Love-in on Capitol Hill Clinton-GOP embrace: Identify areas of agreement; may secretly want CPI silver bullet.


JUST THREE DAYS before Valentine's Day, Republican leaders staged a love-in for President Clinton on Capitol Hill yesterday. They ignored nasty areas of disagreement, such as campaign reform and the harsh treatment of legal immigrants, to focus on five goals for which there supposedly is general accord: welfare-to-work proposals, federal aid to education, juvenile justice, help for the District of Columbia and tax reduction -- all in the context of a balanced budget.

"We're trying to find a way to take the minimum number of pot shots at each other and get on with our work," remarked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Reminded that only last Friday he had said he was "greatly depressed" by the president's budget, he said "No, no, we've moved beyond that."

Is partisan rancor really going to disappear into a pleasant mist of bipartisan accommodation? Probably the best answer is to be found in Mr. Clinton's record-high approval ratings and a Republican realization that they kicked away a chance at the White House with overly aggressive tactics during the Gingrich revolution. The result is a GOP willingness to consider a Clinton budget proposal it would have dismissed out of hand in each of the last two years.

On welfare, both parties seem to realize that last year's drastic reforms will require quick remedial action. While Republicans are unwilling to reopen the legislation, as the president desires, they are eager to give tax breaks to employers willing to provide jobs for persons coming off the welfare roles. Speaker Newt Gingrich said the president was "very, very helpful" in seeking to reach out to small businesses. And on education, Senator Lott praised the president for using his "bully pulpit" on behalf of quality education and safe, drug-free schools.

Such accolades cannot mask the potential either for tough conflict over taxes or, more dangerously, of a tax cut frenzy by both parties.

Our guess is that both parties are seeking bipartisan cover for an agreement to change federal calculations of the Consumer Price Index in ways that will lower yearly Social Security and Medicare cost of living adjustments (COLAs) and boost income tax revenues.

This could be the silver bullet worth an estimated $141 billion over five years that would allow Democrats to spend more liberally and Republicans to cut taxes more heavily. It could turn out to be a welcome Valentine.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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