Bush pursues 'outsider' drive to reform politics

April 04, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- After spending much of his adult life in government and running as the status quo candidate four years ago, President Bush was again waving his new anti-Washington campaign banner of reform yesterday.

In a mere half-hour, Mr. Bush said "change" 22 times and uttered the word "reform" another two dozen times in the latest of a series of recent speeches designed to tap into a national mood of general discontent and particular disgust with Congress.

"Well, times change, and presidents have to change with them," White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner said yesterday when asked about Mr. Bush's conversion to the movement to reform Congress and the bureaucracy.

Mr. Skinner contended Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's time-for-a-change campaign had no bearing on the president's calls for political reform.

And Mr. Skinner brushed aside suggestions it was ironic that Mr. Bush, the quintessential Washington insider who has spent nearly the last quarter-century in government, is now crusading for change.

"You've got to understand the process, then you can change it," said Mr. Skinner after Mr. Bush's speech in the Old House Chamber -- the meeting place of the first Congress more than 200 years ago.

It was Mr. Bush's fifth speech on government reform in 15 days, a compilation of his previous calls "to help make government work for the people."

These include campaign finance reform (but not public funding) and streamlining Congress by cutting the number of committees and subcommittees that critics charge become sinecures for some incumbents. Mr. Bush also favors limiting lawmakers to 12 years in Washington. For president, the term limit is eight years.

Mr. Bush did add one new reform proposal: cutting back on the time Congress is in session "so they can truly stay in touch with the people" back home.

"Many members of the House and Senate are now permanent Washingtonians," said Mr. Bush, who himself has lived in Washington as congressman, Republican party chief, head of the CIA and vice president before he moved to the White House in 1989.

In his speech here to the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers group, Mr. Bush characterized Americans as generous -- people willing to do what is necessary to make this country better.

"But there is a mismatch between their willingness to help and their skepticism about Congress," Mr. Bush declared. "They just don't trust Congress to use their hard-earned tax dollars wisely."

This sentiment was warmly applauded.

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