Ross Perot or no Ross Perot, the bond market will be at sea for months before it gets a more precise idea about what will be done about the massive federal deficits.
Mr. Perot, one of the nation's staunchest deficit foes, jumped back into the presidential race last Thursday afternoon, but his re-entry didn't solve anything. His deficit reduction plan is the clearest and most candid around, but Mr. Perot himself has lost political power by his out-again, in-again performance and by the evidence that his grass-roots support is partly (largely?) unspontaneous and dependent on his billions.
In July after he dropped out of the race, Mr. Perot published his plan in a book, "United We Stand," and his program is good, no doubt about that. He would curb entitlements, tax gasoline, reduce military spending, limit mortgage interest deductions, and so on; Mr. Perot does not dodge. As Benjamin Friedman, a Harvard economist, told The Wall Street Journal, "it is as good a long-run deficit reduction strategy as anybody in the political arena has come up with."
John White, an Eastman Kodak executive and former Carter administration budget official, pulled this program together. And interestingly, Mr. White last week said he thought it was a mistake for Mr. Perot to get back in the race. "He may demean the issues he's brought to center stage," Mr. White said.
To put the program into effect, Mr. Perot needs political power, and it's doubtful that he will win enough votes to gain that power. Current polls could be wrong, and this assessment may not give enough weight to the deep anti-Washington sentiment that has erupted throughout the land, but the next 29 days will tell.
One reason the Texas billionaire won't win is that his call to reduce federal borrowing is too unbending, too straitlaced to win widespread support in the get-real '90s. Americans may accept sacrifice, but not that much. There's been no Pearl Harbor.
Other groups are pushing for smaller federal deficits--the Concord Coalition; Lead, or Leave; the Strengthening of America Commission--and Mr. Perot's renewed candidacy may energize fiscal reform slightly.
A come-from-behind victory by President Bush would kill deficit redaction, however, because he would try to cut taxes and he has ruled out compromise with Congress. Gov. Clinton, for his part, has not put deficit reduction first, and so the issue likely will remain as unaddressed as ever.
But for all the Perot commotion, the born-again candidate's drive carries little real substance, and the credit markets face months before Washington does anything about the federal deficit.