Gergen brings a touch of Reagan's style to White House staff Clinton pledges to forge budget agreement with Congress

June 08, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon and Karen Hosler | Carl M. Cannon and Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- For what seems like the umpteenth time, President Clinton started off another work week yesterday determined to "turn the page," in the words of brand new White House adviser David R. Gergen.

Speaking to representatives of the League of Women Voters, Mr. Clinton pledged to meet with Senate leaders and work out a budget agreement "the American people will accept and that the Congress will pass."

The president also signaled his willingness to deal with the nation's rampant budget-cutting mood in his remarks at the White House Rose Garden, saying, "As we complete work on this growth plan, I intend to do everything I can to say I welcome additional cuts."

It didn't take long yesterday for Mr. Gergen -- who served as a White House aide under three Republican presidents -- to make his presence felt.

On his first day on the job as the new No. 2 staffer in the Clinton administration, Mr. Gergen introduced a new communications director yesterday and opened the upper press office to reporters again.

Probably more significantly, he also introduced a touch of the Reagan style to a president badly in need of just such a boost.

President Reagan, for whom Mr. Gergen once worked, achieved success with his budgets by enunciating broad budget goals and then letting congressional leaders and White House budget officials forge the details.

Mr. Clinton, by contrast, has personally haggled over even minor alterations in his budget proposal, which has helped create an impression that he's being steamrollered -- even when he's not.

Yesterday, Mr. Clinton struck a more Reaganesque posture.

Bentsen as point man

He told the league that Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen would be his point man in dealing with Senate leaders. Then, at a meeting with Majority Leader George Mitchell and Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the president gestured to the senators and to Mr. Bentsen, budget director Leon Panetta, chief of staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and Vice President Al Gore, and basically told them, "Boys, y'all work this budget out."

Asked specifically by a reporter about concessions on his energy tax, Mr. Clinton said that while he wants an "energy component" that encourages energy conservation and clean fuel, "I'm promoting the principles. These guys are going to work it out. I want the results: Jobs, income, growth."

After the meeting, Mr. Mitchell told reporters that he and his Senate colleagues would be able to "work within the broad principles the president has laid out" to put together a package that will pass the Senate and ultimately be approved by Congress.

Mr. Clinton and the Senate leaders have already agreed to reduce the $246 billion tax package approved by the House and to increase the $250 billion in spending cuts. Mr. Mitchell said yesterday that Mr. Clinton's proposed BTU tax on the heat content of fuel would be "modified somewhat" but that some form of a broad-based energy tax would survive.

Some senators have suggested a gasoline tax increase instead, but Mr. Moynihan said the White House is reluctant to do that because Mr. Clinton spoke out against the gasoline tax during his presidential campaign.

New communications chief

Earlier in the day, the White House introduced its new choice for communications director, Mark Gearan, a cautious, soft-spoken Democratic Party activist who was the campaign manager for Mr. Gore during the Tennessean's 1988 run for president.

Mr. Gearan, 36, is a bespectacled, friendly man known for his unabashed devotion to his 14-month-old daughter Madeleine and his quirky practice of videotaping every celebrity or near-celebrity who passes through his office as a testimonial to give her when she grows up.

True to form, Mr. Gearan's wife brought the little girl to the White House briefing room yesterday, to the oohs and aahs of the normally crabby press corps. Accused good-naturedly by one scribe of playing unfairly, Mr. Gearan, blushed a little bit before quipping, "I'll take any prop I can get."

Mr. Gearan, who had been deputy White House chief of staff, replaces 32-year-old George Stephanopoulos, whose aloof manner and desire to exert total control over the dissemination of information alienated the White House press corps.

While refraining from criticizing Mr. Stephanopoulos, who continues to be close to the president personally, Mr. Gergen conceded, "For whatever reasons, the relationship between the White House and the press was not all that it should be. I think we can do better."

Opening the upper press office, traditionally accessible to White House beat reporters, but closed off by Mr. Stephanopoulos, was a gesture of good will on Mr. Gergen's part.

White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, whose fate had been uncertain, was given a vote of confidence by Mr. Gergen, who said she would conduct most daily White House briefings and be given increased access to the president so that what she said from the podium was credible.

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