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Economic advice for President Clinton.

If Bill Clinton goes full speed ahead with the economic plan he proposed during the campaign, there's a good chance he'll be another one-term president.

But if he is smarter than the average liberal, Clinton may realize that once he steps through those Oval Office doors, a new game begins. He surely senses that many who helped vote him into office were attracted by his intention to "grow" the economy. So why feel boxed in? If he discreetly ignores some of his campaign promises, some of his liberal friends and benefactors will cry foul--but so what?

Bill Clinton's deal with the American people is to get the economy moving again. His all-consuming passion should be to ensure he doesn't welsh on that deal. If he kowtows to tax-and-spend liberals, he will fail. If he relies on private enterprise--rather than big government or political schemes involving Washington-industry "partnerships"--he could succeed.

I suggest Clinton combine liberal rhetoric with growth-oriented policies that will make the private sector the engine of a new expansion. Clinton knows how to do this. After all, he got elected by sounding both liberal and conservative at the same time. His challenge, then, is to package conservative economic ideas in terms liberals can swallow.

For example, Clinton doesn't have to invoke Ronald Reagan's name if he wants to use tax incentives to "grow" the economy. It was John F. Kennedy who, 30 years ago, dramatically lowered marginal tax rates, igniting a gigantic surge in economic growth. Clinton could call his proposal the Kennedy Tax Reform Act II. As part of the measure, he could propose tax cuts to help American families and additional reforms to create jobs. If he is serious about economic growth, he will take his predecessor's advice and lower the capital gains tax.

If Clinton can keep the special interests at bay, he also may be able to lead a desperately needed assault on wasteful spending, the counterpoint to tax cuts. Coming from a president whose party also controls both houses of Congress, an appeal to tame big government might not send the Democratic troops to the barriers as it would in normal times. Many of the new faces in Congress ran against business as usual. And every politician, no doubt, understands what motivated the Perot voters. It was certainly not his blow-dried good looks.

Still, such an assault would require a sophisticated rhetorical touch. Maybe Clinton can put it this way: "The Republicans wanted to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and elderly. I, on the other hand, can do it with compassion--without tax increases and without laying a hand on major entitlement programs." While most conservatives will disagree with the tone of this argument, tactically it could pave the way for Clinton to make the proper economic moves.

At this point, Clinton may not know that it's possible to balance the budget without hurting the poor. He and most Americans probably don't realize the deficit could have been eliminated long ago had Congress merely enacted the recommendations of its own budget analysts in the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office. Literally hundreds of programs in the federal budget--such as the National Helium Reserves, the Plant Stress Laboratory in Texas, or the National Pig Research Facility in Iowa--are wasteful, unnecessary, outmoded, or simply not federal responsibilities.

The Heritage Foundation combined its proposals with those of the CBO and the GAO and compiled a list of more than 120 ways to cut federal spending by a total of nearly $800 billion over five years--sufficient to balance the budget by 1998. We've even allowed for overall domestic spending increases of five percent per year in areas the new administration deems most important.

With a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto, the new president could make certain Congress abides by his fiscal responsibility plan.

Once again the rhetoric could go something like this: "George Bush called for a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto so he could sound fiscally responsible while crossing out the programs of compassion. But my agenda for fiscal responsibility will truly balance the budget and put America back on a sound economic footing without hurting the poor and elderly."

Sound farfetched? It's not. During the campaign Clinton sounded downright conservative when he attacked Bush for allowing federal regulation to rise twice as fast as it did under Ronald Reagan in only half the time. Did this conservative attack by Clinton endanger his political survival? Of course not. Where did Clinton get his information? He quoted The Heritage Foundation time after time.

If the new president can identify over-regulation as one of the biggest "hidden taxes" slowing economic growth, is it inconceivable that he might also recognize that the private sector--through market mechanisms--can achieve many of the social and environmental goals espoused in regulations?

Clinton may think it politically impossible to implement one of the best ideas for curbing federal spending: Bush's proposal to allow taxpayers to check off 10 percent of their taxes toward retiring the national debt. Yet, more than any other idea for America's economic renewal, this one reflects the reality Clinton must face as president: Washington will not reform itself and will require pressure from the outside--preferably from taxpayers.

Clinton's willingness to consider this brainchild of congressional conservatives would assure us that he understands his own predicament. If Bill Clinton fails to revive the economy, he will not be re-elected. And if he cannot put politics aside and listen to conservatives, he won't revive the economy.

Despite obvious political setbacks, free-market conservatives continue to hold the upper hand in the long-term war of ideas. Strange as it may seem, Clinton's success is one of the strongest evidences yet of this trend. There can be no more subtly pervasive victory than one in which your political enemies are forced to dress themselves in your rhetoric and ideas in order to win elections. And this is precisely what Democrats and many liberal Republicans have been forced to do ever since conservatives exposed big government for the inefficient, economy-bungling monster it is.

The Soviet Union--the epitome of big government--was the first enemy vanquished by this conservative victory. American conservatives kept liberals from appeasing the "evil empire" because we knew the command economy could not survive for long, forced to compete on equal terms with free markets. Is expecting a liberal president to listen to conservative common sense any more implausible than ex-Communists now looking to free-market conservatives for advice on raising their economy from the dead?

Bill Clinton inherits an ailing economy; a federal budget bloated with wasteful pork and running a $290 billion deficit expected to surpass $300 billion next year; a $4 trillion national debt rising at 8 percent a year; a private sector crippled by federal mandates; an anti-poverty bureaucracy that has spent $3.5 trillion during the past 25 years without improving anything; and a Congress that balks at change.

If the new president thinks these problems will respond to still more of the liberal medicine that created them, he could become America's Mikhail Gorbachev. He could put his faith in America's "evil empire"--big government--to revitalize the economy, oblivious to the fact that big government lives by draining the prosperity of American taxpayers and businesses. Or, he could hasten the shrinking of big government in America--the second deadly enemy to be routed by conservative ideas.

Clinton will either be vanquished along with big government, or he will lead the charge against it and come out on top.

The choice is his.

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy research Institution. He also serves on the boards of several other foundations and research institutes. Dr. Feulner is the author of "Conservatives Stalk the House."
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Author:Feulner, Edwin J.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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