For Clinton, a Change is Gonna Come

CARL T. ROWAN

August 04, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington.--By perhaps a single vote in the Senate, President Clinton may get his deficit-reduction budget approved by the Congress this week. If he does, he will deserve credit as a surprisingly gifted leader.

In his efforts to rescue this nation from a flood of red ink that is every bit as devastating as the violent Mississippi and Missouri rivers, this president has had to battle and manipulate forces every bit as vexing as Mother Nature has been in our Midwest.

In his own Democratic Party, Mr. Clinton has been at odds with House liberals and Senate conservatives. He has been clawed at, undermined, by senators such as John Breaux of Louisiana and David Boren of Oklahoma, two great protectors of the oil industry. He has been challenged by the ever-expanding egos of Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia -- and, again, Mr. Boren.

This Oklahoman was an undistinguished, journeyman senator for years until he became the great defector of the 1993 budget wars. Now Mr. Boren is courted by the Sunday network talk shows on which he can posture as the anti-tax savior of the American middle class. He makes headlines by declaring that he will vote against the most ambitious federal budget-cutting effort since the U.S. economic ''voodoo'' made us a debtor nation. For Mr. Boren, this is ego-fattening, winning politics in Oklahoma.

But the president is up against a larger and more nation-threatening game of politics. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas is once again drunk with dreams that, if he can destroy the Clinton presidency, the American people will elect him as their leader. So with his usual self-defeating sarcasm and ruthlessness, Mr. Dole has tried to block every Clinton initiative designed to bring America back to economic good health.

The incredible thing is that he has lulled and cowed all Republican senators into a posture of slavish opposition to the Clinton deficit-reduction plan. The so-called moderate Republicans, such as Messrs. Hatfield of Oregon, Cohen of Maine, Durenberger of Minnesota, Chafee of Rhode Island, Jeffords of Vermont, are expected to melt into one monolithic, obstructionist Republican vote against the deficit-reduction bill this week.

The ''moderates'' will say that they are valiant soldiers manning the ramparts against an enemy called ''tax and spend.'' They even oppose immediate federal financial help for desperate Midwestern flood victims if emergency grants ''increase the deficit.''

They seem to think that the American people will not soon recognize crocodile tears about the deficit from the very people who acquiesced in policies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush that quadrupled the national debt and produced the deficit crisis.

The votes in Congress this week will have less to do with deficit reduction than with political philosophy. The Republican Party was happy to tax and spend throughout the 1980s when the gravy was going to the huge military-industrial corporations, the giant insurance companies, the savings and loan crooks, the cronies who ripped off the HUD programs. Dole & Co. loved seeing America's rich get richer as its poor got poorer.

Now change cometh. The budget to be voted on this week is tilted away from military spending. It takes more taxes from the rich and gives an economic break to the working poor. It would siphon advantages away from giant corporations while giving breaks and incentives to the small businesses that must become the keys to job production. That's why old guard Republicans oppose it so emotionally.

That's also why I am so surprised, appalled even, that Messrs. Hatfield, Cohen and the other ''enlightened'' Republicans are caressing Mr. Dole's political pineapple. All moderate Republicans in the House and Senate can't possibly believe, in conscience, that the budget before them is worse than the disasters we've endured for 12 years.

Perhaps a Republican or two will discover a different conscience and vote for a stride toward economic fairness. Or, perhaps this budget will be approved without a single supporting GOP vote. Whatever the tally, if this compromise budget is enacted, we will know that President Clinton and his White House aides and his allies on Capitol Hill have surmounted some awesome obstacles.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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