Tricky Economic Shoals Face Clinton Ship of State

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BILL CLINTON'S broad sweep of ballot boxes across the country demonstrated the success of an aggressive presidential campaign touted as "a mandate for change."

Governor Clinton won in more than 30 states and claimed more than 350 electoral votes - blasting past the 270 electoral votes needed to win. He took Western and Southern states that were once considered untouchable Republican territory and won in Northeastern states that have not voted Democratic for decades. The Arkansas governor called his year-long fight for the presidency "a good long ride."

But Clinton's road ahead may be bumpy, with his toughest challenges awaiting him. He must satisfy American voters' rising expectations and lead the drive for a better economic future.

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It is not clear what kind of mandate Clinton has.

As the polls have shown and many pundits have noted, the election results do not represent so much an affirmation of Clinton as they do a repudiation of President Bush.

The Nov. 3 election reflected the decision to vote "Bush and his ability to rev up the economy out of office," says Thomas Cronin, a presidential scholar at Colorado College. Voters are awarding Clinton "a mandate with a small for trying to experiment with change," Mr. Cronin says. Tax burdens may grow

As president, Clinton is bound to disappoint some of those to whom he has promised tax cuts or spending increases. Americans know that taxes will go up, and not just on the rich, Cronin warns. The federal government, $4 trillion in debt and running a $300 billion annual budget deficit, cannot draw in more revenue through income and excise taxes and simultaneously avoid imposing additional burdens on the middle class and the working poor, he says.

But Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution expert on politics and the presidency, says Clinton's mandate is based, not only on a solid electoral victory, but on a set of conditions that ensure that when he does step into Washington, it will be on solid footing.

Clinton will work with a Democratic-dominated Congress. The more than 100 new lawmakers elected Tuesday will be free, if only temporarily, from the heavy load of vested interests and will prove "more responsive to presidential initiatives," Mr. Hess says.

Disagreeing with Cronin on just how developed Clinton's plans look, Hess says that Clinton's pragmatic statements on the campaign trail have "looked more like legislation" than rhetoric. The White House will be in a position to offer programs and push them through the legislature, Hess says.

And, because Democrats have not controlled the executive branch for 12 years, Clinton will draw on a host of "people who may not have served with the executive branch but have been in and around Congress." Their experience on Capitol Hill, Hess says, will be valuable in helping to familiarize the Clinton team with the "culture of Congress."

Senator George Mitchell (D) of Maine, the Senate Majority leader, has confidently said that Clinton and the Congress will find a lot of common ground on important issues. The Democratic Policy Committee puts economic growth, job creation, and health care among its top policy goals for the 103rd Congress. Clinton economic advisers say this is a mirror image of what Clinton is likely to propose during the first 100 days of his term.

Given the public's low tolerance for "Washington gridlock", the Democrats will feel pressured to boast half a dozen achievements over the next four years "or they will be in serious trouble," Cronin says. Conflicts with business

A Monitor survey of leading business leaders and economists suggests that Clinton may struggle the most with the private sector. Business chafes at the prospect of "big government" that asks the private sector to pay for Clinton's long list of initiatives.

Among the more contentious issues ahead: federal mandates for worker training, provisions for health care funding, increased environmental regulations, and other measures that eat into the private sector's bottom line.

As he assumes responsibility for regenerating the US economy, Clinton will have to sort though his wide selection of advisers and economists whose views on government spending and deficit control differ dramatically. He will have to wrestle with the nation's systemic problems in education, technology, and finance and avoid the lure of quick fixes such as a middle-class tax cut, observers say. Ironically, what hurt President Bush most - the poor state of the economy - threatens to thwart Clinton's success

unless he quickly develops a plan to ensure long-term growth.

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