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Clinton Meets With Congressional Leaders


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 11) -- Meeting with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill for the first time since his second inauguration, President Bill Clinton said today he was "optimistic and hopeful" about the chance for bipartisan agreements on the nation's business.

The meeting produced no specific agreements, but lawmakers discussed ways to find consensus on such issues as balancing the budget, education reform, expanding health care for children, cutting taxes, controlling crime and aiding the distressed District of Columbia government.

"I think everybody involved felt that it was an excellent start and an excellent meeting," Vice President Al Gore told reporters afterward. Added Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, "The atmosphere was the best I've seen in some time."


Also attending the meeting were House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, among others. The lawmakers met around a long table in the President's Signing Room, just outside the Senate chamber.

Calling agreements on education and the budget "imperative," Clinton told reporters the meeting was "an important first step after the State of the Union... to show that we can work together."

Said Gingrich: "This is a chance for us to have a real dialogue." Added Lott: "Rather than come together and argue on the things we disagree on, we thought that [it would be] an opportunity to begin to identify issues where we can work together."


The budget has emerged at the top of the president's agenda. Congressional Republicans reacted skeptically to Clinton's budget proposals, released last week. Still, both sides appear committed to reaching an agreement that balances the budget by 2002.

It may be more difficult to find common ground, though, on the issue of education reform, which Clinton highlighted in his State of the Union address last week. Republican lawmakers expressed dismay that Clinton's budget contained a proposal for what they say is, in effect, a new entitlement to two years of higher education. Skeptical of federal involvement in education, GOP leaders are more likely to favor measures to lessen Washington's involvement in schooling.

One notable issue not discussed was campaign finance reform. "We have fundamental disagreements there," Lott explained.

Before heading to Capitol Hill, the president met with lawmakers at the White House to discuss alternative legislation to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which he has endorsed but which is opposed by most Republicans.

"We are determined to go forward," Clinton said, who has urged Congress to pass reform legislation by July 4, Independence Day.

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