Clinton's balm, muscle acclaimed, even by GOP


WASHINGTON -- After winning election on the promise of economic change, President Clinton is pushing his ideas through Congress with a combination of goodwill, smooth salesmanship

and strong-arm tactics that has left even his detractors shaking their heads in grudging admiration.

Despite solid Republican opposition and grumbling among conservative Democrats, Mr. Clinton won House passage last night of his blueprint for cutting the deficit and his reviving the economy.

Lawmakers said Mr. Clinton steamrollered his opponents by winning over the American public, personally lobbying members Congress and relying on the power of House leaders to control their troops.

"He's done a great selling job. The pieces fell together into a political masterpiece," said Rep. Pete Geren, D-Texas, who said he was inclined to vote against Mr. Clinton's budget package despite pressure from Democratic leaders. "

House Republican Leader Bob Michel was less complimentary, but even he acknowledged Mr. Clinton's masterful use of the powers of his office. The House debate on Mr. Clinton's complex proposal came just a month after the new president unveiled his plan for higher taxes and spending cuts.

"There's no question it has been well-packaged and sold to the public in a slick, expensive telemarketing campaign," said Mr. Michel, of Illinois. "The Democratic Party's hard sell has convinced a majority of Americans that President Clinton's plan has merit."

The sales job started in earnest on Feb. 17, when Mr. Clinton outlined his proposal in a nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress. The president began building grass-roots support for the package the next day by taking to the road with members of his Cabinet.

Lawmakers said Mr. Clinton's success in rallying voters helped stifle congressional dissent because House members did not want to take the blame for derailing the president's package.

"I think they've gone home and found that the public likes what they've heard Clinton say," said Rep. John Bryant, D-Texas. "Everyone is tired of gridlock."

While courting the general public, Mr. Clinton and other White House officials also launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed at lawmakers.

Some wavering Democrats, including Mr. Geren, were offered a chance to talk with the president personally about their concerns.

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