Clinton's Promises -- President Did As He Said: 66% Of Campaign Vows Met

WASHINGTON - Politicians make promises when campaigning that they often fail to keep once in power.

As a candidate for president in 1992, Bill Clinton made a lot of promises - in speeches, in debates, and most of all, in his 232-page book, "Putting People First."

Did he keep them?

Not all, to be sure. He walked away early from some big ones, such as his vow to cut middle-class taxes.

Overhauling the nation's health-care system, which he made the centerpiece of his first two years, failed in Congress. But he delivered on changing welfare, with the help of the Republican Congress.

But to a degree that can only surprise his harshest critics, who delight in denouncing him as a man who breaks his word, Clinton has delivered on most of his promises.

After his 1992 election, Knight-Ridder Newspapers compiled a list of 160 specific commitments made by Clinton. Now, near the end of his full four-year term, the record shows he has achieved 106 of them - a success rate of 66 percent.

Clinton did not deliver on 50 of his promises - a failure rate of 31 percent - and action remains pending on the final four, or 3 percent.

Such statistics mask some subtleties, however.

For one thing, Clinton failed to deliver on at least 23 promises because Congress blocked his efforts. For example, he included eight specific campaign promises in his massive health-care overhaul plan, and six of them remain scored as unkept promises because Congress rejected his plan.

That's not quite the same as a broken promise. Add those 23 failed attempts to keep promises - 14 percent of his 160 total campaign vows - to the 104 promises kept, and Clinton fairly could be credited with trying hard to keep 79 percent of his 1992 campaign promises.

"We've just finished a study that shows the most important idea for voters is this idea of being trustworthy, keeping your promises," said Bruce Blakeman, vice president of Wirthlin Worldwide, a political consulting firm. Bob Dole scored five points higher than Clinton on "who is better at keeping his word," Blakeman said, but he added that "a five-point lead for Dole on this is not all that significant."

Of course, not all promises are equal, and some of Clinton's broken ones are big.

Perhaps the biggest was his failure to deliver on his pledge to reform campaign finance. That was a major concern in America's 1992 political culture, fueling much of the movement behind Ross Perot, and it has remained so ever since.

Clinton has talked a lot about campaign-finance reform - climaxed by his June 1995 handshake agreement with House Speaker Newt Gingrich to set up a bipartisan reform commission, but he never put much effort into it. There never was a commission, for example, or a reform.

Meanwhile, Clinton has raised record amounts of money at Democratic Party fund-raisers across the country.

Even more blatantly broken promises stand out from Clinton's foreign policy record. As a candidate, he accused the Bush administration of showing a callous disregard for human rights, both in trading with China and in sending boatloads of Haitian refugees back home; as president, Clinton reversed himself on both positions, adopting the very Bush policies he had condemned.

Yet if some broken promises loom large, fairness to Clinton demands that others be put into perspective. For example, his biggest domestic success - cutting the budget deficit in half - achieved one promise.

Meanwhile, his failure to achieve some other promises - such as one to make his Department of Energy charge higher fees for disposal of nuclear waste - is obviously of less significance, though it holds the same statistical weight as cutting the deficit in the "promises" balance sheet.

The standards used to rate the president were:

Yes: Clear steps have been taken to fulfill the promise.

No: Clinton has taken no action, or his proposals have fallen short.

Pending: Action on a proposal that would fulfill a Clinton promise is still pending.

-------- ABORTION --------

-- End the gag rule that restricts abortion counseling in federally funded clinics.

Yes: By executive order in January 1993. -- Permit federal research using aborted fetal tissue.

Yes: Same executive order. -- Name abortion-rights supporters to the Supreme Court.

Yes: Chose Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. -- Work to enact a Freedom of Choice Act codifying Roe vs. Wade terms into statutory law.

No: Clinton did not push this. -- Support testing of RU-486, the French birth-control pill.

Yes: By executive order in January 1993.

----------- AGRICULTURE -----------

-- Streamline Agriculture Department field offices.

Yes: Clinton signed legislation on Oct. 13, 1994, that will close about 1,200 field offices by 1999. -- Appoint a secretary of agriculture respected by farmers.

Yes: Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is respected by farmers more than his predecessor, Mike Espy, a Clinton appointee who resigned amid allegations of taking improper gifts from corporations. -- Expand agricultural research and development.

Yes: Each of Clinton's budgets has included increases.

---- AIDS ----

-- Appoint a federal AIDS policy coordinator.

