Why Clinton Has Business Fuming

The facts are very clear. Since Bill Clinton became President, the economy has been strong, inflation has been low, exports have jumped, the budget deficit has been cut, and the federal bureaucracy has been trimmed back.

Yet, as the BUSINESS WEEK/Harris Poll on page 38 shows, the business community basically hates the Clinton Administration. The President gets little credit for any achievements--from expanding free trade to generating jobs. Why?

Part of the reason, of course, is the character factor. The continuous drip-drip of events involving questionable ethics-- from dissembling over the draft to Whitewater, have taken their toll.

Then, there's the Clinton social agenda that irritates the hell out of businesspeople. The big-government-eats-one-seventh-of-the-economy-health-care plan has cost Clinton dearly within the business community. Even Clinton's early Big Business support for health-care reform was trashed by his shift away from cost control to universal coverage. Now, business is suspiciously eyeing the Administration's step-up in regulation, particularly in civil rights, health and safety, and banking.

In the end, it may well be the President's managerial style that most infuriates business. The procrastination followed by improvisation, the vacillation, the immense sloppiness in decision-making are anathema in the business world. People living in a culture of efficiency, continuously making themselves and their institutions more competitive, are more than appalled by Clinton. They are filled with disdain.

Ironically, business has done remarkably well under the Clinton Administration. While Clinton has been in office, corporate profits as a share of national income have soared tm 9.6%, compared with 8.5% under President Bush and 8.1% under President Reagan. Although corporate CEOs and managers have personally seen their incomes drop because of higher taxes, their companies are faring better than anytime since the 1970s.

President Clinton has two years to go before he faces the next Presidential election. It may be too late to get much respect from the business community, but the President can take a number of steps to at least neutralize some of the negatives. A return to his New Democratic centrist moorings would be a beginning. That would mean reining in his pro-regulation minions throughout the federal bureaucracy. Passing significant welfare reform would also help. The most serious step, of course, would be to tackle the runaway entitlement spending that continues to chip away at the nation's economic health.

That would still leave the Clinton style, a miasma that even Leon Panetta hasn't been able to clear. Leadership requires discipline and the exercise of power. If President Clinton can learn these skills, he might win some support, even from a skeptical business community.

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