WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton unveiled his economic strategy last night, among his biggest skeptics and toughest critics in the TV audience were Ross Perot and some of the 19 million deficit-minded Americans who had voted for the premier salesman of shared sacrifice.
Their verdict on the Clinton plan: not enough minus signs to offset all the plus signs -- and not enough details.
"I didn't see any real sacrifice by people in government at all," said Barbara Gradisher of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "No serious, bold steps. It's politics as usual. It's a paint job as opposed to serious surgery."
Aside from being the hardest audience, former and current Perot supporters -- who had awarded the independent candidate 19 percent of the vote last November -- also make up the most important constituency Mr. Clinton needs to win over.
Their collective support, and, of course, Mr. Perot's support, will help the administration win congressional passage of the economic plan --parts of which echo Mr. Perot's plan of deficit-fighting tax increases and spending cuts -- and also help smooth the waters for Mr. Clinton over the next four years.
Mr. Perot, whose political voice lives on through TV appearances and his organization, United We Stand, America, called the president's speech "a good first step." But he added that "the devil is in the details. . . . I can hardly wait to hear the details." Appearing on ABC's "Nightline" last night, the Texas billionaire was gentle in his criticism, but nonetheless he attacked the president for not adequately addressing such Perot concerns as lobbyists and government reforms.
"The American people won't buy this until we have congressional reforms," Mr. Perot said. "First, you've got to have a balanced-budget amendment."
Although Perot supporters were heartened by some of the proposed Clinton measures, they concurred last night that Mr. Clinton's package didn't slash government spending enough and didn't go far enough in taking on the deficit.
"He said he was going to make 150 cuts, but I don't know what they are," said Joyce Kuehne of Mansfield, Ohio. "I want him to succeed desperately, but I'm very disappointed. I don't think his numbers will add up. I do know there's not enough taxes there. He just wants to make everybody happy."