LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- President-elect Bill Clinton will get hi first crack at taking on gridlock, the villain of the 1992 presidential election, when he meets here tonight with Democratic leaders from Congress.
Mr. Clinton has invited House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt to dinner at the Governor's Mansion, a prelude to more extensive bipartisan talks that he will have on Capitol Hill later this week.
"One of the prime principles of [Bill Clinton's] campaign was to break gridlock in Washington and really get something done," Mr. Clinton's spokesman, George Stephanopoulos, said last week. "And the first step is to meet with your leaders in the House and the Senate and talk about how we're going to do this . . . how we're going to work with Congress, and how we're going to get real action in the first hundred days."
Mr. Clinton's entire campaign was anchored on changing the dynamic between the president and the Congress from one of antagonism to one of cooperation.
The last four years have been marked by several vetoes by President Bush.
Now, for the first time in 12 years, the same party will run both the White House and Congress, boosting expectations for cooperation.
"We're going to stand ready to help him in every way as he moves into his new and significant responsibility as president," Mr. Foley said yesterday on Cable News Network's "Evans and Novak."
". . . . We're going to do everything we can to help him."
Indeed, Hill Democrats are eager to finally put in motion some of their own agenda, such as a family leave bill that Mr. Clinton favors, that never got by President Bush.
Mr. Foley suggested his readiness to work with the new president, and also to reduce the deficit, by telling reporters Friday that the House might pass a modified line-item veto. It would give the new president the authority to veto parts of a bill, such as specific expenditures, without rejecting parts of the legislation that he favors.
In a proposal that Mr. Foley called "enhanced recession authority," Congress would vote on any specific budget item the president sought to delete and could reinstate the item with a simple majority.
In a line-item veto -- sought by Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and previous presidents and long resisted by Congress -- a two-thirds majority would be needed in Congress to overturn the president's veto of a specific item.
"It's got a possibility," Mr. Clinton said yesterday when asked about the possible compromise while playing golf. "I'll look at it."
Mr. Clinton is counting on a cooperative Congress, given how dependent he will be on the legislative body to pass the aggressive and extensive domestic proposals on which he ran and won.
Mr. Clinton said at last week's news conference that it was
important to "set priorities and proceed with discipline" to avoid a legislative bottleneck. But he then ticked off a laundry list of first priorities, including economic growth, job creation, deficit reduction, health care, political reform and a national service program.
While some fear that trying to do too much, too soon could result in a repeat of Jimmy Carter's rough relationship with Congress, Mr. Foley said yesterday that there was a "difference" between the two men and their transition periods.
"I think the president-elect understands and has said that some of these problems are going to take a little longer to resolve than the first two or three months of the administration," the House speaker said.
"I think he'll also give an indication of the priority he wishes to attach to problems. I expect him to put his economic agenda first."
Another difference that should make for smoother relations with Mr. Clinton is his "insider" knowledge and contacts, if not "insider" status.
Not only was his vice presidential choice, Sen. Al Gore, practically born and bred on Capitol Hill, but many throughout his transition team -- such as Mr. Stephanopoulos, a former Gephardt aide -- have ties to Congress.
Yesterday, after an early-morning jog, which began with a serenade by a meditational/spiritual group that had assembled across the street from the Governor's Mansion, Mr. Clinton spent six hours on the golf course with friends.
After a news conference tomorrow with the three congressional leaders and a meeting here Tuesday with his transition board, Mr. Clinton will travel to Washington on Wednesday morning for his first post-election meeting with Mr. Bush.
The two will discuss "the best way to have a very smooth transition," Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
Mr. Clinton plans to spend Thursday with congressional delegations, including a bipartisan lunch.