State of the Union: Clinton Says Now Is the 'Time to Build.'(includes Related Article on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's Republican Response)

By Shafroth, Frank | Nation's Cities Weekly, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

State of the Union: Clinton Says Now Is the 'Time to Build.'(includes Related Article on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's Republican Response)


Shafroth, Frank, Nation's Cities Weekly


"Our cities are the vibrant hubs of our great metropolitan areas," President Clinton said in a speech to the Congress and the nation to give his perspective on the state of the nation and its cities, and to propose an agenda for the future. Cities "are still the gateways for new immigrants, from every continent, coming to work for their own American Dream. Let's keep our cities going strong into the 21st century."

So the President urged the Congress and the American people in his annual State of the Union address. He told the country the that state of the nation was good: "Because of the hard work and high purpose of the American people, these are good times for America."

After briefly citing a slew of statistics from unemployment to welfare caseloads to inflation to the federal deficit to demonstrate the remarkable health of the nation and its economy, the President turned to the road ahead: "This is not the time to rest; it is a time to build, to build the America within our reach."

The President defined his speech by calling for the first balanced federal budget in a generation. He proposed, moreover, as the centerpeice of his address that any future budget surpluses -- now projected at in excess of $200 billion over the next five years -- be preserved to protect the Social Security system for future generations. In clearly defining his position amid the growing battle on Capital Hill about whether to spend any surplus on new programs or to spend it on new tax breaks and cuts, the President came down squarely on putting all those surpluses into helping to pay for the coming wave of Baby boomer retirement costs -- at least unit a long-term fix can be enacted. The President said he planned to hold five public forums in cities across the nation this year as a prelude to bipartisan talks next year to find a solution to the issue.

Even while opposing any major new spending initiatives or tax cuts, the President proposed a significant number of domestic initiatives, including propoals to assist cities to rebuid and repair schools, funds to hire 100,000 new teachers, a $21 billion child care initiative, job training assistance, and tripling the number of enterprise zones. He called for a new a Clean Water initiative and a major increase in federal funding for biomedical and scientific research. He asked Congress to increase the minimum wage and to expand the federal Family and Medical Leave Act mandates so that they would apply to smaller cities and businesses.

To pay for the more than $60 billion in new initiatives and increased funding for other programs without spending any of the anticipated federal, short-term budget surplus, the President called on Congress to pass tobacco legislation to ensure a settlement with the tobacco corporations, increase the federal cigarette tax, and impose national standards to reduce teen smoking.

The President congratulated the Senate for its commitment to vote on bipartisan federal campaign finance reform legislation prior to March 6.

He proposed a modest change in the nation's Medicare system to allow Americans just short of retirement age an option to buy into coverage. And he urged Congress to pass legislation to give consumers a bill of rights to deal with health maintenance organizations.

Telling his national audience that the strength of the nation rests upon the bedrock of responsibility, he said his definition of responsibility included the provision of safe streets, safe schools, and safe neighborhoods in cities and towns. He urged Congress to support his efforts to complete his job of putting 100,000 more police on the streets. He asked Congress to pass juvenile crime bill to provide more prosecutors and probation officers in order to crack down on gangs, guns, and drugs, and to bar violent juveniles from buying guns for life. …

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