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The Lesson of the Budget Melodrama : Bipartisanship needed for good of the country

August 12, 1993

President Clinton may still believe that his election was a mandate for change, but it looks as if his Administration doesn't have the votes to do more than beg for whatever little pieces of change it can get.

That, more than anything else, is the lesson of last week's budget drama. It appears that Clinton, pulling out all the stops, can command margins of, oh, four votes in the House and one vote in the Senate--assuming of course that Vice President Al Gore shows up for work. That's not enough of a cushion for the Administration to march off in a determinedly partisan direction. Indeed, these razor-thin margins should cause Clinton and his Administration to pause and reconsider their strategy.

They certainly deserve great credit for tackling the big issues--the federal deficit and health care reform are two of the biggest. And they deserve recognition for the graduate student's determination with which they seem to approach some very difficult matters--the President with his pre-inauguration economic summit; the First Lady in her indefatigable pursuit of health care reform. But the Democrats do not have the votes to get an entire, partisan program enacted. Indeed, what last week's vote-counting potboiler showed was that the Democratic Party itself is scarcely more united than Congress. Clinton will need policies that appeal to at least some Republicans to get much more done. A superior push on NAFTA--the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade effort--would be a natural for Republicans and Democrats to get excited about together.

For the good of the country--and of California--the President needs to strike a bipartisan tone and work for some kind of government of national unity. So should Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Dole's a smart fellow, but he's starting to sound shrill. He has had some fun with Clinton, but at some point enough is enough.

On Sunday Dole in effect threatened to try to undo the just-passed budget by opposing any new budget cuts if the agreed-on new taxes actually go into effect. That seems a bit much. Though the margin was narrow, the budget was approved, and that's all our system requires. Dole has got to understand that Congress would be better off going on to new business rather than rehashing the old.

A final note on tonality: Maybe it's just us, but doesn't Washington seem exceptionally bitter and partisan these days? After all, the country is in a huge, frightening recession; yet some politicians are already posturing for the 1994 congressional elections and others are taking cheap shots at colleagues in remarks on the Senate floor. Is it any wonder public support for federal term limits keeps growing?

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