News Articles

President pushes initiatives, ignores impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton outlined an assortment of initiatives to provide a “21st-century government for 21st-century America” during a State of the Union speech that occurred only hours after his team of lawyers began its effort in the U.S. Senate to keep him in office.
Speaking Jan. 19 before members of Congress, the Supreme Court and his cabinet gathered in the House of Representatives chamber, Clinton declared the “state of our union is strong” but never made reference to the impeachment trial under way in the Senate. In the afternoon before his evening speech, the defense of Clinton began in only the second such trial of a president in the country’s history.
In a 77-minute speech, the president appeared undaunted by charges of perjury and obstruction of justice presented the previous week by managers of the House’s case against him. Instead, he called on Americans to “lift our eyes as one nation and, from the mountaintop of this American century, look ahead to the next one, asking God’s blessing on our endeavors and on our beloved country.”
While he focused much of his attention on economic issues, Clinton reaffirmed his support for at least one piece of legislation opposed by many of his fellow Southern Baptists. The president said discrimination “because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.” He called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-discrimination Act, which would extend civil rights protection in the workplace to “sexual orientation,” a category including homosexuality and bisexuality.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution at its 1998 meeting opposing attempts to extend civil rights status to homosexuality. The SBC’s public-policy agency, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is opposed to ENDA, which was not acted on in the last session of Congress.
Clinton quickly called on Congress to help save Social Security for the next century. “With the number of elderly Americans set to double by 2030, the baby boom will become a senior boom,” the president said. By 2013, payroll taxes will not cover monthly payments, and by 2032, the trust fund will be depleted, he said.
The president proposed “we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security.” A “small portion” should be invested, he said.
He also said the surplus should be tapped to strengthen Medicare. Clinton said $1 of every $6 in the surplus for the next 15 years should be used to preserve Medicare until 2020.
Other proposals during the speech included:
— a patients’ bill of rights;
— protection of the privacy of medical records;
— an Education Accountability Act that would require every school district funded by the federal government to halt “social promotion,” improve or shut down poorly performing schools, upgrade teacher quality, adopt discipline policies and give parents more choice among public, but not private, schools;
— an increase in the minimum wage by a dollar per hour the next two years;
— requiring prisoners and those on parole to stay drug-free in order to gain or keep, respectively, their freedom;
— a clean-air fund to reduce greenhouse gases in the face of what Clinton called the “threat of global warming;”
— a tax credit for “stay-at-home parents,” in addition to working parents.
Clinton also announced the Justice Department is preparing to sue the tobacco companies. Money won in court will go toward Medicare, he said.
While the tax credit for parents who stay at home is a step in the right direction, it is only a “baby step,” the conservative Family Research Council said. It is only for families with children under the age of 1, and it is based on a sliding scale that disappears as parental income increases, FRC said.
The televised response by two House members from the Republican Party focused on Social Security, tax cuts and GOP principles.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington said Republicans favor a 10 percent, across-the-board tax cut and an end to the tax penalty for married couples. The president’s proposal on Social Security gives the government more control and will not save the program, she said. The GOP supports giving Americans the opportunity to invest some of their retirement funds in personal accounts, Dunn said.
In the night’s only reference to abortion, Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma said Republicans’ belief in individual liberty “means protecting the unborn. Again this year, overwhelming majorities in both houses will urge the president to end the dreadful and unwarranted practice of partial-birth abortion. We must uphold the sanctity of life amidst the tragedies of abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
Clinton twice has vetoed bills outlawing partial-birth abortion, a procedure which involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered infant normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. The House twice has overridden the veto, but the Senate both times has fallen short of the two-thirds majority required.
Dunn made a somewhat indirect reference to the impeachment proceedings, saying while these are “disturbing and controversial times,” the United States “is not in crisis. There are no tanks in the streets. Our democracy is solid. … And no matter what the outcome of the president’s situation, life in America will go on.”
Some Republican House members who disagreed with Clinton delivering his speech while he was on trial in the Senate boycotted the event, while some others who attended rarely applauded, according to news reports.