THE UNFINISHED ECONOMIC AGENDA
At the June 20 economic summit in Denver, Bill Clinton will have a lot to crow about. The U.S. is successfully surfing the twin waves of high-tech innovation and open world markets. Meanwhile, France throws a backlash fit against globalization, Germany suffocates for the dubious euro, and Japan stumbles about wondering what happened to the good old Eighties. While Britain will also be able to stand tall in Denver, no country will match America's low 4.8% unemployment rate, high 4.1% growth rate, dormant inflation, rising incomes, soaring stocks, record exports, and double-digit growth in corporate profits. It doesn't get much better than this, and the U.S. President gets the bragging rights.
But after the summit soapbox, Clinton must deal with America's own backlash demons. A coalition of conservatives and liberals is mounting a protectionist campaign against free trade--at precisely the time it is helping deliver the lowest U.S. unemployment rate in 23 years. Clinton must work with GOP leaders to pass most-favored-nation status for China and get fast-track authority to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement. Corporate America is incredibly competitive, and the U.S. has the most to gain from expanded trade, including more well-paid jobs (page 34).
After that, the next task for the President is to tackle entitlement reform. Clinton clearly demagogued the Republicans with his Mediscare tactics in the last election, describing their legitimate proposals to trim cost increases as deep cuts in service. He must now ask the GOP to set up a bipartisan commission that opens Medicare to market forces and promotes managed care. A little groveling toward the Republicans is also needed to reform Social Security. The GOP asked Clinton to establish a bipartisan group to cut the inflated cost-of-living allowance for Social Security. Clinton refused. Now, he must reach out to the Republican leadership and get it done.
Before this heavy lifting, Clinton gets a couple of days in the sun. Remember when, not so long ago, Japan and Europe hectored the U.S. to clean up its act and make its economy more competitive? It did; they didn't. No gloating, please.