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Clinton asks GOP to focus on old business, education

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bill Clinton called on a
Republican-controlled Congress to complete some unfinished business before helping him in what he described as the top priority in his second term — ensuring all Americans “have the best education in the world.”

While the president’s hour-long State of the Union speech consisted of a number of programs initiated by the federal government, the Republican response from Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma focused on nongovernmental solutions, including giving “spiritual, traditional and family values … a bigger place in solving America’s problems.”

Both Clinton and Watts are members of Southern Baptist churches.

In his first State of the Union address since his re-election, Clinton challenged Congress to finish old business by balancing the budget, adopting campaign finance reform and completing welfare reform.

“The people of this nation elected us all,” the president said to a Congress with Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. “They want us to be partners, not partisans.

“Let this Congress be the Congress that finally balances the budget. Balancing the budget requires only your vote and my signature,” he said, rejecting the GOP proposal of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “I believe it is both unnecessary and unwise to adopt a balanced budget amendment that could cripple our country in time of crisis and force unwanted results, such as judges halting Social Security checks or increasing taxes.”

In the midst of growing revelations of questionable fund-raising involving the White House, Clinton urged Congress to pass by July 4 the campaign finance reform bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Sen Russell Feingold, D.-Wis.

To follow up welfare reform enacted last year, the president asked for approval of his plan to help 2 million more people off welfare by the year 2000, including tax credits for businesses that hire people off welfare.

He also challenged “every religious congregation, every community nonprofit, every business to hire someone off welfare.”

Clinton said the balanced budget he would present Congress would allot $51 billion to achieve three goals: “Every 8-year-old must be able to read; every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet; every 18-year-old must be able to go to college … .”

He introduced a 10-point “Call to Action for American Education,” which includes national standards for students and teachers, a million volunteer tutors to help every child read by the end of the third grade, parental choice for public schools only, character education and $5 billion in federal money to help localities finance $20 billion in
school construction.

The president also called for expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, passage of a victim rights amendment to the Constitution and enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by 1999 “so that countries that were once our adversaries can become our allies.”

Speaking of the need for advances in relationships across racial and ethnic lines, Clinton said, “We’re not there yet. We still see evidence of abiding bigotry and intolerance, in ugly words and awful violence, in burned churches and bombed buildings” — an apparent reference to recent bombings at abortion clinics.

Watts, the only black Republican in Congress, cited racial
equality as part of a three-part, GOP plan of action for he year.

His party, Watts said in a speech at the Library of Congress, seeks a country where everyone, regardless of race, feels a part of the American dream.

“It does not happen by dividing us into racial groups,” Watts said. “It does not happen by trying to turn rich against poor or by using the politics of fear. It does not happen by reducing our values to the lowest common denominator. And, friends, it does not happen by asking Americans to accept what’s immoral and wrong in the name of
tolerance” — apparently a reference to efforts to legalize homosexual rights.

“Surely we have learned from our long, difficult journey a great truth: Government can’t ease all pain. We must deal with the heart of man,” he said.

To help restore values, Watts said he and other Republicans are offering the American Community Renewal Act as the next step in welfare reform. The measure seeks to involve religious organizations in helping “rebuild low-income communities,” he said.

As the third part of the Republican plan for 1997, the party will seek soon to pass a balanced budget amendment.

The $5 trillion dollar national debt “is more than financially irresponsible. Friends, it’s immoral, because someone is going to have to pay the piper. And you know who it’s going to be? It’s going to be our kids and grandkids,” Watts said.

In a direct response to Clinton, Watts warned the national television audience not to “believe all those dire warnings about the amendment wrecking Social Security. That’s just not true.”

Some Republicans called Clinton’s speech a step backward a year after he had declared the age of big government as finished.

The president “seemed to suggest that the era of big government might be on the comeback,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind., in a written statement. “In a very long speech, heavy with all kinds of new initiatives, the president outlined a very ambitious role for more government at a time when Americans are increasingly saying there is already too much government in their lives.”

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest educators’ union, found much to his liking.

Clinton “may very well go down in history as the real ‘education president,'” Shanker said in a prepared statement.