Clinton Stresses Spirit of Community

WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton in his State of the Union Address exhorted the new Republican Congress to put aside "partisanship, pettiness and pride" and called for new efforts to rekindle a public spirit of community and civic virtue.


"Our civil life is suffering," Clinton said in an address designed to claim the moral high ground and lift his beleaguered presidency above daily political skirmishes. "Citizens are working together less, shouting at each other more," he declared. "The common bonds of community which have been the great strength of this country from its beginning are badly frayed."


Clinton told a joint session of Congress and a nationwide television audience he will dedicate the rest of his term in office to a theme revived from his 1992 campaign, a "new covenant" between the citizenry and its government.


Bowing to the November election returns, which delivered both houses of Congress into the hands of the Republicans for the first time in 40 years, Clinton promised a less intrusive and more effective government, saying: "We cannot ask Americans to be better citizens if we are not better servants."


To meet that pledge, Clinton promised a thorough review of the entire federal bureaucracy and vowed to axe "over 100 programs we do not need."


And, in contrast with his two previous State of the Union speeches, Clinton proposed no specific new legislative initiatives to this largely skeptical Congress. Instead, he repeated his long-standing positions on a list of major issues -- sometimes conceding points to the Republican majority and asking for its cooperation but often painting GOP positions as extremist or wrongheaded.


In his speech:


?Clinton denounced the proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, asked its Republican sponsors to spell out what spending cuts they would make to implement it and warned them not to "endanger Social Security" -- something they have already promised not to do.


?He vowed to stand firm against any repeal of gun control laws passed by last year's Democratic-led Congress, including the so-called Brady law, which requires a waiting period for handgun purchases, and a ban on 19 types of assault rifles.


?Acknowledging that his administration "bit off more than we could chew" with its comprehensive health-care proposal last year, the president nonetheless appealed for bipartisan cooperation to enact less-sweeping health-insurance reforms.


?Clinton asked Congress to work with the administration to increase the federal minimum wage. But he did not publicly announce the goal of $5 an hour that his aides cited Monday, saying that he wanted to work with Congress on the issue.


?He revived a proposal for a national campaign against teenage pregnancy.


?He appealed to Congress to approve $40 billion in loan guarantees to stabilize Mexico's economy.


?He proposed increased funding for the U.S. Border Patrol to stop illegal immigration and outlined a plan to create a national registry to enable employers to verify workers' documents.


On his first visit to the Capitol since Republicans seized control of Congress, Clinton was greeted warmly by members of both parties. But as the speech progressed, several Republican members walked out and many refused to stand or applaud Clinton proposals.


Clinton indulged his trademark long-windedness, speaking for 80 minutes -- more than twice as long as aides had predicted.