THE debate over President Clinton's $16.3 billion economic-stimulus package has now moved from the Senate to the country at large.
Earlier this week, the 43 Republican senators managed to prevent a vote on the economic package; the Democrats consistently fell three short of the 60 votes needed to break the GOP filibuster. Nor could Republicans and Democrats strike a compromise over the package, which already has been passed by the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives.
So during this congressional recess, which ends April 20, President Clinton and Senate Democrats are trying to line up public support to overcome the Republican opposition in the Senate. The degree to which Americans rally behind the stimulus program may determine how much President Clinton is forced to compromise with the opposition.
The president has indicated a willingness to make some changes to appease middle-of-the-road GOP senators, but if the centrists don't flock to Clinton's side after the recess, the president may have to abandon virtually all of his beloved economic-stimulus package. Jeff Smith would be disappointed
Most folks' conception of a filibuster comes from Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," which had Jimmy Stewart (as Sen. Jeff Smith) talking himself into exhaustion on the Senate floor in an attempt to defeat the evil designs of corrupt political bosses.
But the nine-day filibuster mounted by Republicans last week bore only the faintest resemblance to Mr. Smith's.
The chief difference is that the Republicans did not talk nonstop. As a result, the nation missed the thrilling spectacle of senators reading from the Bible or the Yellow Pages for 40 hours straight. That type of filibuster saw its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina and other Southerners talked themselves hoarse to delay civil rights bills.
Instead of engaging in a rip-roarin' talkfest, the 43 GOP senators simply signed their names to a letter saying they would not vote for cloture - that is, cutting off debate - on the jobs package.
When the Democrats challenged the filibuster three times, the Republicans showed up and voted against ending the debate. And when both sides realized the futility of the situation, they decided to go home for Easter recess. First snubbed, then promoted
President Clinton earlier this week promoted Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey to serve as director of strategy, plans, and policy for the Joint Staff, the bureaucracy that serves the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although the White House says it was a routine assignment, the move has drawn notice because General McCaffrey has been at the center of a mini-tempest over the administration's frayed relations with the armed forces.
The general has said that as he entered the White House shortly after Clinton took office, his proffered morning greeting was rebuffed by an unidentified young woman who told him: "I don't talk to the military."
Reports of the incident were spread widely by Ross Perot and other critics of the administration. The rumors caused consternation in military ranks.