No small agenda for the next White House

Let us look beyond the election campaign to the problems that will face the next president. The overriding challenge will be to demonstrate sufficient political skills. As they say in Washington, "If Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would have sunk."

The array of issues facing the new president will be staggering. Domestically, the most obvious challenge will be to maintain prosperity. The Federal Reserve is the key economic actor. Who will replace Alan Greenspan as chairman when he retires? His successor should be dedicated to maintaining the independence of the Federal Reserve. It is a great temptation for presidents to lean on the Fed, but that is the road to inflation and economic instability.

Another economic challenge will be dealing with those budget surpluses. How much to cut taxes and for whom? Should tax cuts be combined with basic tax reform? Separately, tax reform often fails because it generates losers as well as winners. Combining tax cuts with reform should generate more winners.

A related question is how and when to shore up Social Security and Medicare. The lesson of the savings and loan bailout is that the longer we wait, the more expensive the bailout.

There will be no shortage of other domestic-policy issues in the next four years. In what direction will the next president take regulation?

Currently, global warming is the hottest issue. Will political pressures dominate scientific uncertainty in this important area? Many other regulatory pressures are surfacing - to extend family leave, to expand the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cover ergonomic injuries, to continue building up EPA regulations, and to reform the litigation process.

With the trade deficits large and rising, will the next president keep the free trade position traditionally held by the White House? Neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore is a protectionist. The position the winner will take may depend in part on the composition of the next Congress.

Most of the protectionists in Congress are Democrats. But quite a few Republicans have jumped off the free-trade bandwagon.

The long-term economic issue is education, the key to economic competitiveness. The United States has a world-class higher education system and a highly competitive one. This country possesses decentralized public and private sectors at the college level.

It is sad to contrast the strength of American higher education with our weak, noncompetitive elementary and secondary schools. Consider the huge dropout rates in the central city public schools of our country. Those young people are unlikely to succeed in the high-tech economy of the 21st century.

We do not know if vouchers will work. But the status quo does not. The GI Bill after World War II was the original voucher system, although not so labeled. Providing free education to veterans did not destroy the wall separating church and state. Maybe the next president could call the money scholarships.

Among the foreign-policy issues facing the next president is dealing with the dangerous situation involving the potential of armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Our military budget has been stretched thin by expensive commitments in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The remaining funds are insufficient to finance the force structure the Pentagon plans to maintain.

Does the next president limit US military participation to foreign areas essential to national security?

Does he close down defense installations that are vestiges of the cold war? How does he reorient the armed services to deal with the high-tech threats of non-conventional conflicts?

Perhaps the most difficult challenge facing the next occupant of the White House is one nobody can prepare for: The inevitable efforts of friends and foes to test any new president. Whoever he will be, we can only wish the new president success.

Murray Weidenbaum is chairman of the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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