Clinton and top aides set goals for second term Balanced budget, peace with GOP Congress are top domestic issues

January 12, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- At a one-day retreat, President Clinton and his top aides outlined an ambitious series of goals in international affairs but a second term of scaled-down expectations in domestic policy.

Foremost among the domestic concerns, according to officials who briefed reporters afterward yesterday, were balancing the budget and working cooperatively with the Republicans who control Congress.

"He put a special stress on bipartisanship," said White House press secretary Mike McCurry. "In fact, that emerged as a point of discussion throughout the day in each of the areas discussed -- how important it was to reach out to especially the Republican leadership of Congress, and work closely with them."

Clinton has stressed this theme since the night of his re-election victory, but if put into practice, it would represent a sea change in this city.

A year ago, Clinton clashed bitterly with Congress over spending priorities in a strategy that worked well for him politically. When the resulting budget stalemates and government shutdowns were over, the president had assumed a commanding lead in the polls, one he never relinquished.

The theme of yesterday's 7 1/2 -hour session at Blair House, however, was that the president doesn't need Republicans as a foil anymore. Instead, he needs them as allies who will help him build a second-term legacy as he guides the nation to the end of the 20th century.

Leaving Blair House, just nine days before his second inauguration, Clinton pumped his fist skyward and called to reporters, "We're ready to go on the 21st!"

Top Cabinet officials suggested that a good relationship with Congress isn't as difficult as it sounds and that it essentially entails being willing to compromise with Republicans on tax and spending cuts while delivering a budget that is in balance by the year 2002.

According to Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, Clinton told his aides that balancing the budget was "critical to the administration's credibility" on all other issues.

A significant number appear to center on foreign affairs.

In the morning session, the foreign policy team outlined for Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and the others the objectives and opportunities in international affairs for the administration.

They include bringing Eastern European nations into NATO; cementing its role as the world's peace broker in places such as Bosnia, the Middle East, Cyprus and Northern Ireland; leading the fight against global terrorism, drug trafficking and the machinations of "rogue" nations; increasing global free trade opportunities; and maintaining the supremacy of the United States' military force.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the president that the gap between the United States and the rest of the world in terms of military might is greater than at any time in his lifetime.

"Clearly, we must maintain that advantage," National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said afterward. But doing so requires money -- money appropriated by a friendly Congress.

Likewise, Madeleine K. Albright, Clinton's choice as secretary of state, emphasized during her presentation that diplomacy takes money, too.

Dreams of enacting sweeping new initiatives in domestic policy, Clinton's first love, have given way to the grim realities of a shrinking discretionary federal budget and an ascendant Republican Congress skeptical of grand Washington-based solutions.

No mention was made at the briefing of health care reform, the failed initiative of the first Clinton term -- or even of a specific policy role for the first lady, who oversaw the health reform effort and attended yesterday's session.

Education remains a priority for the president, though, and much talk concerned how to go about completing implementation of Goals 2000, the plan to create national education standards and to enact presidential proposals such as giving tax deductions of up to $10,000 for college tuition.

Yesterday's session was originally planned as two days at Camp David with a touchy-feely overlay. Instead, it ended up as a no-nonsense working session that very much had the stamp of new Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles, a former North Carolina business executive famed for his organizational skills.

"It was without question a real working session," Bowles said afterward.

That doesn't mean it didn't have its human touches.

Bowles himself began the afternoon session with a warm tribute to his predecessor, Leon E. Panetta. When the 80 people present responded with an affectionate standing ovation, the embarrassed Panetta made everyone laugh by yelling out to Bowles, "You still have to take the job."

Clinton and Gore both spoke at lunch, thanking their top aides for past service and welcoming the newcomers to what the president said he hoped they would remember as being "the greatest jobs of your lives."

Clinton also spoke affectionately of his departing labor secretary, Robert B. Reich, a friend of 30 years. The president said one of the documents that made him proudest during the past four years was the newspaper article Reich wrote explaining that he was leaving to spend more time with his two teen-age sons.

The president also stressed his desire for teamwork within his administration, singling out for praise his drug czar, retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. In recent months, he has been getting high marks for his work on drug control policy, an issue on which the administration has previously floundered.

Pub Date: 1/12/97

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