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Positive or Negative, a President's Economic Sway Is Minor

POLITICIANS can clamor for credit on economic successes and Beltway wonks may wrestle over policy, but Washington outsiders note that government's role in shaping the national economy is rather limited.

The president's role is even smaller.

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``On the list of things affecting the economy,'' says Kermit Baker of the Boston-based Cahners Economics firm, ``administration policy is pretty far down.''

Yet some items on President Clinton's long-term economic agenda could significantly affect bottom lines, so business lobby groups are mobilizing. These include:

* A worker-training act to be funded by a so-far reluctant business community.

* The enticing prospect of capital-gains tax cuts to address the dearth of individual savings and of incentives and tax relief for business.

* Relief to the bottom 40 percent of wage earners, whose incomes have dropped steadily for 15 years, through a middle-class tax-cut, among other measures.

Though these long-term issues are of some concern to business, current administration policies - bolstered by the prevailing economic climate - draw a few favorable reviews and little outright condemnation.

John Ballard, president and CEO of TCI International, Inc., a communications equipment firm based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and a self-described ``moderate Republican,'' gives ``high marks to the Clinton administration for being pro-active in helping business.''

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Many business leaders have a more tepid response. In a regular survey of 400 senior executives, Mr. Baker found that in December 1993, Mr. Clinton had a ``straight C'' on economic performance. ``Now he has a straight C minus.''

Some of Clinton's less visible efforts, such as credit regulation and small-firm subsidies in the health-care bill, ``were not totally recognized,'' says William Dennis of the 600,000-member National Federation of Independent Business but ``the major tenor'' of Clinton's policies is ``not the way most small businesses would care to see things go.''

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