Lewinsky Allegations Overshadow State Of The Union
President will focus on policy, not scandal
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 26) -- While the cloud of allegations concerning Monica Lewinsky continues to loom over President Bill Clinton's presidency, it also threatens to overshadow his State of the Union address.
This is despite Clinton's decision to gingerly reach out and touch what's known as the deadly "third rail" of American politics: Social Security.
Doing his best to ignore the growing controversy, the president worked through the weekend on Tuesday's speech, reviewing drafts from speechwriters and rehearsing with aides in the White House theater.
A week ago, Clinton's sixth State of the Union was expected to be a cakewalk. The president's plan to offer a balanced budget while proposing several new popular initiatives was seen as a politically powerful combination.
But as a steady stream of new details and rumors concerning an alleged sexual relationship between Clinton and a former White House intern continue to flow, will anybody be listening to the president's discussion of substantive policy?
Trying to promote the impression that it is "business as usual" at the White House, Clinton is expected to stay on message, focusing his address on his second-term agenda.
Topping the list will be Social Security. Sources tell CNN that Clinton will urge Congress to set aside all projected federal surpluses until lawmakers pass a plan to put Social Security on firmer financial footing.
These sources say Clinton will tell Congress it would be irresponsible to pass any across-the-board tax cuts until the Social Security system is addressed.
A pledge to submit a balanced budget for 1999, three years ahead of schedule, will serve as another of the president's key proposals.
On the foreign-policy front, sources tell CNN that Clinton will make clear that time is running short for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.
Sources familiar with the president's speech to Congress say he praises the U.N. inspectors, says it is unacceptable that Iraq continues to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and makes clear that military options are being considered.
Clinton also will stress that it is imperative for the international community to speak with one voice on the issue, but administration officials acknowledge there is still deep resistance to military strikes among the Russians, the French, the Chinese and other Security Council members.
Other domestic policy points the president will feature include:
- An increase in the minimum wage, though advisers were meeting again Tuesday to decide whether to endorse a specific proposal or just call for an increase.
- An expansion of Medicare to allow Americans between the ages 62 and 65 to buy into the program and give those from 55 to 62 dislocated from their jobs the same option.
- Several education initiatives, including a call for more money to hire new teachers and build or renovate schools and limiting class sizes to 18 students for first, second and third grades. "All these will help our
children get the future they deserve," Clinton said at a White House after-school care event on Monday.
- More child care by doubling the number of children receiving child-care subsidies and increasing child care tax credits for lower-income families.
- A doubling the Peace Corps to 10,000 volunteers.
- A handful of smaller proposals involving an anti-smoking initiative for children and increased federal efforts on food safety, medical research and AIDS treatment.
- A 50 percent increase in the budget for National Institues of Health research.
- A major outreach effort to add some 3 million to the Medicaid program.
- And, running the risk of alienating fellow Democrats, Clinton will call anew for so-called fast-track authority to negotiate international trade deals.
Before the latest scandal, the White House estimated that 60 million would tune into the president's speech. Now, officials anticipate a much larger audience of people wondering if the president will finally provide details of his relationship with Lewinsky.
But Clinton reportedly does not intend to use the State of the Union as a forum for addressing the furor. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that 75 percent agree that it would be inappropriate for him to do so.
The president's communications staff held a strategy session Monday night and opinion was divided about whether the president should at least briefly mention the controversy. Ultimately, the aides decided not to make a formal recommendation and leave the decision up to the president.
And despite his dipping approval ratings, 70 percent still approve of the way Clinton is handling the economy, 62 percent give him high marks on the budget deficit, and 58 percent like how he is handling foreign policy.
That is one good reason why Clinton will concentrate on such issues in the speech.
The investigation into the president's private life has left uncertain the reception awaiting Clinton on Capitol Hill from members on both sides of the aisle. White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles traveled to Capitol Hill Monday to meet with congressional leaders to try to gauge the mood of Congress, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) told CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday that he president would most likely receive "civil, polite, restrained applause" from lawmakers.
Among Clinton's VIP box guests will be Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose state education and child-care programs are sources of some of the national proposals advocated by the president.