Bush following states' examples? Money moves resemble those of governors.

December 23, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

The chief executive, trying to jostle a slumbering economy, orders his Cabinet to speed up spending on already planned projects. Then he organizes an overseas trade mission to sell American exports.

All the while he preaches optimism and the need for consumer spending.

Sound familiar? Gov. William Donald Schaefer, perhaps?

Try again. President Bush is seeking ways to shore up a crumbling recovery. Increasingly, the steps he's taking resemble those employed by the nation's governors, including Schaefer.

For example, the president on Thursday outlined plans for an unusual trade mission. He will lead a delegation of business leaders, including the heads of the Big Three automakers, on a 10-day trip to Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Presidents generally stick to diplomacy, leaving trade to their commerce secretaries. In fact, this trip began as a diplomatic venture but was canceled amid complaints about Bush's foreign policy focus.

Such trips have become commonplace for governors. Many of them spent a great deal of the 1980s on airplanes, flying from country to country trying to win investment for their states and customers for their home-grown products. Schaefer has been especially active in this regard, drawing occasional criticism for his globe trotting.

Schaefer last month ordered state offices to "fast-track" projects already planned and budgeted. The idea, he said, was to pump money into the economy as quickly as possible. Not long afterward, Bush signed an order to expedite federal unemployment checks, public works spending and programs designed to boost employment.

Schaefernomics?

"I think it's evidence that people are realizing that we have tools we can use to push our economy along," said Paul Shurick, an aide to Schaefer.

A White House spokesman stopped short of saying the president was getting his inspiration from governors. But, he added, "we've had a former governor as chief of staff for

the past three years, and he was very aware of efforts of governors."

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu recently resigned as chief of staff.

While it's unusual for presidents to lead trade missions, Vice President Dan Quayle and Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher have led several. And speeding up federal spending is a technique that has been used by other presidents, said the spokesman, Gary Foster.

Charles W. McMillion, an economist with MBG Consulting Inc. in Washington, applauded both efforts. But, he said, they are not particularly new ideas and neither is likely to be enough to get the economy moving again.

As for the trade mission in particular, he said, "This is really what presidents should have been doing all along instead of governors, who end up competing with each other."

Presidents, unlike governors, usually have a host of monetary and fiscal policies they can use to guide the economy. But this recession comes at a time of record federal deficits, preventing the government from boosting spending to "prime the pump" and float the economy, McMillion said.

And fiscal policy -- such as Friday's discount rate cut -- have shown little sign of working.

That may be why the president is looking toward techniques employed by governors, said Mark Gearan, executive director of the Democratic Governor's Association.

"He certainly has more things he can do. The question is whether he is willing to do more to prime the pump," said Gearan.

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