Robert Reich came by to break bread...

SECRETARY OF LABOR

January 13, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SECRETARY OF LABOR Robert Reich came by to break bread with the editorial board this week. He almost made it through lunch without one of those gentle, smart aleck cheap shots that some editorial writers do so well.

The last question of the session was, "Care to predict the next employment figures?"

Last week, well-informed readers all recall, the secretary was asked that question on the eve of the release of the December employment figures. He replied with an answer that was below what many economists and traders were predicting -- and his answer proved pretty much on target.

This infuriated investors and others. The Labor Department's figures are never supposed to be leaked or revealed prematurely in any way. Mr. Reich was criticized not only by Wall Streeters, but even by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who never (well, hardly ever) criticizes such fellow liberal Democrats as Reich.

At the luncheon here, the secretary laughed at the question and offered an interesting excuse. "I did not know what the figure would be. The conference was in Paris. I answered the question by saying that I 'expect' the figure to be in a certain range. The interpreter translated 'expect' as 'will be,' and that is the answer that first was reported back to the United States."

* * *

Former Sen. Warren Rudman paid us a visit the same day. We didn't feed him. He and his Concord Coalition are on an austerity kick. The former New Hamsphire senator is an engaging, usually low-key New Englander, who is even more relaxed now that he is in the private sector, leading the fight, with former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, to get the federal budget deficit under control.

Republican Rudman and Democrat Tsongas work better in tandem than solo, he said, which explained why they made 50 joint appearances last year. But he's pretty good as a single act, too.

There is going to be a big push in the Senate this year to pass that old chestnut of an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget. Though he once voted for it, Rudman's not really for it. "The Sun has always opposed it," he was told.

"You're fundamentally right!" he exclaimed.

"We also opposed Gramm-Rudman," he was told.

"You're fundamentally wrong!" he exclaimed.

Gramm-Rudman (a/k/a Gramm-Rudman-Hollings) was a statutory attempt to require Congress to more or less balance the budget. Never tried in its pure form, it never worked in its compromised form.

"But," says Rudman, "it has reduced spending by $1.35 billion. I was paid an average of $70,000 a year in my 12 years in the Senate. So taxpayers got quite a bargain."

Hmmm. Maybe senators ought to be paid on commission. (Come to think of it, they are, only it's the special interests that pay.) (Nothing gentle about my cheap shots.)

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