Published Online: May 14, 1997

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A view from the inside

President Clinton spent much of last year's election campaign bragging about the gains in education funding during his administration.

But the president fell short of the ambitious goals he set in the 1992 campaign, his former secretary of labor says in a new memoir. Instead of pumping billions into job training, financial aid for college students, and other education programs, Mr. Clinton became obsessed with cutting the federal budget deficit, according to Robert B. Reich, who resigned as labor secretary earlier this year.

The deficit fixation started as soon as Mr. Clinton took office in 1993 and continued through a re-election campaign in which school uniforms got more mention than the need to raise workers' skills, Mr. Reich writes in Locked in the Cabinet, a compilation of his journals from 1992 through 1996.

After Mr. Clinton's first State of the Union Address, in which he outlined his deficit-cutting plan, Mr. Reich writes that he wanted to tell reporters: "Frankly, I was disappointed--he should have spoken of the importance of increasing both private and public investment." Instead, he offered noncommittal assessments such as: "He laid out his agenda in no uncertain terms--a bold view of what this nation can accomplish."

Mr. Reich's book notes his repeated disappointments with the president's first-term. But sometimes the labor secretary's ideas swayed Mr. Clinton.

In 1994, Mr. Clinton first proposed creating a tax deduction for college-tuition expenses and job-training costs, an idea Mr. Reich pushed on him. The proposal landed in the balanced-budget agreement the president struck with congressional Republicans this month. The Clinton administration also fought hard last summer to raise the minimum wage, one of Mr. Reich's top priorities.

But that was not enough to satisfy the labor secretary, now university professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

"You can't possibly deliver education and job skills on the scale they're needed, and you won't be able to do much of anything else" if balancing the budget remains the top priority, Mr. Reich told Mr. Clinton in a cordial, but awkward, farewell in December.

--DAVID J. HOFF federal@epe.org

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