Clinton keeps score on loyalty in party Carrot and stick help economic bill survive in House

March 21, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Nathan Deal didn't endear himself wit the White House last week when he publicly criticized the administration and House leaders for preventing a vote on paring back the president's $16.3 billion economic stimulus package.

"The people who elected me wanted change, an end to gridlock," the freshman Democrat from Georgia complained to reporters. "But what's to be gained if the leg irons of gridlock are simply exchanged for gags over our mouths and blindfolds over our eyes?"

His comments alone might have earned Mr. Deal a spot on the Clinton White House list of saints and sinners. But the Democrat surely sealed his fate a few hours later when he was one of only 13 Democrats out of 252 voting who opposed the procedural rule that banned amendments to the stimulus package.

The White House has been taking names and keeping score as it muscles its controversial economic program through Congress. After every key vote in the House and Senate, a special list is prepared for Howard Paster, chief White House lobbyist. It names "'Republicans who voted with us" and "Democratic defectors."

The lists all go into a file that forms the basis of what one congressional tactician called "a macho, in-your-face strategy" that has worked well for Mr. Clinton so far on easy votes in the House but could require considerably more finesse as the action shifts to the Senate this week.

"It's silly to act as though we're all free agents in this process," a senior administration official said of the Democrats, who control both Congress and the White House for the first time in 12 years. "If you believe the party has an agenda, you've got to be trying to row in the same direction."

Mr. Clinton has already made clear he intends to reward political kindnesses and will not shrink from punishing those who cross him.

Sen. Harry M. Reid discovered, for example, a White House effusive with gratitude when he defended Mr. Clinton and his chief of staff, Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, from a public attack two weeks ago by erstwhile presidential candidate Ross Perot.

The Nevada Democrat got phone calls from the White House, a letter from the president and a personal word of thanks in the Oval Office.

By contrast, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama holds the distinction of being the first Democratic lawmaker to be publicly spanked by the Clinton White House.

Mr. Shelby lost a 90-job National Aeronautics and Space Administration installation in his state because he attacked Mr. Clinton's economic plan at a photo session with Vice President Al Gore where reporters were present.

"Bill Clinton is prepared to use the office to pursue his goals," the senior administration official said. "Not to treat people unfairly, but if people have problems and they go an extra mile to help him get something done, he going to know that, he's going to acknowledge that. Similarly, if people are making it difficult to achieve the agenda, then for them to get treated as well as the next guy makes no sense."

The lobbying campaign that won Mr. Clinton several symbolic but important votes in the House last week was a skillful combination of cajolery and implied threat.

Among Mr. Clinton's shrewder tactics in winning support for his stimulus package was to divide the opposition. Because House leaders refused to allow any amendments to be considered, opponents could only register their displeasure by voting against the procedural motion as Mr. Deal did or by voting against the package itself.

In making his last-minute personal appeals to the 30 or so wavering members, the president asked some just to stick with him on the rule and told others he could live without their vote on the rule if they stayed with him on the package.

As a result, 13 Democrats voted against the rule and 22 voted against the package, but only five voted against both. Mr. Deal, who voted for the stimulus package, was not among the five.

Out of 254 House Democrats voting, only 11 strayed on the budget resolution that authorizes the government to spend $1.5 trillion in fiscal 1994 and contains the broad outline of Mr. Clinton's five-year plan to reduce the deficit and finance new spending with sharp tax increases.

"That's one of the best votes we've had in a long time," House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt told Mr. Clinton when the president called to congratulate him. The Missouri congressman credited Mr. Clinton's salesmanship, both among the lawmakers and with the public.

But many lawmakers said they were more afraid of the consequences in Washington of voting against the president than of what the reaction might be back home.

"I think people knew this was something Clinton was not going to forget," said a House leadership aide. "As much of a nice guy as he is, he's not going to forget who voted against him on this first critical test."

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