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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Speech Propositions Face Stingy Congress

WASHINGTON -- The policy proposals rolled out by U.S. President Bill Clinton in his State of the Union address this week fall generally into two categories: those that he can carry out without Congress' help, and those that probably won't get done this year.

Perhaps the flashiest of the ideas in Clinton's Tuesday address to Congress was a suggestion to give $1,000 scholarships grants to students who are rated academically in the top 5 percent of their high school senior class.

The program, estimated by the White House to cost about $125 million a year, would go a long way for many state-school students, whose tuition costs typically run about several thousand dollars a year.

It is the kind of idea that has pleased Republicans in the past. They have been inclined to favor programs that would reward top students, and those in the middle class, while the Democrats have traditionally viewed federal education programs as chiefly for poorer pupils.

Yet this year education experts don't expect Congress to adopt any new spending proposals. That's partly out of reluctance to pile up new federal expenses in this year of high deficit-consciousness, and partly out of fear of allowing Clinton to add any legislative wins.

For the same reason, Clinton may have a hard time with his proposal for a program that would hook more schools' computer systems to the Internet. This idea has also had some Republican backing and won some general support from Representative William Goodling, chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee.

But the issue has been who would pay the cost, and it's not clear the congressional majority would take on the expense at this particular time. Similarly, Clinton's proposal to increase federally subsidized work-study programs for college students might also curry Republican favor -- if this were a different year.

Clinton also spoke glowingly of the notion of having public school students wear uniforms. That idea, which has been put into practice by fewer than 1 percent of public school districts, is catching on -- but, of course, Clinton has no jurisdiction over such local issues.

Congressional analysts expect some of Clinton's recycled proposals from earlier years will have similarly tough sledding. The proposals to enable employees to carry health insurance from job to job, and to require insurers to issue policies to employees with pre-existing conditions are not likely to pass the Senate.

Clinton's call for television makers to build in a "v-chip" so that parents can screen out violent shows does have a good chance -- mostly because it had wide bipartisan support before Clinton entered the picture. But the president's call to get the entertainment industry to voluntarily produce more wholesome TV fare is running into steadfast opposition from the industry, which considers such talk as tantamount to censorship.

In a different category are policy changes that Clinton can accomplish by administration action. But some of these may be more incremental.

Clinton's executive order to prohibit federal contracting with companies that have hired illegal aliens sounds like common sense. Analysts on both sides of the issue believe it may have a bracing effect on contractors who don't pay attention to whether their employees can prove they are legally in the United States.

But even some pro-immigration policy analysts say the order is likely to be less of a club than it appears. For one thing, the sanction can be applied only after companies have been caught knowingly employing illegal immigrants, which means that if a company hires illegal immigrants who have genuine-looking papers, they are off the hook.

Clinton's new war on drug gangs is an extension of an existing program. The president has sent a directive to the FBI and other investigative agencies to target gangs that involve juveniles in violent crime, "a natural offshoot of the anti-violent-crime initiative" that Attorney General Janet Reno launched in March 1994, a Justice Department official said.

But the latest effort will call for federal agents to help track gang migration and for greater use of the federal witness protection program, the spokesman said.

He said FBI Director Louis J. Freeh had promised the White House to step up emphasis on gangs involving juveniles.