Clinton's Economic Team

December 11, 1992

President-elect Clinton's economic team, headed by Senato Lloyd Bentsen at Treasury, is carefully crafted to get things done in Congress and to assure the world's financial markets that the next administration is determined to reverse the deficit addiction of the Reagan-Bush era. With Rep. Leon Panetta, a certified "deficit hawk" as his budget director, the roadblocks are up against any old-style liberal spending binge. Mr. Clinton's first appointments bolster his claim to be "a new kind of Democrat," more moderate, more centrist and -- this is important -- more innovative.

Still facing the president-elect are crucial decisions on how much economic stimulus he will propose for the short-term purpose of making sure the limp recovery does not lapse again into recession. He is pledged to boost job-creating spending on public works by $20 billion a year and to stimulate private investment through tax credits. But his longer-term goal, which should be held as a standard to measure his presidency, is to halve the size of deficits now running at $300 billion a year.

While the Bentsen-Panetta combo symbolizes a major Clinton gesture to Congress, the selection of investment bankers Robert Rubin as head of the new Economic Security Council and Roger Altman as deputy Treasury secretary should please Wall Streeters disappointed at losing their customary lock on the top Treasury job.

The selection of Alice Rivlin, first director of the Congressional Budget Office, as Mr. Panetta's deputy means there will be two "deficit-hawks" at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Both are long-standing critics of the spend-and-borrow, supply-side economic theories that quadrupled the national debt in the Reagan-Bush years. Both have also questioned whether Mr. Clinton's campaign promises would lead to the deficit reductions they deem essential.

If progress is to be made, their counsel will be crucial. Mr. Panetta has criticized Senator Bentsen's proposal for more generous IRAs, warning that the resulting loss of revenues could be a budget-buster. He has dared, too, to propose iron-clad reductions in the runaway growth of sacred-cow entitlement benefits. His appointment is the best insurance yet that the budget may be brought under control.

Senator Bentsen as secretary of the Treasury has already drawn catcalls from liberals who consider him an agent of the status quo rather than an agent of change. But he is, above all, a party loyalist and a deal-maker, and if the Clinton program is to win approval on Capitol Hill Mr. Bentsen will be a major player. The contrast with the last Democratic administration could hardly be more striking: President Carter did not name a single lawmaker to his Cabinet and was soon at war with Congress. America does not need this, anymore than it needs continued supplyside indebtedness. The new Clinton economic team holds much promise; let it be fulfilled.

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