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Clinton, Dole Harmonize for Governors

February 07, 1996|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In their second back-to-back speeches of the year, President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) laid down their views on government, entitlement programs and values before the nation's governors Tuesday but ended up sounding more like kindred spirits than the election rivals they may soon become.

Appearing at the winter session of the National Governors' Assn., the Democratic president and the Senate majority leader largely shelved partisan differences to praise the pragmatic approach to solving problems of government and community.

Clinton stressed the agreement of the two parties on government downsizing, welfare reform and personal values and, in a departure, even noted their similarities of approach on some aspects of Medicare reform.

Dole, in calling for a new devolution of power to the states, stressed that he had "never been one to go out there and say . . . unload the federal government." He praised the 1983 bipartisan effort to reform Social Security as his model of problem-solving and argued that the country needs more of the same.

The emphasis of the two leaders may have been expected considering their audience, which is bipartisan and often dominated by a spirit of pragmatism and moderation. But it underscores again how Clinton's increasing embrace of some conservative themes threatens to rob some of Dole's thunder, especially later in the year, when, as the likely Republican presidential nominee, he would focus on more centrist voters.

The speeches came on a morning when the governors voted unanimously for a new compromise approach to reforming welfare and Medicaid that they hoped would provide a catalyst for a breakthrough in long-stalemated federal budget talks. Clinton and Dole hailed that progress but emphasized that they need time to study the plan's details.

Clinton said that the central debate on government's role is not now over whether there should be a large or a small government or even how power should be apportioned between government and the markets. "We know there has to be a mix," he said.

Rather, he said, the lesson he had learned in his term as president "is that what works in the world is what works around this table," where governors of diverse views tried to work together despite differences.

Dole said that the notion of limiting federal power had always been bipartisan. "It didn't come from the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee."

On welfare reform, Dole said, there is now "near unanimous acceptance of the sad fact that our welfare system has betrayed the taxpayers who fund it and those Americans who depend on it."

On the budget, "we believe in real spending restraint and real entitlement reform and tax relief for American working families. Now I don't think anybody here disagrees with that," Dole said. "So it's just a question of how do we get together, how do we go this last half mile."

Clinton argued that in downsizing government, the nation must still seek answers to broad economic problems, such as the wave of corporate downsizings that have washed across the country. He cited the cases of two 49-year-old men he knew who had been laid off, though they worked hard.

Dole joked about his last joint appearance with Clinton, his much criticized GOP reply to Clinton's State of the Union address on Jan. 23. Dole said that he had been called by Dick Morris, Clinton's top political consultant, who had told him that he liked it so much that he wanted to hear it again and again.

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