The Clinton administration sacrificed "reinventing government" to block deficit reduction.
"PRESIDENT CLINTON IS STARTING A revolution in government," said Vice President Al Gore last September. "It will fundamentally change the way government works." The reinventing government revolution was such a big deal it even got a nickname: REGO.
REGO was serious stuff--you don't drive forklifts on the White House lawn for just any government study. Al Gore, America's favorite funnyman, even appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman to pitch the REGO program. According to the press releases, REGO was going to save $108 billion and cut 252,000 federal positions. "This is one report that will not gather dust in a warehouse," said the president.
But, as the REGO report itself so eloquently quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What you do thunders so loudly I cannot hear what you say to the contrary." And the administration's actions demonstrate that Clinton isn't really all that gung-ho on making government smaller.
Consider Clinton's legislative strategy for pushing REGO through Congress: There isn't one. To get reinventing-government guru David Osborne to sign on to the federal reinvention effort, Clinton and Gore had to promise that the recommendations would be presented to Congress as a coherent package and that Clinton would go to bat for them on the Hill. Neither promise has been kept. "The administration has no legislative strategy for REGO," says one insider close to Osborne. "The recommendations have been picked apart by Congress."
This situation could have been avoided if Clinton and Gore had insisted from the beginning on obtaining commission authority from Congress to present the REGO recommendations as a single package, as was done with the successful base-closure commission. This would have forced members of Congress to vote up or down on the entire package. Why didn't they?
"For one of two reasons," says Scott Hodge, a budget expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "It either shows political naivete or a lack of sincerity regarding reinventing government--REGO as merely a political slogan." A clue: It wasn't political naivete.
REGO WAS SACRIFICED EARLY ON TO A much higher administration priority: to avoid budget cuts and deficit reduction at all cost. The worry was that if a REGO package were presented to Congress, Republicans would demand that the savings be applied to deficit reduction, a demand that Democrats couldn't openly...