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Clinton Building Economic Team Around Expertise, Political Savvy

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MAINSTREAM economists, members of Congress, and even Wall Street may breathe a sigh of relief Dec. 10 when President-elect Clinton begins to announce appointments to his economic team.

Mr. Clinton's apparent choices reflect his intentions to revitalize the United States economy and cut the federal deficit using a group of advisers who offer a mix of fiscal expertise and political prowess. He also is building on what he says makes him an agent of change: a new partnership between government and business.

Clinton is expected to tap two leading Democrats from Congress - Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, who has long made his mark on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Leon Panetta of California, a proponent of deficit reduction and veteran of the budget process from his tenure as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The two top lawmakers have pored over a decade's worth of tax legislation, federal budgets, and deficit-reduction plans in their posts. They are skilled negotiators who are adept at consensus-building across party lines. Clinton will need these allies as he tries to move an ambitious number of programs through Capitol Hill.

By choosing Mr. Panetta, Clinton "would reassure Congress that the administration really wants to work alongside" with the legislators, says Gary Bass, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Watch, a public interest group on federal management and the budget process.

"In this presidency, there will have to be teamwork between Treasury, the OMB, the Economic Security Council, and the president's Council of Economic Advisers," Mr. Bass adds. "There will be no one top dog; there will be many top dogs. And that's critical to form a coordinated approach on issues long-ignored. Today's economic interests intersect with so many public-policy issues, including the environment, welfare, and health care."

Big business, especially the oil, gas, and real estate industries - which Mr. Bentsen has fought hard to promote through special tax measures - is thrilled to see Clinton developing such a strong link to corporate America.

In building a bridge between his administration and the business world, Clinton will also draw on private-sector money men. His new economic security council will likely be headed by Robert Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co.

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