The Season of Compromise
Expect less conflict in Congress as Dole, Clinton enter election mode
IT'S an unprecedented clash of political titans: The incumbent president and the Senate majority leader will battle each other for the keys to the Oval Office.Skip to next paragraph
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But election day is still months away. In the meantime, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole have lots of unfinished Washington business to attend to. Thus the US legislative process now looks set to become a primary battleground. Every amendment, every vote could reflect electoral positioning.
That doesn't necessarily mean more gridlock. It could, in fact, mean the opposite.
Ironically, a Clinton-Dole matchup may shift the emphasis on Capitol Hill from conflict to compromise. Consider the indicators: Both candidates have a penchant for consensus. Both parties, as institutions, are vulnerable to charges that they haven't kept their promises - the GOP Congress has passed little into law, while President Clinton has floundered on such favorite issues as welfare reform. If Senator Dole is prove his claim that he is "a doer, not a talker," and Clinton is to counter criticism that he is "a talker, not a doer," both need to turn bills into laws. For that, they need each other.
"What we've seen is what we'll get," says Charles Jones, a presidential scholar at the University of Wisconsin. "Dole will work hard to produce legislation he believes fits the Republican pitch. Bill Clinton will sense where he agrees, then clearly outline where he differs. But if either side games too much - if Dole produces legislation that Clinton vetoes - it will be dangerous for both."
Not that politics will be the sole factor pushing legislation into law between now and November.
Timing will be an issue, as well. After months of hard work, some legislative efforts - such as the farm bill - are coincidentally now coming close to fruition.
And substance will surely play a part in Washington's upcoming work. Though it's easy to see everything that happens in Washington as an adjunct to a large political game, much legislation - consider the farm bill, again - reflects a real belief on the part of its proponents that its changes will be good for the nation.
Still, the political dynamic will be interesting. The men who will be political foes are also men who already hold arguably the two most powerful jobs in Washington - and who will face each other across negotiating tables numerous times in upcoming weeks.
Dole already has begun calling Clinton "Veto Bill," the only obstacle to a balanced budget, welfare reform, and tax breaks for families. But as Clinton showed during the budget negotiations, he was able to co-opt the Republican goal of balancing the budget in seven years while turning the public against the GOP on issues such as Medicare, education, and the environment.
The president may follow the same strategy again on education. He traveled yesterday to New York, where the nation's governors were meeting to discuss ways to draw the private sector into education. At the last such summit, six years ago, Governor Clinton was a primary author of a plan to enact national standards called Goals 2000. President Bush championed the program, but it has since fallen out of favor with Republicans, who now control a majority of statehouses across the country.