An era of accommodation? Washington's mood: Clinton's State of the Union address, Lott's offer to talk.

February 04, 1997

PRESIDENT CLINTON's State of the Union address tonight, and the reception it is likely to receive from Republicans, may usher in an era of political accommodation unlike anything Washington has seen since Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn made it their business to get along in the 1950s. If this is so, if the harsh partisanship of the Clinton first term is behind us, chalk it up to the collective wisdom of the American people.

Even before voters went to the polls last November to elect a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, they had made it clear that their preference for divided government did not mean they were in favor of deadlock, shutdown and ideological shouting matches. Opinion polls indicated strong support for a balanced budget and a restricted but still meaningful federal role. The result: a burst of legislation last summer, including landmark welfare reform, that did little for Bob Dole or congressional Democrats but a lot for Bill Clinton and Republicans on the Hill.

There are still battlers in both parties who would like to prolong the warfare associated with Newt Gingrich's "revolution." But the incredibly shrunken speaker has been replaced on the GOP side by the likes of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who has invited the president up for a chat, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Archer, who dropped in at the White House in December.

These three men -- Clinton, Lott and Archer -- may not yet be mirror images of the Eisenhower-Johnson-Rayburn threesome, but it will not be for lack of trying. The Democratic president has gone so far as to acknowledge he has a philosophical affinity for cuts in the capital gains tax. Talk about apostasy! And Senator Lott has not signified any disapproval of House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich's call for a clampdown on "corporate welfare."

Which brings us to the $98 billion tax cut plan Mr. Clinton is to propose tonight. Even with $80 billion worth of revenue enhancers, the Democrat in the White House still comes out with a $20 billion net reduction in taxes that keeps him fairly on track to a balanced budget.

The Republicans are expected to counter with a tax-cut plan double the size of the opening Clinton gambit, which itself contains some exceedingly questionable proposals. If this is the beginning of a tax-cut frenzy that would make a mockery of balanced budget pretensions, all the feel-good talk since election day will signify nothing and the disconnect between deficit cutting and tax cutting will be apparent.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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