Yes: He named Kristine Gebbie in June 1993; she resigned amid criticism. In November 1994, he named Patricia Fleming director; she remains. -- Lift the ban on travel and immigration to the United States for people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

No: Clinton tried to lift the ban, but Congress put the ban into a bill he signed because it included other priorities, such as money for the National Institutes of Health. -- Increase funding for AIDS research, prevention and treatment.

Yes: Funding has increased by 39 percent since Clinton took office, and his fiscal 1997 budget request would boost it by 43 percent from the level when he took office. -- Speed the approval process for AIDS-related drugs.

Yes: The Food and Drug Administration approved a new class of protease-inhibitor drugs in 1996 under an accelerated review process. -- Support local efforts to make condoms available in schools.

Yes: In 1994 federal public-service announcements advocated condoms for the first time, and the administration also encourages local advisory groups that distribute federal money to promote condoms. -- Provide health coverage to all Americans with HIV infection.

No: His big health-care-reform proposal would have provided this, but it died in Congress. -- Fully fund the Ryan White Care Act to provide $275 million to cities for AIDS treatment.

Yes: Funding under the act is now at $738.5 million in fiscal 1996, up 117 percent over his first three years. Clinton's fiscal 1997 request would push funding up by 129 percent over four years. -- Provide drug treatment on demand to stop the spread of HIV by intravenous drug users.

No: Congress has resisted Clinton's requests for such treatment; he seeks $1.2 billion for fiscal 1997. -- Improve access to experimental therapies.

Yes: Created office of alternative medicines at National Institutes of Health. Encouraged states to fund such treatments under Medicaid coverage. -- Provide confidential or anonymous testing for AIDS or HIV, as well as AIDS counseling, for everyone who wants it.

Yes: The Centers for Disease Control budget expands these services at some 900 testing sites. The administration also encourages states to provide this through Medicaid. -- Prohibit health plans from providing lower coverage for AIDS than other life-threatening illnesses.

Yes: The Kennedy-Kassebaum bill passed by Congress in August, which Clinton intends to sign, would ensure this.

------------ ARMS CONTROL ------------

-- Ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and the follow-up agreement (START II) of June 1992.

Yes: START I has been ratified and took effect Dec. 5, 1994. The Senate ratified START II in January 1996, and it is now before the Russian parliament. -- Try to achieve a comprehensive test-ban treaty. Pending: Negotiations opened in January 1994 in Geneva and are said to have a good chance of concluding successfully in 1996. Meanwhile, Clinton pushed and won indefinite extension of the global Non-Proliferation Treaty in May 1995. -- Conclude a chemical-weapons convention banning such weapons production, stockpiling or use. Pending: Completed under President Bush, it was submitted by Clinton to the Senate in November 1993, where it still awaits ratification. -- Support research on a limited missile-defense system to protect the United States.

Yes: Clinton's defense budget includes funds for research with an option to begin deployment after three years, but Republicans want more money for a larger program with faster and certain deployment. -- Demand that other countries tighten their export laws regarding nuclear weapons.

Yes: The administration has strongly lobbied other nuclear powers to tighten controls.

---- ARTS ----

-- Oppose content restrictions on federally subsidized art projects.

Yes: Clinton opposed content restrictions, even vetoing a spending bill in December 1995 partly because of them. But he was forced to accept content restrictions on art projects when Congress included them in an April 1996 omnibus spending measure funding the National Endowment for the Arts, among many other programs. -- Continue federal funding for the arts.

Yes: Clinton initially raised funding for the NEA, but Congress cut the endowment's fiscal 1996 budget 40 percent to $99 million.

-------------- BUDGET DEFICIT --------------

-- Reduce the budget deficit by more than half in four years.

Yes: It was $290 billion, or 4.6 percent of gross domestic product, in fiscal 1992 when Clinton made his promise, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This year (fiscal 1996), the CBO projects it to fall to $144 billion - a cut of 50.4 percent, leaving the deficit at 1.9 percent of GDP. -- Enact a line-item veto.

Yes: Clinton signed the measure into law on April 9, 1996.

----------- BUREAUCRACY -----------

-- Cut 100,000 federal workers.

Yes: The government has been reduced by 237,000 positions. -- Cut White House staff by 25 percent and challenge Congress to do the same.

Yes: Clinton cut staff in the first days of his presidency, although critics say he cheated by narrowly defining the White House staff. He failed to get Congress to cut its staff. -- Create an Economic Security Council to coordinate international economic policy.

Yes: The National Economic Council coordinates both domestic and international economic policy. -- Require federal managers to achieve a 3 percent administrative savings.

Yes: His initial budget imposed such cuts.