Clinton plan to leave on a high note

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BILL Clinton has set the stage for a political deal with Republicans that would end his term in office with a political flourish.

During an interview in USA Today, the President proposed a historic compromise that would slash taxes, improve the nation's health care and prop up the pension system. Boosted by soaring revenues from the US economy, the President wants to step down on a note of domestic triumph.

The first essential for the President is to protect revenues over the next few years. That would underpin the pension system, which will be depleted as the baby boom generation retires. Beyond that, he wants to persuade the Republican-controlled Congress to agree to a new scheme to pay for prescriptions for pensioners. "If we can get agreement on the fundamentals of that ... then I think there is enough funding left over, given this new budget, that we can probably make it a kind of ... agreement covering other things.''

Other things? Asked if he meant tax cuts the President said: "Yeah." That is the key priority for the Republicans.

After years of savage partisan warfare in Washington, culminating in the defeat of attempts to impeach the President earlier this year, Mr Clinton says he wants to draw together both parties. He will call Republicans and Democrats to the White House when Congress reconvenes on 12 July after the Independence Day holiday.

He said: "What I want to come out of it, more than anything else, is a common commitment to the goal - in other words, if the leaders will all say, `We want to do this and we think we can', that would send a signal to the rank-and-file ... that this is something we're really going to try to do." He has said he wants a "season of progress" before the election begins in earnest this autumn.

The strategy seems to be partly to do with Mr Clinton's desire to be remembered for more than Monica Lewinsky, and partly a political gambit. There is - on the somewhat optimistic economic calculations produced this week by Congress and the White House - ample cash to do everything everyone wants. If the Republicans refuse to compromise on Mr Clinton's healthcare goals, the Democrats will portray their rivals as ideological and inflexible, reinforcing an idea that did them grave damage in last year's elections.

In the next 18 months, Mr Clinton said, he has the chance "to do something really important". He has been widely criticised by the press and his party for squandering his political capital on his personal scandals. But with the war in Kosovo over and his foreign policy legacy increasingly being burnished within the White House, Mr Clinton is returning to some of the issues with which he began his years in office - poverty and health care.

It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will play ball. They want their tax cut, but they have not been willing to co-operate with the White House so far. The Democrats in Congress, equally, have a firm incentive to paint their opponents as the enemies of progress.