That's the Way Clinton Crumbles

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WASHINGTON: Last week, it was Robert Rubin against the world on IRS reform. Now, the suddenly pliant Treasury secretary is calling the Portman-Kerrey bill "a workable plan." Why did he change his mind?

"The President told him to," says TIME Washington correspondent James Carney. "The White House decided that with House Democrats (led by Gore rival Dick Gephardt) climbing on board, they would suffer too much politically for a veto.

"Endorse the Portman-Kerrey bill now, and they could try for small changes as it moves through the Senate."

In the wake of the administration's cave-in, Democrats were calling it a compromise citing the power to appoint or dismiss the IRS commissioner, which White House negotiators took back from the proposed civilian advisory board. But Carney disagrees: "Rubin's team had secured that point last week," he said. "Last week it wasn't enough."

But with Democrats getting fidgety about the '98 elections, and the vote count looking veto-proof, it would have to be enough. In politics, a tiny concession like that is called a fig leaf in real life, it's all too transparent.

  • Carney writes in TIME on the recently resolved standoff

  • Money Daily has the details of the Portman-Kerrey measure