January 24, 1996
Web posted at: 1:15 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of bitterly battling Republicans over fiscal priorities, President Clinton in his State of the Union address Tuesday challenged the GOP to "finish the job" in balancing the budget. For the bulk of the hour-long address, he laid out the likely themes of his upcoming re-election campaign.
Addressing a polite but wary Republican-led Congress, Clinton declared the "era of big government is over" and proposed modest initiatives to boost the middle class and fight crime.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will face questioning before a grand jury later this week in the Whitewater case, sat in the audience with daughter Chelsea, who was making her first appearance at the event since Clinton became president.
The president introduced Mrs. Clinton as a "wonderful wife, a magnificent mother and a great first lady." Chelsea then led a standing ovation of Democrats and Republicans alike.
The House Chamber overflowed with Senate and House members, the president's cabinet, Supreme Court justices and international delegates. House Speaker Newt Gingrich sat behind Clinton, applauding politely occasionally and maintaining an impassive facade when Clinton lashed out at Congress.
"I challenge all of you in this chamber ... never, ever shut the government again," Clinton said.
The president struck upbeat notes as he hailed U.S. troops in Bosnia and declared that the state of the union was "strong." He went on to cite economic and anti-crime statistics to back up his statement.
Republicans responded by accusing Clinton of standing in the way of balancing the budget, cutting taxes and reforming welfare. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole called Clinton the "chief obstacle to a balanced budget."
Speaking on national television immediately after Clinton's address, the GOP presidential front-runner said the president was "careening dangerously off course" in welfare, education, Medicare and taxes. "We will challenge president Clinton again and again to walk the talk he talks so well," Dole said.
The unprecedented grand jury subpoena of a U.S. first lady cast a distracting shadow over a political ritual that is normally an invaluable showcase for a president seeking re-election.
While challenging the GOP agenda relentlessly, Clinton touched on the following themes:
Clinton said the economy was healthy, citing low inflation and 8 million new jobs. America is "selling more cars than Japan for the first time since the 1970s," he said. (179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)
"The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves," Clinton said. "We must go forward as one America." (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)
He urged a tax cut for working families and legislation to protect workers' pensions and ensure health care benefits for employees when they change jobs or have pre-existing conditions.
He urged Congress to enact a welfare reform plan to replace the one he vetoed and to increase the minimum wage, a move the GOP has opposed.
Clinton announced the expansion of a federally funded college work-study program to 1 million students, from the present 700,000. He also called for all schools to be linked together through the "information highway."
He also said he would award $1,000 merit scholarships for the top 5 percent of graduates in every high school across the country.
Clinton announced tax incentives for businesses which cleaned up abandoned properties.
He criticized Congress for voting to cut environmental enforcement by 25 percent, which he said would mean "more toxic chemicals in our water, more smog choking our air and more pesticides in our food."
The president said the next step in the fight against crime would be take on gangs "the way we took on the mob." He said he was directing the FBI to clamp down on gangs that coerce juveniles into violent crimes. The agency would be encouraged to seek authority to prosecute such criminals as adult juveniles, the president said.
He called on Hollywood producers to provide entertainment their own children would enjoy, and called for a television rating system much like the one used for movies. He invited entertainment leaders to the White House to work on ways to clean up television programming.
He also named the administration's new drug policy director: Gen. Barry McCaffrey, head of the Army's U.S. Southern Command.
The president argued that the United States must not retreat from its global leadership role, and pointed toward progress in Haiti, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East.
He also urged support for a Senate ratification of the START II treaty and a chemical weapons accord, and called for support for a global accord banning nuclear tests.
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