Clinton Unveils $21.7 Billion Child Care Plan

Article excerpt

President Clinton yesterday proposed "the single largest national commitment to child care in the history of the United States," a five-year, $21.7 billion package that would dramatically expand the federal role in day care and early learning.

The proposal, announced with much ceremony at the White House, is a policy Democrats say is "family friendly" and will appeal to voters in the run-up to November's midterm congressional elections.

It was the third major announcement from Mr. Clinton in three days in what his allies say is an attempt to demonstrate that he is not out of new ideas after five years in office. Administration strategists believe that economic good times that have helped balance the budget will enable them to increase spending.

Mr. Clinton's announcement of initiatives such as the one yesterday, and a plan made public Tuesday to significantly expand Medicare, has begun to revive criticism that he is returning to the big-government policies of his first term.

"The administration seems to have many small ideas these days, which, taken together, return to the era of big government," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, Texas Republican.

"The committee will produce a tax bill this year that lowers the tax burden on the American people. . . . I hope the president will support tax relief then as well as now," Mr. Archer said.

The major items in the child care proposal are a $7.5 billion increase in block grants to the states to subsidize child care, a $5.2 billion expansion of child care tax credits and a $3.8 billion increase in Head Start funding.

Like all such White House initiatives, this one faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Congress. But early criticism was muted.

In fact, his announcement sparked something of a political scramble to demonstrate concern for working families. Several Republican lawmakers cited their own accomplishments on the issue, or proposed alternatives.

Sen. John H. Chafee, senior member of the Finance Committee, said he is working on a child care plan that would give a tax incentive to all parents - even those who care for children at home.

"The current system is unfair to lower- and middle-income families where one parent wants to stay at home with the children," the Rhode Island Republican said.

Sen. John Ashcroft faulted Mr. Clinton for not backing "family-friendly" legislation, such as a measure the Missouri Republican has sponsored that would ensure more flexible work hours for private-sector employees.

Mr. Clinton outlined his proposal in the White House East Room, where he was joined by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton - who has campaigned for her ideas on child care - Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper. …