President Clinton Gets -- Gasp! -- Credible

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The White House President Clinton is taking no chances. Democrats in Congress are still united behind him against Republican-sized tax cuts; the public appetite for them is still negligible. Alan Greenspan, that avatar of avatars, is still mostly on his side. But just in case anyone was wavering as the newly unified GOP plan hit the papers Wednesday, the White House shifted their pre-negotiation negotiations into high gear with the same strategy that got him through the last six years: stay on message and stay on television. "If they conclude this plan and send it to me," Clinton said Wednesday from his sunny pulpit in the Rose Garden, "I will have to veto it. I will refuse to sign any plan that signs away our commitment to America's future, Social Security, Medicare, paying down the debt."

If that sounds familiar, itís supposed to Ė and Clinton wonít be easing up anytime soon. The plan: Keep the public eye on debt-reduction (cue Larry Summers) and off what the White House likes to call "Americaís future" or "needed programs." (In other words, new spending.) He has the luxury of pushing delayed gratification (leavened with a small tax cut of his own) at a time when even overtaxed Americans are feeling wealthier than ever before, and the luck to be up against a GOP plan whose sheer size makes his spending programs look like the lesser of two fiscal evils. "The Republican plan assumes that government spending will increase at no more than the inflation rate for the next 10 years," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Almost no one believes that will actually happen." Meanwhile, Clinton pitches his combination platter as something future leaders wonít be able to screw up. Now thatís believable.