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CNN Today

Clinton's State of the Union Address a Plateful for President Fighting Lame-Duck Status

Aired January 28, 2000 - 2:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton pointed it out in last night's State of the Union address: The U.S. economic expansion will soon become the longest on record. Mr. Clinton is on the road today trying to sell the ambitious agenda put forth in his lengthy State of the Union speech. He's in Quincy, Illinois, a sleepy Mississippi River town that witnessed an energetic turnaround last decade.

The State of the Union initiatives are quite a plateful for a politician fighting lame-duck status.

Here's CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): President Clinton may have less than a year left in office, but he still has a lengthy legislative wish list.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask you to pass a real patients' bill of rights.

I ask you to pass common-sense gun safety legislation.

I ask you to pass campaign finance reform.

BIERBAUER: Whether or not he gets those, the president says the state of the union is the strongest it has ever been, with back-to- back budget surpluses, employment up, crime down. Still, he challenged Congress to fight crime with more federal prosecutors and agents, funding for research on smart-gun technology and a national gun licensing program.

CLINTON: We must strengthen our gun laws and...

BIERBAUER: The White House telegraphed most proposals, but kept the gun licensing as the evening's surprise. The father of 15-year- old Columbine High School shooting victim Daniel Mauser was in the House gallery to help make the point. CLINTON: I pray that his courage and wisdom will, at long last, move this Congress to make common-sense gun legislation the very next order of business.

BIERBAUER: The president's plan uses part of the budget surplus to pay down the national debt, but offers $350 billion in tax cuts over 10 years -- still not as much as Republicans would. It reduces the marriage penalty for some taxpayers.

CLINTON: If we stay on this path, we can pay down the debt entirely in just 13 years now and make America debt-free for the first time since Andrew Jackson was president in 1835.

BIERBAUER: In education, the president wants to give Head Start its largest increase, $1 billion, use $30 billion in tax cuts for the College Opportunity program, and create a new teacher quality initiative.

CLINTON: To recruit more talented people into the classroom, reward good teachers for staying there, and give all teachers the training they need.

BIERBAUER: The president would use $400 billion of the budget surplus to keep Medicare solvent past 2025, guarantee seniors affordable prescription drugs, and extend the Children's Health Insurance Program.

CLINTON: Tonight, I propose that we follow Vice President Gore's suggestion to make low-income parents eligible for the insurance that covers their children.

BIERBAUER: The vice president's name came up often. It may be Clinton's agenda, but it could be Al Gore's inheritance. This is an election year.

REP. JOSEPH KNOLLENBERG (R), MICHIGAN: The president is a lame duck, as any president would be in this state, so he's going to have to deal with that reality.

REP. DICK ARMEY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I doubt that the president can do everything that he talked about doing within the context of the budget. We'll have to check that out.

BIERBAUER: Republicans, in response, challenged the president's education approach.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Our plan recognizes that one community may need more math teachers while another may need better reading programs, and still others new computers. The point is, it should be your community's decision, not Washington's.

BIERBAUER: And recalled the president's ill-starred 1993 health care reform.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: The president has unveiled a similar plan just as bad as the first. It makes government even bigger and more bloated because each new proposal we heard tonight -- and there were about 11 of them in health care alone -- comes with its own massive bureaucracy.

BIERBAUER: The State of the Union is never free of partisanship. One side of the aisle applauds while the other folds its hands. But this State of the Union at least lacked the embarrassment of scandal and the cloud of impeachment that cloaked the president on his last two visits to the same House chamber. That nearly tore down his presidency. This trip, Mr. Clinton was building his legacy.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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