Clinton seeks economic partnership Active government guidance proposed

September 09, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Conn. -- Stressing one of his strongest differences with President Bush, Bill Clinton said yesterday that government should forge an active partnership with business in promoting new products and exports.

Mr. Clinton's development plan, as outlined before an audience of plant workers here, calls for a far greater government role in guiding the economy than Republicans say they want.

It includes proposals for expanded tax incentives to prod businesses to invest in domestic manufacturing and to convert new technology into American-made products, and increased government spending for non-military research.

"Unlike our competitors, America has no national economic strategy, no comprehensive partnership between business, workers and government to promote manufacturing," Mr. Clinton said, citing the loss of 1.3 million manufacturing jobs over the last four years.

The Clinton proposal, largely a repackaged version of ideas the Democratic nominee talked about during the primary campaign, stops short of calling for a comprehensive industrial policy. Mr. Clinton goes further than Mr. Bush does in arguing that government has a responsibility to help American businesses compete against those of other countries.

Mr. Bush says the federal government should not be in the business of picking "winners and losers." But despite his hands-off rhetoric, Mr. Bush has effectively rewarded certain sectors of the economy with government incentives, such as the agricultural subsidies announced recently to spur grain exports, and has come to the aid of individual companies, as with last week's decision to sell F-16 fighter jets made by General Dynamics Corp. to Taiwan.

Mr. Bush also has touted initiatives, such as his proposal for a capital gains tax cut, that are designed to help small businesses -- and the economy -- grow.

Mr. Clinton, who wants to increase federal spending for job training to make U.S. companies more competitive, would form a "national economic security council" to promote exports and open markets for U.S. goods.

"When our government spends more on promoting almonds and walnuts than promoting manufacturing exports to Japan, you know it's time to set new priorities," he said.

Mr. Clinton said he would create 170 regional "manufacturing extension centers and technology alliances" modeled on agricultural extension services that help farmers use new techniques.

Mr. Clinton has been termed by Republicans the "failed governor of a small state." He said again yesterday that Arkansas had "the second fastest rate of manufacturing job growth" in the United States last year.

Mr. Clinton asserted that his proposals "are neither Democratic nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative." And, hoping to defuse concerns that he would make government interfere too much in the marketplace, he insisted his ideas "are market-driven and focus on the private sector."

Mr. Clinton ticked off a long list of evidence of America's manufacturing decline.

In his only mention by name of the president, he said the Mackinac Bridge Mr. Bush walked across Monday in Michigan was "built with steel from a mill that shut down during his presidency."

Even so, Mr. Clinton twice cautioned that he couldn't promise restoring American industry and workers to the positions they once held in the world.

"I don't want to go back and try to recapture what's been lost," he said. "We can't go back, couldn't if we wanted to. But I'm not about to sit back and let the future pass us by. We need a new strategy."

Mr. Clinton impressed Standard-Knapp worker Ernest Benzi.

"It sounds great," he said. "We need some change we haven't seen in a long time."

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