The Second Hundred Days

April 30, 1993

President Clinton awakens on this last April morning to greet the first of his Second Hundred Days. If we detect a sigh of satisfaction from the White House, it is understandable. No president in memory has had his First Hundred Days analyzed, rehashed, dissected and stomped upon with such profusion in a multiplicity of media outlets, including this one. The frog in biology class has nothing on our new president.

Rather than add further to this national evisceration, it is our purpose to peer into the foggy mists of what lies ahead, to try to foresee where Bill Clinton will stand and how he will rate and what he can look back upon with pride when almost nobody notices the completion of his Second Hundred Days on Aug. 8.

Cassandras to the contrary, we predict that this slow recovery will still be on track in mid-summer, that the American people will feel slightly better about the new administration and that the president's economic plan, in its main essentials, will be working its way through Congress or already in the law books. Legislation has its rhythms in Washington. Just as Mr. Clinton hit a high point with passage of his budget resolution and a low point with defeat of his jobs-stimulus bill in the Senate, he now can look forward to passage of a giant reconciliation bill that will not be subject to Republican filibuster.

How many of his proposals for new taxes, cuts in existing government programs and "investments" in training and infrastructure will survive congressional action is still a mystery. But public readiness for change, for sacrifice and for chipping away at deficits that compromise the nation's future should give timorous politicians the courage to act. If we are right, Day 200 should be more joyous than Day 100.

Despite Mr. Clinton's rhetoric, no great harm has been caused by the defeat of his jobs-stimulus bill. At $16.3 billion, it was too small to nudge a $5 trillion economy and just visible enough to allow him to blame almost anything that goes wrong on the Republicans. Good political insurance. What will matter in mid-summer is whether financial markets believe his administration is getting a handle on the deficit problem through passage of his main economic program. That's the issue this year just as health care reform, with its profound impact on the deficit, will top the agenda next year.

All the day-to-day concerns about Bosnia and Haiti and NAFTA and Russian aid and Waco and a thousand crises coming down the road are the stuff of humanity's running story. But it's still "the economy, stupid" that will be the determining element in Bill Clinton's presidency. Once he realizes the purpose of his unique bully pulpit is to be upbeat rather than downbeat, he may get the legislation and public vote of confidence he needs to overcome his Hundred Day doldrums.

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