Babbitt: Think Small

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CHICAGO: It's a good thing that political positions can't be copyrighted, because if they could, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and a legion of other GOP leaders would be sending bills to the Clinton Administration. Consider the handy term "empowerment" (translation: do it yourself). Bush once talked of empowering the states to reform health care; Kemp preached empowering inner-city residents to earn their way to middle-class prosperity. Clinton Administration officials now want to empower Americans to do a lot of things the federal government has always seen (and budgeted) as its business, and everytime they use the term, you can hear the federal budget shrinking. Arriving in Chicago from the fireline near Fresno, California, where he spent a week helping fight the flames in the Sierra foothills, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt reflected on how a second Clinton Administration will approach the art of thinking small. On healthcare, the Administration takes credit for triggering the "reform" that was carried out by large profit-making managed care firms that bought up doctors and hospitals across the country and cut prices. On environmental issues, instead of carrying the big stick, the feds will advise empowered states and local communities on how they can address such questions as air and water pollution issues "and then get out of the way," Babbitt said. "We're not the experts. You figure it out." Look at the bright side. If federal officials aren't busy telling you what to do, they'll have plenty of time to pitch in and help - maybe even fight a few fires. Terence Nelan