'Summit' turns into 'conference' No specifics due from Clinton's economy meeting

November 25, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- As part of an effort to lower expectations for what was once billed as an economic "summit," aides to President-elect Bill Clinton outlined plans yesterday for what they now say will be a "conference" in mid-December bringing him together with more than 100 people from business and other fields.

Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, met yesterday with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen, who is considered a top candidate for the job of Treasury secretary. But aides said the unannounced meeting was to discuss issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the Texas Democrat's committee.

Another potential job-seeker, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, was in town last night, apparently in preparation for a meeting with Mr. Clinton.

Discussing the economic conference, which is scheduled for Dec. 14-15 in Little Rock, Clinton advisers Mickey Kantor and George Stephanopoulos said it is intended to provide Mr. Clinton with different views of the state of the economy and what needs to be done.

But the aides cautioned that the conference is not designed to produce a specific economic plan, which would have been the purpose of a summit. Rather, they suggested, it will help Mr. Clinton choose from a variety of options his economic advisers are scheduled to provide him with about the time of the conference.

Even so, the conference will be a major public relations event, as indicated by the decision to permit television crews to film it. Mr. Kantor likened it to the public meetings the Arkansas governor held around the state when he wanted to involve people in decision-making and build consensus on policies.

Mr. Kantor and Mr. Stephanopoulos were vague about the topics to be discussed and who would be invited, and were non-committal when asked whether Ross Perot or the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who indicated Sunday that he wants to attend, will be on the guest list.

Mr. Clinton's advisers made it clear that he is not at the point of deciding on an economic plan, but they did indicate that despite an upturn in consumer confidence and other signs of improvement, they are still leaning in favor of a short-term stimulus, even if it is only to accelerate already budgeted public works spending.

They expressed optimism about preventing wasteful "pork barrel" spending.

"Well, that's the challenge," Mr. Stephanopoulos said, "making sure we can find projects that are ready to go, that are needed by the communities."

At the December conference, Mr. Kantor said, there will be "an assessment of where we are" and "input from a wide diversity of folks." He said it will include people from big and small businesses, people he termed economic "stakeholders, those who struggle every day with -- and in many cases are successful in dealing with -- the challenge they face in keeping this economy operating."

Economists and people from other fields -- Republicans and Democrats -- will participate, aides said, but members of Congress will not. Reporters, though they will be allowed to observe and film, will not be permitted to ask questions during the meetings.

About 1,000 people have written or called asking to be invited, Mr. Kantor said.

He said there will be "four or five working sessions involving broad subject matters where you'll have a number of people around the table with the president-elect and vice president-elect, without prepared papers in most cases."

They will be "answering questions, cross-talking to each other, engaging in dialogue, of course, with the president-elect, who enjoys this process," he added.

Asked why Mr. Clinton needs to hold such a conference, in light of his having run a campaign based on specific economic pledges, Mr. Kantor said it was necessary to "put meat on the bones" of those pledges.

Though Mr. Clinton's meeting with Mr. Bentsen was billed as informational, Clinton aides did nothing to end talk that the Texas senator might receive an administration job. Press secretary Dee Dee Myers would not rule out that possibility, and Mr. Kantor said Mr. Bentsen would be "good at anything he wanted to do."

Mr. Bentsen reportedly was sounded out last week about his interest in a job, but Clinton aides said appointments would not be announced until December.

Mr. Clinton did not make any public comments yesterday. Shortly after 7 a.m., he and Vice President-elect Al Gore left the governor's mansion to go jogging. They ran more than four miles and walked another mile or so, accompanied by five Secret Service agents in running gear and trailed by five Secret Service vehicles, a police car and two vans of journalists.

Later, Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, visited their 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, at the Horace Mann Arts and Sciences Magnet Junior High School, where she was inducted into the Beta Club, a national scholarship program.

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