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Why GOP Cries `Foul' With Clinton at Bat

THE beginning of the baseball season should be a reminder to the president: A few early wins shouldn't cause him to forget that it's a long season.

Mr. Clinton is, indeed, looking good at the plate and in the field. His performance at the summit was excellent: He gave Boris Yeltsin the aid he wanted and the moral support he needed. And in just about everything he does our new president shows himself to be a skillful, energetic, well-informed leader.

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Clinton, to the surprise of no one who watched him perform as a governor, is emerging as a highly political president. He's inclined to give a little here, take a little there, and smile to all sides as he seeks to find a solution that doesn't completely please anyone. In the process he will draw back from commitments made while seeking office.

For example, conservationists thought at long last they had their man in the White House. They are upset, however, over the appearance that Clinton is caving in on his promise to roll back what they see as destructive land-use practices in the West that the government has subsidized for a hundred years. Indeed, it seems that the president has given in on his campaign pledge to western Democratic senators who oppose this change, although Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt insists otherwise.

Many liberals also conclude that Clinton was less than candid in other campaign promises he made to them. They see him giving ground on his announced intent to open the military to homosexuals and to end curbs on Haitian immigration.

But the president keeps the liberals quiet, if not completely content, with an economic package that contains billions of dollars for social programs.

Clinton knows he can probably pull back considerably from what he has promised liberals. They really don't have anywhere else to go. They vote Democratic. Or at least they usually do.

Also, in following through on his promise to make appointments that would "look like America" he has put together an administration that makes liberals happy and - while grumbling a bit - willing to accept Clinton's actions, although they fall short of what they thought would be forthcoming.

It might seem like nitpicking and even unfair to point out flaws and danger signals in an administration that has just walked up to the plate. But veteran political writers are like veteran baseball writers: We have too often seen early signs of weakness that turn winners into losers.

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The president's dealing with Congress may get him into real trouble. His tactic was to assume he could ignore the Republicans completely and rely on his Democratic majorities to push through his programs. On paper this might have looked good: Just keep your Democrats in line by inviting them over to the White House, and they'll provide the winning votes.

This approach worked in the House where the Democratic majority is overwhelming. But the Republicans, angry over what they feel is rude treatment from Clinton, are rising up and making it clear that they are going to put up any roadblock they can find to make the going hard for the administration's legislative agenda.

At breakfast the other morning the Senate's Republican whip, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, let it be known that GOP senators are united (43 of them) in their resolve not to let this president simply roll over them.

He emphasized though that this was not a stop-Clinton maneuver, not yet anyway. He said the objective of the current filibuster was simply to provide Republicans the opportunity to reshape legislation - "to knock out the pork barrel."

Also, Clinton's stroking of the Democrats has not worked with them all. Sen. Richard Shelby (D) of Alabama embarrassed the president by his public criticism of the economic stimulus bill. "The taxman cometh," he said as the TV cameras rolled when Clinton announced that package and its cost.

The president spanked Mr. Shelby by moving some federal jobs out of Alabama. But Shelby remains a dissident. And perhaps now some other Democratic senators may, like Shelby, start to vote against the president's economic program as it unfolds. It's cause for Clinton to worry.

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