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Speaker calls for dignity during Clinton's annual address

January 16, 1999
Web posted at: 9:18 a.m. EST (1418 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 16) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert has urged Republican and Democratic lawmakers to respectfully receive President Bill Clinton when he presents the State of the Union address next week.

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Clinton said Friday he would go ahead with Tuesday's address despite his impeachment trial, which resumes in the Senate Saturday at 10 a.m. EST.

Hastert (R-Illinois) sent a letter to his colleagues in the House of Representatives telling them that Clinton's remarks should be received "soberly and with the dignity that befits the United States Congress."

Clinton's speech will take place the same day his defense team opens its case. Some lawmakers had urged the president to delay the annual address or submit it in written form because of the trial.

In his letter, Hastert said the State of the Union address would go ahead "out of respect for the office of the presidency and for a desire to hear about the state of our nation." He reminded the representatives that there are other issues in the nation besides impeachment.

"The United States of America is prosperous and free. But storm clouds gather on our horizon. Our national security is challenged by the continued malfeasance of Saddam Hussein. Our economic security is challenged by a growing worldwide recession. Our future is bedeviled by too many schools that perform poorly and by a Social Security system in need of reform," Hastert said.

"The President has the responsibility to tell us his thoughts on how to confront these growing problems."

'We still have a lot to do'

Three senior White House officials, who asked not to be identified by name, previewed the speech Friday. The aides say the president's overall theme will be: "Good times are a reason to do more, not coast."

White House officials said it was unlikely the president would make any direct reference to the Senate impeachment trial in the speech, but they cautioned that could change.

Clinton said he plans to outline his objectives for the next two years. "I'm going to ask the country to go back to work, because we still have a lot to do," he said in brief remarks at a $25,000-a-couple fund-raiser in Washington.

Clinton aides predicted the president will receive "basically a positive response" from the members of the House and Senate.

"We all have an interest in putting our best foot forward," said one of the administration officials. "America will be tuning in."

Five major challenges

Clinton, according to the officials, will discuss the following issues, which he views as the five major challenges facing the country:

  1. Demographics. Americans are getting older, creating what the president will call "a high class problem" for the country. He will focus on his recently announced proposal to provide tax credits for long-term care of the elderly. One section in the speech will cover Social Security; another will discuss Medicare. Clinton will restate what he said last year: Not one penny of the budget surplus should be spent until Social Security is saved.

  2. Education. Clinton will speak of his initiatives to promote childhood education as well as new programs "over a lifetime" for adults. The president will make a "strong" case for "more accountability in the schools" and more opportunity.

  3. Families. The president will stress the need for strengthening families and communities. Clinton will talk about his proposed 55-cent increase in the tobacco tax. The revenue would be dedicated to reimbursing federal government agencies for their increased health care expenses from tobacco illnesses. In addition, he will focus attention on expanding family leave programs. He will again call for passage of a Patients' Bill of Rights. Another section of the speech will cover fighting crime.

  4. Global economy. Clinton will make the connection between economic events around the world and the U.S. economy.

  5. National security. He will cite the NATO summit in Washington April 24-25 and the expansion of the alliance to include three new countries: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; the American role as peacemaker, citing the Middle East, Bosnia and Africa; and the strengthened commitment to defense readiness, including increased budget proposals for the Pentagon.

One official said the president will underline commitments "to values, opportunities and responsibility, to build a stronger community;" to an "active, progressive government with fiscal responsibility;" to America "as a world leader;" and to "One America," that can heal racial, ethnic and other divisions.

He will also call for campaign finance reform.

Senior White House Correspondent Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.


Investigating the President

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Saturday January 16, 1999

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