Clinton's Security Blanket

In an era of corporate downsizings, drive-by shootings, and medical uncertainties, insecurity runs rampant in America, particularly within the middle class. Lifetime employment is gone, the streets are unsafe, and going to a doctor is a big deal.

Welcome to Year Two of the Clinton Presidency and the politics of insecurity. When the President delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 25, Clinton will signal his Administration's shift from the dirty work of deficit-cutting to the more politically appealing task of knitting a new security blanket for the nation. If the Administration keeps government bureaucracy and spending to a minimum, it could boost the economy by helping people cope with the rigors of global competition. If it doesn't, it could easily smother economic growth, la Europe, and kill the President's chances in 1996 for a second term. Everything depends on whether Clinton is serious about delivering government services more efficiently.

The centerpiece of the security program, of course, is health. As it now stands, the President and Hillary Rodham Clinton are prescribing an old-fashioned Big Government fix, with heavy mandates on employers, price controls, and 50 new regional "alliances."

Passing this program would cause an economic, if not a medical, nightmare. But if the Clintons are saved from themselves by Congress--as is expected--and a simpler, more gradual, market-oriented plan is passed, the Administration just might extend health benefits and lower costs without destroying a medical system that works for three-quarters of the population.

The same can't be said for the government's education and training programs, which aren't working at all. Employment security via lifelong education and job training is a major initiative of Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. The trouble is, most training programs aren't working well and are really income-maintenance plans in disguise. Reich has a great opportunity to overcome the bureaucratic politics that have forestalled a sweeping reorganization of training programs. If Reich can clean up the mess, he'll be a hero.

Clinton already is being given high marks in business circles for his efforts to open foreign markets and back high-tech activities. Under the banner of economic security, the Administration would now boost spending modestly for the Advanced Technology Program, the manufacturing-extension service, and the Commerce Dept. To help improve the trade deficit, the White House should also cleave to numerical trade targets with Japan and work to keep the yen close to 110.

Throw in $1.6 billion for 100,000 more cops on the beat, and the hodge-podge of programs of the new security agenda is complete. As a political vehicle, it plays to popular anxieties. As a policy agenda, it's a test of whether the Democrats have finally learned to deliver government services efficiently. Here's hoping...

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