Starting Over: Clinton Targets Taxes, Welfare Tonight's Speech to Lay out Direction President Wants to Go to Reach out to the Middle Class

Article excerpt

AT two years of age, the Clinton presidency is starting over again.

Tonight, the president plans to present on television his new replotted road map for negotiating the radically reconfigured landscape.

He plans to return to one of the earliest vows of his campaign - one that was lost in the din of deficit alarm as he assumed the presidency - to cut taxes for middle-class families.

He also plans to revive one of his campaign's plainest signs that he was not a traditional Democrat seeking ways to shift more money to programs for the poor: tough-minded welfare reform.

In returning to his campaign roots, Mr. Clinton is obviously seeking common ground with the new Republican majorities in Congress so that some work can get done in the next two years.

But the president's task is also to begin restoring public confidence in his own ability and commitment to doing what he once said he would do.

After two years in office, Clinton has achieved more than many administrations ever do. His successes in Congress range from signing the Family and Medical Leave Act requiring employers to give new parents and others time off to the GATT agreement liberalizing world trade.

He has also presided over three consecutive years of declining federal deficits - a record since the reign of Calvin Coolidge. The economy is growing about as fast and employing about as many people as can be sustained without overheating and setting off inflation.

Yet Clinton has won few fast friends and supporters. Many liberals feel he is an inconstant, unreliable ally. Conservatives vilify him in harsh, personal terms. And many voters in the middle, according to polls both recently and for a year now, question his competence and trustworthiness.

Early on in his term, Clinton made some decisions about what Americans wanted most from him and what he would work hardest to achieve. He put deficit cutting ahead of a middle-class tax cut. And he put health-care reform ahead of welfare reform.

For more than a year, he has made his ambitious overhaul of the nation's health-insurance system, covering a seventh of the whole economy, the centerpiece of his presidency. It was a high-risk project that washed out completely by September without much remaining popular support.

Now, after a month of absorbing the shock and the lessons of the Nov. 8 GOP landslide, Clinton is mapping out a new agenda - one that is a much closer match to the Republican agenda.

In his speech tonight, Clinton is expected to lay out a new plan to cut taxes for middle-class families. …