Clinton gets the Boren treatment

June 01, 1993

Sen. David L. Boren is suddenly a center of national attention as he steadily gets the better of President Clinton in a battle of nerves and intellect. Both men are Yalies, Rhodes Scholars, Democrats, centrists, gut politicians and next-door neighbors (Oklahoma and Arkansas).

But there the parallels end. While Mr. Clinton considered passage of his budget bill crucial to the success of his young presidency, Mr. Boren was not impressed. He was first off the blocks in opposing Mr. Clinton's ill-fated $16.3 billion jobs-stimulus bill. And because he holds a vote that could bottle up the Clinton economic program, he was an unseen presence during House debate. Democratic lawmakers fretted about voting for huge taxes facing Boren-treatment in the Senate.

Their worst fears are coming true. Hardly had the narrow House verdict come through when the president conceded he would have to accept important changes in the Senate. Then, in short order, Mr. Clinton brought Republican David Gergen into the White House as chief keeper of his image, Senate Finance chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan acknowledged that the Boren factor would require profound changes in the proposed $71.5 billion energy tax and the Oklahoma Democrat pronounced himself gratified as things fell his way.

All this marks a decided turn toward the center for an administration that has indulged itself in liberalism and partisanship. The great comeuppance began when Senate Republicans, in rare unanimity, filibustered the jobs-stimulus measure to death. It grew more intense when Democratic conservatives in the House secured severe restraints on entitlement spending as their price for passage of the Clinton economics bill. It reached a climax when Senator Boren said the House concessions were not enough - and made it stick.

The Oklahoman opposed the administration plan for taxing all forms of energy according to heat or BTU content. The tax now may be pared down and perhaps replaced in part by a straight gasoline tax more visible to consumers. He also insisted on tax breaks, now in the making, for exporters of energy-intensive products such as aluminum. And, finally, Mr. Boren demanded a hold-down in Social Security, Medicare and other government benefits programs before, not after, overruns occur. His remedy: less government spending.

Clinton loyalists complain the Boren approach will burden the poor and elderly. That deserves examination. The senator would means-test Medicare, for example, so only the more affluent elderly would have to pay more for benefits. And cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, for poverty-level Social Security recipients would not be affected.

We anticipate Mr. Clinton will accept most of Mr. Boren's terms and declare victory. Both these pols, while testing one another's will and acumen, want to demonstrate that the Democratic Party can govern - the president because he is president and the senator because he hopes to be president.

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