Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Clinton ignores impeachment, lays out ambitious agenda

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — President Clinton, standing before a Congress torn over his fate, proposed Tuesday to protect Social Security with the huge budget surpluses that Republicans are eyeing for tax cuts. He also announced the government will sue the tobacco industry for smokers' health costs.

        On a day of high drama that shifted from his daytime trial in the Senate to his prime-time State of the Union speech, Mr. Clinton made no mention of the sex-and-lies case that led to his impeachment and imperils his presidency.

        But with the economy booming and the budget balanced, Mr. Clinton said America's achievements are sometimes overlooked “in the clash of controversy.”

        Several Republicans did not attend the 77-minute speech; Chief Justice William Rehnquist, presiding over Mr. Clinton's trial, also stayed away.

        Mr. Clinton opened his address by recalling the admonition of new House Speaker Dennis Hastert for Republicans and Democrats to work in a spirit of bipartisanship. “Mr. Speaker, let's do exactly that,” the president said.

        In the ornate House chamber where he was impeached one month ago on a party-line vote, the president was received with respect and interrupted by applause 95 times. Democrats were most enthusiastic. Two of Mr. Clinton's harshest Republican critics — House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas — sat stonily side by side.

        Demanding that Washington reserve $4 trillion in expected budget surpluses to shore up Social Security and Medicare, Mr. Clinton declared, “First things first.”

        In a new salvo against smoking, Mr. Clinton announced the Justice Department will sue the tobacco industry. He also is seeking a 55-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes. “Our children are targets of a massive media campaign to hook them on cigarettes,” Mr. Clinton said.

        Mr. Clinton also urged spending billions for new programs in child care, education, crime-fighting, the environment and the Pentagon. And he called for raising the minimum wage by $1 an hour over two years to $6.15.

        “With our budget surplus growing, our economy expanding, our confidence rising, now is the time for this generation to meet our historic responsibility to the 21st century,” Mr. Clinton said. “Let's get to work.”

        On education, the president said he would send Congress a plan that for the first time holds states and school districts accountable for their progress and rewards them for results, he said. Schools that fail to comply could lose some of the $15 billion the federal government spends on education.

        “I believe we must change the way we invest that money, to support what works and to

        stop supporting what doesn't,” the president said. No child should graduate from high school “with a diploma he or she can't read,” Mr. Clinton said.

        In his remarks on foreign policy, Mr. Clinton said the United States will continue to contain Iraq's Saddam Hussein. “And we will work for the day when Iraq has a government worthy of its people.” In the aftermath of the killing of more than 40 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Mr. Clinton said the Unit ed States and NATO allies “are pressing the Serbian government to stop its brutal repression in Kosovo, to bring those responsible to justice.”

        On Social Security, Mr. Clinton's proposal sets up a monumental fight over how to protect the giant retirement program and deal with GOP tax-cutting ambitions against a background of $4 trillion in projected surpluses over 15 years.

        The president's proposal would create new 401(k)-style retirement accounts for work ers and invest some of Social Security's cash reserves in the stock market for the first time.

        In sharp contrast, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called for a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut. Republicans also attacked the idea of having the government invest Social Security cash on Wall Street.

        “No, no, a thousand times no,” said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, House Ways and Means chairman. “If you thought a government takeover of health care was bad, just wait until the government becomes an owner of America's private sector companies.”

        Mr. Clinton proposed transferring about 60 percent of expected budget surpluses over the next 15 years — $2.7 trillion — to the Social Security account to keep the program solvent until 2055.

        Twenty-five percent of that money would be invested by the government in the stock market in hopes of achieving higher returns.

        “I reach out my hand to those of you of both parties in both houses and ask you to join me in saying we will save Social Security now,” Mr. Clinton said. “Last year, we wisely reserved all of the surplus until we knew what it would take to save Social Security. Again, I say, we should not spend any of it until after Social Security is truly saved.

        “First things first.”

        Never before has a president delivered a State of the Union address under such extraordinary conditions.

        Mr. Clinton's House accusers and Senate judges were the immediate audience, although his real target was millions of Americans watching at home. His job was to convince them he is faithful to their interests and should remain in power.

        Two special guests sat in the House chamber with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the president spoke: civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and baseball slugger Sammy Sosa. Mr. Clinton singled out his wife, saying “I honor her” for her work with children and on behalf of the nation.


- Clinton ignores impeachment, lays out ambitious agenda
Tristate congressmen criticize spending proposals
President's issues have local impact
Social Security plan is big, bold and controversial
Clinton cites first lady's 'historic role'
Government to sue to cigarette makers to recover smoking costs
Lukewarm criticism from GOP
President out to reclaim his legacy
Text of State of the Union address
State of the Union address (Take 2)
State of the Union address (Take 3)
State of the Union address (Take 4)
State of the Union address (Take 5)
State of the Union address (Take 6)
State of the Union address (Take 7)
Clinton's lawyer presents scathing rebuke
Both parties praise president's counsel
Chabot: Ruff got it wrong
Defense low-key till end
GOP collecting, editing queries