The Political Interest: Still Waiting for Bill's Call

Interest Still Waiting for Bill's Call

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"NOT SINCE NOVEMBER," SAYS PAT MOYNIHAN SADLY. "Not a single call. Not from the President or any of his top people. I would have thought someone would have gotten in touch by now. I just don't get it."

For the Senator from New York, a giant intellect who has succeeded Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, these few whispered words are a warning shot at least the equal of the spontaneous outpouring of public outrage that doomed Zoe Baird last week. Finance's domain, Moynihan rightly says, "covers everything the President cares most about -- economic recovery, trade issues, health care, welfare, Social Security, just about everything he got elected on. He's right when he says nothing he's proposed matters unless it passes the Congress. So he either talks to us sooner or he talks to us later."

, "Big deal," says a top Administration official. "Moynihan supported Bob Kerrey during the primaries. He's not one of us, and he can't control Finance like Bentsen did. He's cantankerous, but he couldn't obstruct us even if he wanted to. The gridlock is broken. It's all Democratic now. We'll roll right over him if we have to."

Those words reflect the arrogance of newfound power, and they are not the only example displayed by the Clinton Administration. Moynihan is a consummate gentleman, and he is eager to help. In that spirit he privately counseled Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala (whom he has known for years) before her confirmation hearings: "We told her the committee wanted to hear about welfare and Social Security. All we got was a few sentences. It was kind of incredible." And it became a bit ugly -- in the senatorial sense, that is. Shalala told the committee that the Children's Defense Fund, which she had chaired, had supported the 1988 Family Support Act, the welfare-reform law that Moynihan largely wrote. "No, no," Moynihan said calmly, correcting the record. "You opposed it." It was only later, when the cameras were gone, that Moynihan let it all hang out: "She tried to lie to me, and I had to cut her off."

There are obvious personal problems here, but there are substantive ones as well. Consider just a few of the proposals Clinton is considering sending to the Hill, plans that Moynihan has "a little trouble with":

-- Clinton's team has been against, for, and is once more against raising the gasoline tax, primarily because Senate majority leader George Mitchell opposes it. But Moynihan favors a hike. "In constant dollars, gasoline costs less now than in 1945," he says.

-- Moynihan pooh-poohs Clinton's plan to lower capital-gains taxes for new business investments only: "Smart lawyers could 'break up' an existing company to create 'new' businesses almost overnight."

-- Senator Dale Bumpers of Clinton's home state has said there will be "blood on the floor" if the President tries to tax employer-provided health-care benefits, and Moynihan agrees: "The poor trade unions fought hard to win wage raises via health-benefit increases. It'll be hard to do something that could cause them to lose those gains when they've had to swallow a bunch of other givebacks in recent years."

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