Search for common ground Post-election conciliation: Remarkable agreement exists on top national priorities.

November 08, 1996

DESPITE THE ACRIMONY of the election campaign, Democrats and Republicans are remarkably close in their assessments of what should be top priorities on the national agenda. Both parties are pledged to work for a balanced budget by 2002 and their leaders realize full well that this goal can be reached only through tight restrictions on the cost escalation of Medicare.

But this is where rubbed-raw politics moves in. Republicans are angry over the "demagoguery" of Democrats who accused the GOP of trying to "cut" and even "destroy" the program when, in fact, the only argument was to what extent the growth in Medicare spending should be limited.

Because Democrats staked out this position, Senate majority leader Trent Lott is calling the president's hand. "We're not going to rush out . . . and start trying to pass 'X' number of bills in the first 100 days," he said. "Let's see what he [Clinton] has to say and what he proposes."

Yet tough as this may sound, the president has a way out. He can propose a bipartisan commission, as suggested by defeated GOP candidate Robert Dole, that could draw up a rescue plan for Medicare much as a 1983 panel on which the former senator served provided a short-term fix for Social Security.

It should also be noted that Senator Lott's approach directly contradicts the efforts by House Speaker Newt Gingrich two years ago to seize the legislative initiative from Mr. Clinton.

One result of Tuesday's election was to give Senator Lott a bigger majority and Speaker Gingrich a smaller majority in their respective chambers. This was symbolic of the larger clout now enjoyed by Mr. Lott, a Mississippi conservative who was chiefly responsible for deals with the White House that led to a spate of popular legislation in the closing weeks of the 104th Congress. Mr. Lott emphasizes that the country wants both parties to work together.

Mr. Gingrich, now a chastened revolutionary, is calling for conciliation rather than confrontation. "I think you'll see us try to reach out and find common ground with President Clinton," he said. An indication of Mr. Gingrich's sincerity will be found in whether he calls off the various House probes into Mr. Clinton's conduct. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato has said he will not renew his investigation of Whitewater.

With Mr. Clinton proclaiming that the election results strengthen "the vital center," perhaps a "common ground" era is at hand. That is what the voters want. And it is what the country needs if future generations are not to be overburdened by this generation's debts.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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