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Talk show wisdom would have it that the Clinton administration has gone through four incarnations in less than three months.

On Jan. 20, it was the Clinton administration that didn't have an economic program ready to go on ``day one,' as promised in the campaign. As the program began to emerge, it was the Clinton administration that was beginning to break too many campaign promises. Then it became the Clinton administration that had marshaled an astonishing degree of public support for a program that seemed to be rolling through Congressional opposition.And in the past few days, it is the Clinton administration that is suddenly threatened with having two integral components - the $16 billion stimulus package and the $29.5 billion investment tax credit - amputated from the program with the result that it becomes a lopsided and incoherent version of his original policy.

If you take away the stimulus package and the investment tax credit, what do you have? Well, in one sense you've nullified the last election. Depending on where Congress goes from there, possibly even rejecting many of Clinton's proposed tax increases, it would be as if Ross Perot or George Bush won it.

The situation is clouded because the Senate minority persists in taking a stand more petulant than principled and can't seem to decide whether they are pre-1980 Republicans or post-1980 Republicans, whether they are the traditional, fiscally prudent, anti-deficit party or the supply side, tax-hating party that created the Reagan deficits.

If Dole succeeded in sinking the investment tax credit and the stimulus package, that would leave $45.5 billion for additional deficit reduction, right? Yes and pigs fly. Given $45.5 billion in ``found' money to play with, who doubts Congress wouldn't be tempted to stick a ton of its miscellaneous pork back in the budget and to cancel out some of the proposed tax increases most offensive to the well-to-do. And Sam Nunn can sure give you the names of some weapons systems to help soak it up.

If this doesn't happen, perhaps the best we can now hope for is that we end up with an economic program that is coherent but only in its single-minded pursuit of deficit reduction without regard to the nation's unmet needs, its underinvestment, its inability to create sufficient new jobs, the need to train its labor force, save its cities and protect its children - in short, its future.

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