The dinghy of state

Russell Baker

August 04, 1993|By Russell Baker

COMPOSED after deep immersion in news accounts of the clownish budget dispute in Washington:

Chairman Rostenkowski is from Chicago, which may explain why he may be indicted before it's all over, although of course he may not be. If he is it would be catastrophic for President Clinton's health-care program, or maybe it wouldn't, depending on what happened next.

In any event, President Clinton doesn't actually have a health-care program yet and may never have one. That's because Sen. David Boren is sworn to veto anything the president proposes, though both he and the president are Democrats, as is Vice President Albert Gore, who cast the tie-breaking vote that overturned Senator Boren's last veto.

And what about Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate Something-or-Other Committee? As Bismarck said of Talleyrand, so we too may say when pondering the Moynihan question, "What indeed about this great statesman?"

Meanwhile the Republicans are pledged to vote unanimously against absolutely everything. Though not necessarily everything down to the crossing of the last "t" and the dotting of the final "i."

After all, when Sen. Robert Dole, the brilliant Republican Friend of the Taxpayer, was asked if the Republicans would even vote unanimously against Boren, did Senator Dole not reply, "I refer you to what the Oracle of Delphi told Mithridates"?

Mr. Dole's tendency to give these oblique replies to blunt questions irritates young Clinton staffers whose musical tastes run to groups like Fleetwood Mac. They assume the senator is taunting them about their youth when he refers to old-timers like Mithridates and Oracle.

The real question, however, was the BTU tax. Real or not, alas, the question was vetoed by Mr. Boren, who threatened to veto the tax as well, no matter what the House of Representatives did.

The Black Caucus met. Ross Perot charged. At week's end xTC another week had ended. Indecision ran rampant but also sat leadenly on both sides of the Capitol. The president stumped.

Several more gigantic corporations "downsized," adding tens of thousands of loyal company men as well as loyal company women to the rolls of the loyal unemployed and once again making a mockery of Mr. Clinton's campaign pledge to "grow the economy" and create more jobs.

Henry Salomon of Kaufman & Brothers saw little to cheer in the GDP, but Henry Brothers of Salomon and Kaufman was immensely cheered by the latest figures, while Salomon Kaufman of Henry, Brothers & Co. said he hadn't taken the GDP seriously since people quit calling it the GNP

It was unclear why the old-fashioned GNP had been renamed the GDP or what the renaming might mean for housing starts. With hundreds of thousands becoming unemployed every week because of the "downsizings," it was not clear either where the tycoons in charge of the "downsizing" expected to find well-paid employees to buy the products pouring out of their "downsized" plants.

Behind this nagging uncertainty was the heroic struggle of Sen. Breaux Bummel, the Gasoline Purchaser's Friend, to hold any new gas tax to a maximum of 4.3 cents per car.

The entire Senate, Republicans excepted of course, closed ranks behind Senator Bummel's gas-tax cap, with several members pointing to a study of restaurant prices showing Americans are now paying $19 a plate for pasta as evidence that it would be cruel to make them pay any tax at all on gasoline.

Meanwhile, President Clinton stumped again, which was one stumping too many for Rush Limbaugh. On his radio call-in show, Mr. Limbaugh suggested the president might be using a Japanese stump and urged the economically hard-hit American stump industry to investigate.

Senator Boren has taken the first step toward vetoing the president's stump. This has put the Republicans in a quandary. Since they are pledged to vote unanimously against absolutely everything, they would have to vote against Mr. Boren's stump veto, which of course would amount to a vote for the president's stump.

Such are the agonizing dilemmas that engage our statesmen. Pathetic, is it not?

Russell Baker writes for the New York Times.

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