Judged by the Numbers, Clinton Off to Good Start

But he has abandoned some promises because of cost or consequences

BY sheer numbers, President Clinton has had an extraordinarily successful year. On 191 roll-call votes in Congress, he prevailed on 86.4 percent, according to vote studies published in the Congressional Quarterly. That first-year record is surpassed only by Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson.

But Mr. Clinton also was very ambitious in what he pledged for his presidency during the campaign. Most pledges he could not fulfill were abandoned because of cost or consequences, not because Congress opposed him.

The following is a review of some of Clinton's major campaign promises and how his first-year record has matched them:

Promise: He often promised to restore tax equity by raising taxes on the rich and cutting taxes on the middle and working classes. The rich were couples with taxable incomes above $200,000. In addition, he advocated a 10 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million.

He promised middle-income families a choice between either a $300 tax cut per couple or a tax credit of $300 per child.

He promised to raise tax credits for the working poor to make up the difference between full-time earnings and poverty level.

Record: Clinton has more than kept his promise to raise taxes on the wealthy, even sliding increases down the income scale. He raised taxes on couples with incomes above $140,000, on individuals above $115,000, and added the 10 percent surtax on taxable incomes above $250,000.

The middle-income tax cut has disappeared entirely from Clinton's agenda, in what is probably his most-prominent abandonment of a campaign pledge.

He came through on his commitment to the working poor, raising the Earned Income Tax Credit to bring families with children and a full-time worker earning minimum wage up to the poverty level.

Promise: As a major pillar of his plan to promote investment in the economy, Clinton promised to cut the federal budget deficit in half within four years.

Record: In fiscal year 1993, the year he took office, the deficit was about $266 billion. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now forecasts the 1997 deficit at $198 billion, based on the economic plan Clinton worked through Congress. That would represent a 26 percent cut in the deficit.

Promise: Clinton promised to invest $50 billion a year during his term to create ``millions of high-wage jobs'' in what he called ``the most dramatic economic-growth program since the Second World War.'' The exact amount the campaign envisioned in Clinton's first budget was $41.9 billion - to expand dozens of programs from highway construction to Head Start programs for poor children.

Record: Clinton proposed $16.7 billion in investment and spend-ing initiatives for the current fiscal year. Congress eventually appropriated $11.5 billion.

One of his greatest frustrations in office has been his inability to shift spending over what he sees as productive investments. The political climate, instead, keeps demanding more spending cuts.

Promise: Clinton vowed to send a health-care plan to Congress during his first year that would control costs and provide universal access.

Record: He has done this much the way he said he would. His plan would control prices using a national health board to cap premiums, much as promised last year. He would assist small businesses in controlling costs by pooling purchases in large cooperatives. Insurance companies would be barred from denying coverage to people with medical problems. He would guarantee all Americans a generous benefit package as a right, as advertised in the campaign. He also promised to fight for the plan, which he shows every sign of preparing to do.

Promise: Clinton promised to ``end welfare as we know it'' by giving poor mothers the training and help they need to move into the work force, then ending their benefits, and requiring them to work after two years on the dole. This attack on dependency was an important sign of his moderation as a ``New Democrat.''

Record: The proposal has not emerged yet, and the administration is reportedly still making final decisions about some difficult practical questions in the plan. But White House aides say their plan hews to principles outlined in the campaign. Clinton has indicated that the welfare plan may be an important focus of his State of the Union address next month.

Promise: One of Clinton's top half-dozen priorities was to create a national-service program that would allow college students to pay off their student loans through community service. This was often one of his biggest campaign applause lines.

Record: Clinton passed a bill creating such a program this summer, which he refers to as one of his most underappreciated achievements. It was not as generous a program as he had sought. The program's budget will probably limit it to about 100,000 students a year, who will receive toward college costs as much as $4,725 a year for two years. Clinton sought $10,000 a year.

Promise: Clinton was slow to decide that he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but he did, and many of his supporters in organized labor hoped that he would not pursue it.

Record: He was slow to start, but he pursued it aggressively and won his most impressive legislative battle in passing NAFTA.

Promise: In Clinton's sharpest departure from President Bush on foreign affairs, he promised to grant temporary asylum to Haitian political refugees until Haiti's elected government was restored to power.

Record: This promise was abandoned during the transition before Clinton took office, as he watched Haitians prepare to go to sea toward Florida. He returned, more or less, to the Bush policy.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.