225. "Clinton's first job: Lobbyists" The Philadelphia Inquirer, Commentary, (November 13, 1992), p. A29.
If you want a premonition of what the Clinton administration is going to be like, watch how he deals with the first interest group that accosts him. You will not have to wait long. Representatives of interest groups are already lining up, six lobbyists deep, in the corridors of Congress, to ensure that no Clinton (or any other) initiative will be passed without their exacting a few pounds of flesh.
If you want to see their handiwork, all you have to do is examine the most recent bill intended to help the urban areas after the Los Angeles riots. As it worked its way through Congress, the bill was loaded up with more than 50 amendments - none with any legitimate policy justification.
These included various subventions to renters of tuxedoes, to bingo players, buyers of used shotgun shells, students who serve as camp counselors and Nevada retirees, to name only a few. (Even veto-prone President Bush found it prudent to wait after the election to face down that many interest groups.)
In the past, to ensure the passage of a major piece of legislation, presidents would placate the swarms of clamoring interest groups. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his economic program zoomed through Congress.
This was not only due to his landslide victory and his fabulous communication skills; but also due to major concessions he made to various lobbies. The total cost of these special favors: $177 billion.
The additional money, more than the cost of the original bill itself (!), was grabbed by interest groups, each stealing away gifts planted into a bill that David Stockman, the White House budget director at the time, said had become a Christmas tree.
Clinton cannot afford to proceed the same way. American finances are so stretched due to the ballooning deficit that any attempt to pump up the economy in this way would spook the markets and scare-up interest rates. In turn, this would have resulted from his economic revival programs. In short, business-as-usual is not only a rather unsavory way of making public policy; it has now become self-defeating.
Given the economic situation Clinton has inherited, the challenge confronting him is even more ominous. To pay for much of what the economy requires, he will have to exact some concessions from the piles of privileges interest groups have already amassed. To pay for job training, shoring up the infrastructure, and some of the costs of health insurance for those not covered, he must close numerous tax loopholes, cut defense spending and reduce further some other expenditures. (Simply raising taxes on the super rich and foreign corporations will not suffice.) Such measures are sure to drive the special interests into a frenzy.
My favorite recommendation for Clinton is to invite representatives of all major interest groups (he will need a stadium to fit them in) and inform them that the time is not to ask what your country and do for you, but - to yield one privilege each before they are allowed to leave.
Labor unions may remove their objection to repealing the Davis-Bacon act that drives up the costs of public construction. Real estate lobbies may allow the cancelling of deductions on second homes and on interest payments on mortgages higher than $250,000. Banks will permit withholding at-the-source of taxes on interest and dividends. Those representatives of bingo players, tuxedo renters and retirees in Nevada will ,in turn, be asked to agree to pay the same taxes as the rest of us.
If Clinton does not stare down one lobby soon, and many thereafter, pray for his administration. If special interests have their way with the new administration, only divine intervention may save us, and fixing our economy and our Congress is not his job.