rather than an omen.

OBSTRUCTIONISM: The Republican minority won by preventing the Democratic majority from voting. But that kind of obstructionism can't be made a habit, because the public won't stand for it. The Republicans talked to death a bill they didn't like. That might have been avoided had the White House earlier on been more flexible and less stubbornly self-confident.

Successful democratic politics remains, as it always has been, a matter of give and take. When it comes to getting the nation's legislative business done, there's no substitute for share-the-credit, share-the-responsibility bipartisanship.

The Republicans didn't like the Clinton package because they saw it chiefly as a deficit-booster, and they never got a good response to the question they kept asking: What reason is there to think that spending $16.3 billion of borrowed money will prime the economy, when year after year the government has borrowed hundreds of billions to pay for services and keep people employed--and still the economy remains weak?

A KEY WORD: A key irritant almost surely was the label-- stimulus --that Democrats pasted on the package. Implicit in the word was a promise of quick achievements. The GOP wouldn't buy it.

The summer jobs program, the effort to immunize children against infectious diseases, even the $3-billion highway and public works plan are all extremely worthy in their own right. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says that the defeat of the bill means 50,000 jobs lost to California.

It's impossible to take partisanship out of democratic politics and self-contradicting even to try. But it is possible to achieve greater bi partisanship in legislative politics, and for the country's sake we hope we will start to see that happen. Congressional Republicans are already complaining about not being adequately consulted on the Administration's health reform plans. That's only one part of Clinton's ambitious agenda. On many points of that agenda he's going to need Republican votes. On many points he deserves to get them, rather than automatic nay-saying. The President had also better learn how to work Congress--including members of his own party--better than he's managed to do so far. Gridlock is not inevitable. The test is whether the good faith exists on both sides to avoid it.

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