WASHINGTON — IF President Clinton wins his budget reconciliation battle this week, says senior Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos, "we will have capped off a deceptively strong start" to the Clinton presidency.
With the lowest public-approval ratings for a new president in the history of polling, Mr. Clinton's successes have been deceptive indeed.
As Mr. Stephanopoulos spoke at a Monitor breakfast Aug. 3, the Senate was passing the national service bill that was one of Clinton's top four priorities - and confirming the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court.
Even Republican criticism of Clinton's budget as the biggest tax increase "in the history of the world," as Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said Aug. 2, acknowledges the scale of the imprint Clinton is making - for better or worse.
"Not to say that we didn't make mistakes along the way," Stephanopoulos adds.
"We didn't always handle it as gracefully as we might have," he says.
The White House was surprised at the sophistication of the communications effort it ran up against on the budget, but the more people learn about the plan, the more they support it, he says.
"People are pretty tired of Washington not working," he says.
* On the suggestion from Ross Perot and some lawmakers to hold a budget summit: Summits take too long and have a poor record. "We have other work to do," he says. The government needs to get the budget done so it can move on to health care, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and other business.
* On Mr. Perot: "The more people see of Ross Perot, the less convinced they are of his grasp of what we're facing and what it takes to solve it." Under questioning on "Meet the Press" Aug. 1 about his budget figures, notes Stephanopoulos, Perot "just quit."
* On Clinton's backing down under political pressure: "The president is getting what he wants," he says, adding: "Part of the risk of trying to do big things and trying to achieve large change is that you often have to accept what appears to be more compromise because you set out such a big goal."
* On moving out of the White House spokesman role to become a full-time strategy adviser: "I've been sweating a lot less."