Page 8


PEOPLE Make a world of difference ! We’re proud of our employees and their contributions to your success and ours. Call us for quality printing, binding, mailing and data processing services. Get to know the people at Futura. FUTUM P.O. Box 17427 Austin, TX 78760-7427 389-1500 COMMUNICATIONS, INC sent system and joined the “there is no health care crisis” chorus. This shift is extremely revealing. It suggests that the point of his original plan was not so much to expand health care coverage to the country’s 37 million uninsured but to abrade the Administration and’win some headlines. After all, if back in November Gramm was focused on the health care system enough to draft a plan to revamp it, he should have noticed then that the system wasn’t in crisis. It’s not as though there. was a crisis five months ago and now it’s over. There is a more likely explanation: Gramm’s original plan which had laudable ambitionwas generating few co-sponsors and little press. He saw an opportunity when Bill Kristol quickened some Administration pulses in early January with a Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining the “there is no health care crisis” thesis. Shortly after the piece was published, Gramm met with Kristol and soon dumped his first plan in favor of Kristol’s tiny bag of reforms mini-Gramm, as the plan is now known, has made its author a player on health care. Dole, who also used to agree that something had to be done on health care, boarded the no-crisis train in late January. Mini-Gramm may turn out to be a rare miscalculation for its creator, primarily because Clinton’s State of the Union speech devastated the no-crisis line. “That speech reinforced the hand of moderate Republicans,” says Senator Dave Durenberger. “These are Republicans who’ve been involved with health care reform since the seventies, who believe we’ve got a real problem.” It now looks as if John Chafee will , be the GOP’s point man in the coming legislative debate. But once again, Gramm is trying to sell himself as the party’s conservative big thinker on the day’s hottest issue. It’s a line that often is hard to buy. His ideas may come cloaked in the gravitas befitting a Ph.D. in economics, but the underpinning doctrine is usually nothing more esoteric than Tell Dickey Flatt What He Wants to Hear. For instance, on both of the day’s thorniest economic problems deficit reduction and the savings and loan collapse Gramm’s diagnoses resurrect that cheery and dubious motto of the ’80s, “We can grow our way out of the problem.” Asked how President Gramm would reduce the deficit, he recites Republican boilerplate about the need for a line-item veto and a balanced-budget amendment and adds, “I always begin by pointing out that the economy is growing and that growth is generating between $60 and $90 billion in new revenues. The key, if you’re going to deal with the deficit, is that you’ll benefit from these new revenues.” And here he is in an interview with John McLaughlin in January of 1989, one year after optimistic estimates of S&L losses were at $100 billion and a federal bailout looked absolutely inevitable: “There is a hole out there.. How big it is, $30 billion, $50 billion, somebody has to pay for it. And the person that ‘I am committed to seeing not paying for it is the taxpayer.” How is that possible? asked an incredulous John McLaughlin. “If we can get private investors to come in and invest private capital, if we can see the recovery in the Southwest which has started continue that is, if we don’t have a national recession that nips our recovery in the bud then I think we’ve got a fighting chance … of working through this without the taxpayer having to pay for it. History has not been kind to that Disneylandish forecast, and Gramm, without question, knew better. “By 1989, there wasn’t a sane person on earth who thought taxpayers were going to dodge this bullet,” says Steve Pizzo, author of Inside Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans. “And every day the Phil Gramms of Congress denied the size of the problem and refused to close down the thrifts, we lost millions. At one point, $30 million a day.” One of Gramm’s gifts is repackaging this kind of pandering as heroism. On the Hill, where he’s notorious for stealing credit for bills and ideas he didn’t think of, there’s a word for it: Grammstanding. Last year, the Dallas Morning News gave Texans a behindthe-curtain look at some of his methods when nine former Gramm staffers supplied the newspaper with internal memos from the senator’s office. One concerned Gramm’s visit in San Antonio. The memo stated that “We have tried to create a `BAMC funding scare’ while feeling comfortable that BAMC is safe from the budget knife.” The funding scare was designed to cast Gramm as the knight who rescued BAMC from oblivion but Gramm knew that the hospital would not have its funding slashed because Pentagon officials had told him so privately a few days before his visit. The senator’s press office later told the Morning News that the word “not” had been omitted from the memo: “The sentence should read ‘We have not tried to create a BAMC funding scare. . .'” EVEN BY WASHINGTON’ s jaded standards this is cynical stuff. Another memo contained instructions on how to capitalize on the senator’s wife, the same wife who had been hidden in those family-values commercials: “The Asians are our natural constituents, philosophically and because of Wendy. This should be an easy sell; we need to continue to activate them, especially financially.” The key phrase here is “easy sell.” Gramm likes Democrats to believe he’s dangerous because he is an ideologue, but the real problem is that beyond hucksterism and ambition, he is devoid of ideology. Eyeing a run for the White House in ’96, he’s virtually required to lob shots at the Administration; anyway, lobbing shots is now part of the GOP’s job. But another part of the job is offering the public viable alternatives to Democrat ideas. For Gramm, that work is inseparable from self-promotion and leads him to sell plans that will score him points or contradict his core philosophy rather than move the debate forward or actually improve people’s lives. It’s telling that Clinton’s real trouble on health care has come from a Democrat, Jim Cooper. It’s also telling that these days Gramm isn’t sure if he’s the guy who wants to reduce spending or pay for a Dietary Supplement Department at NIH, shrink the government or wire the inner city for Internet, solve the health care crisis or disavow it. The shame is that there are few politicians today who are as smart as Gramm or as good at connecting with the kind of voters the country will need to accomplish real reform. Understanding how to “activate” Dickey Flatt, however, is not the same thing as leadership. 12 MARCH 25, 1994