THE Clinton administration policy team taking shape this week should allay the concerns of anyone who thought the new president might steer the world's largest economy along radical or unorthodox lines. The individuals likely to exert the most influence are mainstream Washington figures thoroughly versed in the mechanics of policymaking.
In making these appointments, Bill Clinton has again shown himself to be a political and economic pragmatist who is determined, above all, to get things done. That was clear from his reported choice of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as secretary of the treasury. Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Bentsen is a master of the intricacies of tax policy and a shrewd dealmaker.
The senator is also a pro-business Democrat who has carefully tended to the oil and real-estate interests of his home state, Texas. He is not likely to be a fountainhead of new ideas.
Bentsen's appointment may disappoint Clinton backers who were hoping the president-elect would reach beyond Washington's inner ranks for his top advisers. But it reassures businessmen, bankers, and others who appreciate the Texan's fiscal moderation.
The same sentiments may greet the naming of Rep. Leon Panetta as head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the administration's second most influential economic post. Mr. Panetta, too, has chaired a key economic panel, the House Budget Committee. He, like Bentsen, is an expert on taxes, but, unlike the senator, he has also been a vocal backer of deficit reduction. That makes him popular with the United States financial community, which worries about Democratic "big spending." Panetta's focus on the deficit will be comforting to overseas finance ministers too.
While the top economic appointments set a tone of moderation and pragmatism, they don't imply a stodgy approach to policymaking. The Clinton economic agenda remains ambitious, with long-term economic competitiveness and such massive undertakings as health-care reform front and center.
And speaking of long-range projects, none are more important than addressing the needs of that portion of Americans who are stuck in economic despair, mainly in the country's urban centers.
Lasting economic health won't be attained until their problems are effectively addressed. Cabinet posts such as Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor are just as crucial to US economic revitalization as the jobs at Treasury or the OMB.