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Clinton's 2nd-Term Agenda Sparks Debate

Policy: Observers speculate whether president will tilt left or hold to the center if he keeps his job. A staff shake-up seems likely.


CHICAGO — What will he do if he wins?

With his show-closing acceptance speech at tonight's Democratic National Convention, President Clinton hopes to convince Americans he has a clear and comprehensive plan to guide a second term--and lead America into a new millennium.

No one listening is likely to think Clinton lacks for specific proposals and initiatives; aides promise a cascade of them tonight, many familiar, some new. But the speech is unlikely to end the fierce debate in political circles over what a second term might look like. The argument is fueled not by a lack of detail on Clinton's agenda. At stake instead are more fundamental questions about whether the ideas being presented in his campaign truly represent the priorities and commitments that would drive him through four more years.

Immediate clues to Clinton's direction could come in his personnel decisions. Already, some initial planning for second-term personnel shifts has begun, according to White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta. It is underway now in part because White House officials recognize the faults of their chaotic transition in 1992. Then Clinton emphasized racial and gender diversity over fidelity to his campaign message and appointed a government where traditional liberals outnumbered centrist "new Democrats."

Panetta himself is among those expected to depart. Senior advisor George Stephanopoulos has told friends that he intends to leave, but some think Clinton would prevail on him to stay. Political strategist Dick Morris is widely expected to recede after the election.

The Cabinet could see a large turnover--those expected to leave include Secretary of State Warren Christopher, now 70, though some believe that he may remain for a time. Health problems are likely to cause Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to step down. And liberal stalwarts Donna Shalala at the Health and Human Services Department and Robert B. Reich at the Labor Department are doubtful members of a second-term Cabinet.

Shifts at the Top

Likely to stay are Bruce Reed and Gene Sperling, two aides who have been central to the formulation of Clinton's social and economic policy since his 1992 campaign.

If Panetta leaves, the competition to replace him could feature Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, who is known to desire a post closer to the head of the table, Deputy Chief of Staff Harold M. Ickes and Erskine Bowles, a former deputy chief of staff known as a non-ideological manager. The list of possible successors to Christopher is long, with no clear front-runner. An intriguing name in the mix, as a gesture of bipartisanship, is Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

Shalala's departure could present Clinton with his most revealing personnel decision. With liberals already deeply unhappy about his decision to sign the welfare reform bill, Clinton's commitment to enforcing it could be signaled by whether he replaces her with another figure close to the party's left or someone more centrist.

After a dizzying first 30 months of peaks and valleys and shifts in ideological direction, Clinton during the past year has settled into a steadier and more moderate course. In unison, Clinton and his advisors have insisted in a symphony of interviews this summer that he has been chastened by his earlier reversals on such issues as health care. They insist that he would steer a second term with his eyes firmly on such centrist priorities as balancing the federal budget, cutting taxes and improving education.

"He will stay the course he has charted," Ickes said.

Liberals Mobilize

Others, however, suspect that further course corrections aren't impossible. Led by presidential nominee Bob Dole, Republicans say a reelected Clinton would snap back to the left, stripping off his recent moderation like a mask. Charges Dole: "All the liberalism he can think of and all his wife can think of will come bubbling to the surface."

Few Democrats think Clinton would ever again risk embracing as many liberal priorities as he did in 1993 and 1994, when he became entangled in efforts to open the military to homosexuals, guarantee universal health care and pour billions of dollars into social programs meant to prevent crime.

But liberals are already mobilizing to tilt Clinton back toward the left, particularly on spending issues. And privately, even some of Clinton's key centrist supporters admit that they aren't entirely sure how he would respond to the pressure.

Much will depend on whether Republicans retain control of Congress--and whether the prospect of two more years of divided government encourages compromise on both sides. Meanwhile, the competition among Democrats angling for Clinton's job in 2000--particularly a potential rivalry between Vice President Al Gore and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt--could further complicate the political environment.

Budget Pains

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