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Clinton Promises Congress Economic Plan, `Open Door'

By Dan Balz and Eric Pianin
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

President-elect Clinton barnstormed Capitol Hill Thursday, offering "an open door" to Republicans and Democrats alike while indicating to lawmakers that he will have the draft of his economic plan ready for discussion next month, with a formal unveiling immediately after his inauguration.

Clinton also told Democratic leaders at a private breakfast that he would like to show the public some legislative results early in his administration. He encouraged them to pass anew the Family Leave Act and the so-called `motor voter'- registration bills that were vetoed by President Bush this year so that he could sign them while his economic package is still being debated.

During an afternoon news conference, Clinton appeared to soften his positions on two foreign policy matters involving China and Haitian refugees.

On China, he tempered past condemnations of the Chinese government, saying that while he favored some restrictions on China's most-favored-nation trade status, "We have a big stake in not isolating China." On Haiti, he said that while he intends to reverse Bush's ban on Haitian boat people, "It would be very unwise for anybody to think I'm going to articulate a policy that would promote mass migration."

Clinton also vowed to review U.S. policy on arms sales abroad and promised to raise the issue with other nations as part of a broader effort to prevent "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" from falling into the wrong hands. He said the proliferation issue -- including chemical and biological as well as nuclear weapons -- would be one of his biggest challenges and that he wanted to "lay this marker down for the rest of the world."

Completing his two-day tour of Washington, Clinton got a warm reception from members of Congress, including top Republicans, who praised his willingness to work cooperatively and his hands-on grasp of the issues.

With an eye on his constituency outside the capital, Clinton also managed to find time to mingle with the people of the city during a 6 a.m. jog along the streets of downtown and around the Washington Monument, ending up at a McDonald's for a cup of decaffeinated coffee and some handshaking with other early risers.

Clinton had breakfast at the Capitol with top Democrats from the House and Senate and lunch with a bipartisan roster from both houses. In between, he talked privately with the Senate Republican Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who had warned earlier that he would be the chaperon at Clinton's honeymoon in Washington, and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).

Clinton also courted three of the biggest powerbrokers in Congress, meeting individually with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.)

Later he was briefed at his hotel by Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; met with his transition planners, and conducted other business.

After a dinner at the Georgetown home of Democratic contributor Pamela Harriman, Clinton was scheduled to return to Little Rock, Ark.

At his afternoon news conference after the luncheon, Clinton said he would "pledge to (Congress) an open door" and regular communication, saying he hoped there would be "bipartisan cooperation" to get the country moving.

"The sense I get from the American people, which I got again (Wednesday) from the thousands of people that were there on (Georgia Avenue) is they don't expect miracles of us but they do expect progress and they do want us to work. They want the finger-pointing and the blame-placing to stop."

Although he and Vice President-elect Gore were effusive in their praise for the members with whom they had met, Clinton, in response to a question, said Congress too is on the spot. "I think what Congress has to prove that ... we're capable of decision-making, of coming to closure on the difficult issues of the day."

Clinton indicated to lawmakers that he wanted to move swiftly on the main elements of his agenda: the economic package, health care reform and national service.

He indicated to lawmakers that he would send them the outlines of his economic program in early to mid-December, about the same time he holds an economic summit meeting with top business and economic leaders in Little Rock and begins to name the members of his economic team.

Clinton, according to congressional and transition sources, said he hoped his allies in Congress would spend December and early January massaging the package so that he could present it in the first major speech after his inaugural address. One Clinton adviser said the president-elect's staff is eyeing Monday, Jan. 25, for a State of the Union address.

Clinton offered no new details of his economic package, but there was a consensus in both his private meetings with lawmakers that it should include both short-term economic stimulus and a longer-term plan for reducing the federal budget deficit.

"The president-elect is quite conscious and well aware of the dilemma of attempting to stimulate the economy on one hand without exacerbating the deficit problem that confronts us," Michel said.

According to those who attended the meetings, there was no discussion of a middle-class tax cut, but Clinton adviser Bruce Lindsey said there was no slackening in the president-elect's commitment to include it in his overall package.

Clinton said there also was agreement that the key to deficit reduction is controlling health care costs. "The one thing that I think came out of this bipartisan lunch today is, no one seriously believes that we will ever get the deficit under control until we adopt a system which brings health care costs under control that are both privately and publicly funded," he said. "It has never happened in any other country. It is not about to happen in this country."