Clinton ignores impeachment, calls for Social Security reform
President announces surprise tobacco lawsuit
January 19, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 19) -- Vowing first to protect Social Security with trillions in expected budget surpluses, President Bill Clinton unveiled on Tuesday a variety of initiatives in his seventh State of the Union address to Congress.
The president did not mention his impeachment trial during his 77-minute speech. Most members of Congress routinely applauded, but some Republicans shook their heads, frowned or refrained from clapping during Clinton's forceful, smooth and sometimes light-hearted delivery.
At one point Clinton, only the second president in history to be impeached, left his prepared remarks and bantered with the audience, making a seesaw motion with his hands and joking about how much applause came from which section of the chamber.
Several GOP House members boycotted the speech to show their displeasure with Clinton, who faces removal from office for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
"The state of our union is strong," said Clinton, noting that the United States is enjoying the "longest peacetime economic expansion in our history -- with nearly 18 million new jobs, wages rising at more than twice the rate of inflation, the highest home ownership in history, the smallest welfare rolls in 30 years, and the lowest peacetime unemployment since 1957."
Clinton observed that "for the first time in three decades, the budget is balanced." Predicting that the nation would have budget surpluses for the next 25 years, the president said the primary use of the surplus should be protecting the Social Security system.
By 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover monthly payments. And by 2032 the trust fund will be exhausted, he said.
Clinton proposed committing 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years -- an estimated $2.7 trillion -- to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector, just as any private or state government pension would do. "This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years," he said.
"Last year, we wisely reserved all of the surplus until we knew what it would take to save Social Security. Again, I say, we should not spend any of it until after Social Security is truly saved. First things first," the president added.
Suing tobacco industry over Medicare costs
Clinton's address also included one major domestic policy initiative not in his prepared text: an announcement that the Justice Department is filing suit against tobacco companies to recover billions in Medicare costs the government blames on smoking.
"Taxpayers shouldn't pay for the cost of lung cancer, emphysema and other smoking related illnesses. The tobacco companies should," he said.
Clinton also proposed using one out of every six dollars in the surplus over the next 15 years to guarantee the soundness of Medicare until the year 2020.
His third main item was creating a new pension initiative for retirement security in the 21st century. He suggested using 11 percent of the surplus to establish universal savings accounts, or USA accounts. They would give U.S. citizens the means to save as they chose, he said.
Fourth, the president proposed a tax credit of $1,000 for the aged, ailing or disabled and the families who care for them. "Long-term care will become a bigger and bigger challenge with the aging of America -- and we must help our families deal with it," he said.
Clinton offered other domestic proposals, as well.
The president said later this year he would send Congress a draft of the Education Accountability Act, which would hold states and school districts accountable for progress and reward them for results.
The Clinton plan would call for states and school districts to end social promotion, improve or shut down their worst performing schools, hold teachers responsible for the quality of their work, issue report cards on every school, encourage parents to have more choice in selecting their public schools, and implement discipline policies.
Clinton took some jabs at Republicans, who last year prevented passage of a bill to improve the infrastructure of schools.
"Many of our schools are so old they're falling apart, or so overcrowded students must learn in trailers," said Clinton. "Congress must not miss that opportunity again. I ask you to help our communities build or modernize 5,000 schools."
To support American families, Clinton called on Congress to increase the minimum wage by a dollar an hour over the next two years, strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws and support his plan to offer financial support to working families and after-school programs.
The president urged expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to include 10 million more Americans working in smaller companies to help them care for new babies or ailing relatives without risking their jobs.
Discussing medical trends in the United States, Clinton urged Congress to enact the Patients' Bill of Rights to prevent managed health care from reducing medical options for health plan policy holders, and to those covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Job training, employment programs
After discussing health care, Clinton made some recommendations regarding job training and employment programs, especially for the poor. He recommended a five-year commitment to training for those who lose jobs, and rapid response teams to help towns where factories close.
Speaking of community development banks and empowerment zones, Clinton asked Congress "to support our bold plan to help businesses raise up to $15 billion of private sector capital to bring jobs and opportunity to our inner cities and rural areas."
Clinton suggested using tax credits and loan guarantees, including new American Private Investment Companies (APIC) modeled on the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
The president then looked abroad to discuss more proposals.
"We must enforce our trade laws when imports unlawfully flood our nation. I have already informed the government of Japan that if that nation's sudden surge of steel imports into our country is not reversed, America will respond," he said to enthusiastic applause.
The president said U.S. manufacturers affected by recessions in Asia and other parts of the world should be offered loan guarantees and other incentives to increase exports by nearly $2 billion.
Clinton praised U.S. leadership in diplomatic peace efforts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East. He said the nation would meet threats posed by outlaw nations, like Iraq, and terrorists, like those who bombed U.S. embassies in Africa. And he urged further efforts with Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan to prevent nuclear weapons or technologies from being used inappropriately.
Clinton honors Air Force pilot
Clinton then honored Capt. Jeff Taliaferro, who flew a B-1B bomber over Iraq during a recent airstrike on Iraq. The 10- year veteran sat quietly in the House gallery during the applause.
"It is time to reverse the decline in defense spending that began in 1985," said Clinton. "My balanced budget calls for a sustained increase over the next six years for readiness and modernization, and pay and benefits for our troops."
The president also urged Congress to pay dues and debts to the United Nations.
Before the end of his speech, Clinton mentioned race relations in the country.
"Since 1997, our Initiative on Race has sought to bridge the divides between our people. In its report last fall, the initiative's advisory board found that Americans want to bring our people together across racial lines."
Clinton looked to the gallery to honor civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks, sitting beside Tipper Gore. "She may get up or sit down as she chooses," the president said.
A few seats over, first lady Hillary Clinton sat next to Chicago Cubs baseball star Sammy Sosa.
One person conspicuously absent from the speech was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
Each year one Cabinet member does not attend. The tradition enables the White House to preserve the line of succession for the presidency in case of disaster at the Capitol, where most of the rest of the U.S. government leadership was gathered Tuesday for the annual speech.
The president also acknowledged in the audience Lyn Gibson and Wei Ling Chestnut, the widows of the two Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty last year.
Tuesday January 19, 1999
In State of Union response, GOP promises to stick to 'practical matters'
Social Security tops Clinton State of Union address
Clinton: 'State of our union is strong'
Transcript: Clinton's State of the Union speech
Transcript: Republican response to the State of the Union address
Poll: Most State of the Union viewers liked the speech
White House lawyer derides impeachment case as weak
White House drops plans to use House Democrats in defense
Senate Dems: Defense presentation was 'powerful'
Transcript: White House Counsel Ruff's opening statement
Gov. Bush begins second term in Texas
Supreme Court decisions on death, long-distance and Ticketmaster
Congressional clash looms on taxes, Social Security
Ventura's appointment to wildlife post withdraws under pressure
Clinton legal team contrasts with House prosecutors
With crime down and economy up, America's mood is cheery
Jones' team says old lawyers abandoned her, should get nothing
Dunn, Largent to give GOP response to Clinton speech
Witness in Willey case pleads innocent to making up story
Sosa, activists to attend State of Union
Mortgage company head says Clinton announcement a surprise