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Clinton Will Declare Education His Top Priority

By Wolf Blitzer/CNN

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 4) -- President Bill Clinton plans in his State of the Union address tonight to declare that his "number-one priority as president for the next four years is to ensure that Americans have the best education in the world."

In remarks prepared for delivery, the president will call for "a national crusade for education standards, not federal government standards, but national standards representing what all of our students must know to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century." The White House released excerpts of his speech in advance.

White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles says that the president will probably spend 20 minutes or so talking about education, out of a planned 60-minute speech.

As he did in his inaugural address, Clinton will also call for national unity. "For no matter what our differences -- in our faiths, our backgrounds, our politics -- we must all be repairers of the breach," he is expected to say. "We may not share a common past, but surely we share a common future."

Clinton will also talk of the need of dealing with the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare. Sources say he will propose bipartisan commissions to deal with both issues.

According to Bowles, the speech will contain many specifics and will be divided into six sections:

  1. A section on "unfinished business." The president will call for a balanced budget but will oppose a constititional amendment to require it. He will say the nation must improve last year's welfare reform law. And he will call for passage of campaign finance reform legislation. Sources tell CNN that Clinton will challenge Congress to pass that legislation by July 4.
  2. Education. The president will refer to a 10-point plan, mostly spelling out details of ducation policies and proposals he has spoken about in the past.
  3. Technology investment. He will call for greater investment in the Internet, space exploration and medical science.
  4. The need to build stronger families and stronger communities. Clinton will propose expanding the Family and Medical Leave law and will talk about new steps to provide health insurance for the nation's poor children. He will also include his proposals to strengthen environmental clean-up programs and to help improve the nation's inner cities. This is the section that will deal with crime and drugs. In addition, the president will "celebrate" the nation's culture and arts.
  5. National security and international affairs. This will be a longer section than usual, and the president will outline his top international strategic objectives for his second term. Sources say they include building an undivided, peaceful Europe that includes an expanded NATO and good relations with Russia; cementing U.S. ties with the Asian-Pacific community, especially China and Japan; promoting peace around the world, including in Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean; confronting so-called transnational security challenges, including terrorism, drug trafficking, crime and pollution; maintaining a strong military, backed up by the necessary financial resources to engage in effective diplomacy around the world; and finally, expanding the global economy, especially in Latin America, as a means of creating U.S. jobs through exports.
  6. A call to unity. This will include his appeal for bipartisan cooperation, although that theme, Bowles says, will run throughout the speech.

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