WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 27) -- President Bill Clinton attempted Tuesday to wrench public attention away from the sexual scandal dogging him to outline a largely domestic agenda in his annual State of the Union address.
Clinton, in the middle of the worst scandal of his presidency, appeared tired but determined to acquit himself well. He smiled often and looked comfortable as he greeted lawmakers.
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Some international to-do's
For their part, members of Congress gave him a cordial bipartisan welcome for the annual ritual on Capitol Hill, and they interrupted him repeatedly with applause.
"These are good times for America .... The state of our union is strong," Clinton said, citing the lowest inflation in 30 years, the lowest unemployment in 24 years and a crime rate in decline for five straight years. (288K wav sound)
"But with barely 700 days left in the 20th century, this is not a time to rest; it is a time to build, to build the America within reach," Clinton said.
The president, speaking nearly an hour and 15 minutes, focused on domestic initiatives about middle-class concerns, including Social Security, education and health care.
As predicted, the president made no mention of allegations that he had an improper relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it under oath. He has forcefully denied those claims.
All Americans deserve to have confidence that "Social Security will be there when you need it," Clinton said of the program which, as baby boomers begin to retire, is headed for bankruptcy, if its problems are not addressed..
"I have a simple four-word answer: save Social Security first," Clinton said, proposing to funnel "every penny" of the projected federal budget surplus, if needed, to keep the retirement program solvent for baby boomers. (256K wav sound)
His proposal brought bipartisan applause, though some Republicans want to use the windfall to cut taxes.
"Tonight, I come before you to announce that the federal deficit, once so incomprehensibly large that it had 11 zeros, will be simply zero," Clinton said. "I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget in 30 years."
Clinton noted that with discipline, the budget could actually be balanced this year, and, that when he took office, the projected 1998 deficit was $357 billion.
The White House projects a surplus of $200 billion over the next five years. The spare change is forecast to add up to $10 billion to $20 billion next year and grow sharply afterward, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Clinton proposed hiring an additional 100,000 teachers to reduce class sizes for first, second and third graders to an average of 18 students, a move expected to cost $7.3 billion.
He also wants tax credits to renovate or build 5,000 schools, expected to cost some $22 billion.
The president made a point of singling out the first lady for recognition as "one of our foremost experts" on child care. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has fiercely defended him in the latest scandal, appeared visibly touched. (512K wav sound)
With the gesture, he called for new child care subsidies to help working families, and went on to propose expanding after-schoool programs to address juvenile crime. (224K wav sound)
"Not a single American family should have to choose between the job they need and the child they love," Clinton said.
Clinton suggested a minimum wage increase, but did not name specific figures. It was last raised in 1996 to $5.15 an hour. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) is proposing the minimum wage be raised to $7.25 by the year 2002. (288K wav sound)
On health care, the president reiterated his recent call to allow Americans 55 to 65 years old who are left without coverage when they lose their jobs to buy into Medicare, which he says "won't add a dime to the deficit." (384K wav sound)
Drawing enthusiastic applause, he called on Congress to write what he called a Consumer Bill of Rights for the 160 million people covered by managed care, to ensure choice of doctors and the right to know all treatment options.
Clinton proposed a 21st Century Research Fund to provide the "largest funding increase in history" to expand the work of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.
He kept up his offensive on the tobacco industry, and drew bipartisan applause with the suggestion of raising cigarette prices by $1.50 a pack over 10 years, and penalizing tobacco companies that target children.
On race, Clinton drew attention to a backlog of thousands of cases at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying, "Discrimination against any American is un-American." (512K wav sound)
He renewed his call for Congress to enact campaign finance reform, and said he would ask the Federal Communications Commission to ensure all candidates had free or reduced-cost time on television.
He called on the Senate to pass reforms of the Internal Revenue Service already cleared by the House.
On the environmental front, Clinton suggested a new Clean Water Initiative to clean the nation's rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
And declaring environmental and economic interests not to be in opposition, he called for $6 billion in tax cuts and research and development to encourage more efficient cars, factories and homes. (320K wav sound)
Iraq and other international to-do's
Clinton also used the highly visible platform to warn Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to stop interfering with United Nations weapons inspectors.
"You cannot defy the will of the world," Clinton said in comments directed at Saddam Hussein. Noting support was bipartisan, he added, "You have used weapons of mass destruction before. We are determined to deny you the capacity to use them again." (736K wav sound)
He asked Congress to continue to support the peacekeeping mission of U.S. troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which he recently moved to extend.
Clinton called again for Congress to give him "fast-track authority" to negotiate international trade deals. His inability to convince Democrats to give him that power last year was an embarrassing defeat.
Clinton also called on lawmakers to cough up overdue dues to the United Nations, which total more than $1 billion, and to provide needed support of the International Monetary Fund. He lost on both those issues last fall, too.
"Their stability bolsters our security," Clinton said of Asian economies now struggling with recession.