Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday January 20, 1999

Clinton lays out raft of initiatives: Paves the way for Gore in 2000

He may be facing removal from office, he may be unable to get his legislation through Congress, and he may be only two years away from the end of his term in any case, but President Bill
Clinton last night gave notice that he has not given up.

In the State of the Union address that Clinton delivered to both houses of Congress, he laid out a vast array of policy projects. But behind the facade, much of what Clinton announced had less to do with his own ambitions than the presidential aspirations of Vice-President Al Gore.

The policy details seem designed to set out an agenda for Gore, and to guard his weaker flanks against attack from the Republicans. It is a manifesto for the baby-boom generation at the century’s end.

The mainstay of the speech was the growing budget surplus, expected to be a cumulative $2.7 trillion over the next 15 years. There is no consensus in Washington about what to do with the windfall — spend it, save it or use for tax cuts.

Clinton said last night that he wants the vast majority of the surpluses — about 62 per cent — to be devoted to bolstering social security, the American pension system. Of this, between a fifth and a quarter would be invested through the stock market. The U.S. population is aging, and the baby boom generation fears that there will not be enough paid into it to keep their pensions. The initiative would keep the pension system solvent until 2055.

Another 15 per cent would go to preserving the Medicare system for the elderly, and 11 per cent would be used for new “universal savings accounts” for individuals to invest for their retirement

The Republicans preferred to devote the surplus to tax cuts, but Clinton’s proposals — which have overtones of careful economy, while reassuring people in their 30s and 40s that there will be a pension waiting for them — will command considerable political support, especially among the less well-off.

The rest of the surplus,  Clinton proposed spending. Firstly, he called for considerable investment in education, reinforcing discipline and scho ol standards. Clinton also proposed using some of the cash to boost military spending, part of a multi-year package that would devote an extra $112 billion to the Pentagon. This is the first increase in spending since the 1991 Gulf War. Clinton and Gore are both vulnerable on defence, where the administration is regarded as weak.

A new round of global trade talks, to reform the World Trade Organization and reduce trade barriers, was another of Clinton’s proposals. This will appeal to the free-trade constituencies, unions and environmental groups.

By putting down markers in so many areas, and in particular by appealing to the middle-of-the-road, middle-aged and middle class, Clinton has given a boost to Gore’s early prospects. (Hamilton Spectator, B2, 1/20/1999)

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