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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Lewinsky Debacle Has Undercut Clinton’s Power

There are people — you’ve heard them — who say “what’s Clinton’s personal life got to do with his performance as President?” There are many answers to that rhetorical point but few as concrete as the White House’s weakness on current key Congressional legislation.

In the last few months of a Congressional session, the extra energy and authority of the President very often spells the difference in what gets through or what is stopped in Congress. Though Mr. Clinton still signals his veto power to stop legislation, his ability to press Congress to enact bills has been sorely undercut because of the Lewinsky debacle.

The Lewinsky and Paula Jones cases have drained Clinton’s time, focus and authority. He tries to make it appear that Presidential business is moving along unhampered. But a closer look at his day shows numerous events, trips, fundraising gatherings and photo opportunities that have little relevance to the daily rigors of governing, whether inside the Executive branch, where little is moving that requires White House leadership, or in Congress, which requires the constant nudging, meeting, calling and public highlighting of the measures that he is on record as wanting enacted.

The price of the Lewinsky-Jones situations is seen in numerous legislative initiatives that have stalled. The tobacco legislation needed his close attention, especially to keep the momentum going after Trent Lott, the Senate’s majority leader, put aside the bill in early summer.

The Democrats resolve to give patients the right to sue HMO’s for medical negligence, as part of an overall Patients’ Protection bill, is going nowhere, despite great public support. Instead, the Gingrich, House passed version actually takes away patients’ rights against medical malpractice.

Then there is the campaign finance reform fiasco. After an unusual coalition of Democrats and Republicans passed a moderate bill in the House against the desires of the Republican leaders, once again Trent Lott felt free to shelve the bill in the Senate, notwithstanding many polls showing people want a cleanup of money corruption in politics. Clinton was otherwise preoccupied and was nowhere to be found in a struggle that he pledged in 1992 and 1996 to lead the country. He had other things on his mind and body.

The time is near for the Republicans to move to the Senate floor the House-passed H.R. 10 which can be called the green light for massive conglomerate mergers of big banks, big insurance companies and securities firms — under one concentrated power roof. These Goliaths then become “too big to fail” which means you the taxpayers will be expected to bail them out. In return, studies show the bigger the financial institutions, the higher fees you pay, the less mortgage money for lower income neighborhoods and the fewer small business loans are offered.

White House opposition to some key provisions — including the lack of privacy protections — is weak and undercut by the President’s personal problems. His past concentrations of libido are risking a massive surge of concentrated corporate financial power over our country.

Mr. Clinton’s desperate attempt to save his Presidency has led him to ask Bob Dole and Howard Baker — now working in law firms representing tobacco companies — for help among Republican Senators, foreshadowing his need to keep a two-thirds majority from registering in case there is an impeachment trial. He asks to receive millions of dollars from wealthy donors for his legal defense fund (his legal bills are up to $6 million already).

What do you think these people are going to expect in return? He needs the votes of numerous adversaries in Congress who want something from him. No explicit words have to pass between them -¬≠just the understanding that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you or could save his political career.