President Clinton, trying to regain the political initiative while Congress is on vacation, denounced the House Republican welfare reform bill Tuesday and challenged Congress to negotiate a bipartisan compromise on the issue by July 4.
“The bill that passed the House of Representatives … is too weak on work and too tough on children,” Clinton said in a rare evening primetime news conference. “It’s wrong to cut children off just because their mothers are minors. After all, a child is a child. … Surely we should not punish children for the mistakes of their parents.”
The House bill, which passed last month, would deny cash benefits to unwed mothers under 18 and prohibit states from increasing benefits for mothers who have more babies.
Instead, Clinton said he wants a welfare reform bill like the one he proposed last year, which would increase federal funding for welfare recipients’ job training.
In his news conference, Clinton also listed other items on what an aide called his “must-do list” for the second 100 days of the Republicanled Congress: tax cuts linked to grants for college tuition, moderate cuts in spending and preservation of the ban on assault-style weapons.
And he appealed for a greater degree of bipartisan cooperation than during the first 100 days, which were dominated by the Republican majority in the House.
“I was not elected to produce a pile of vetoes,” Clinton said, “and the Congress was not elected to produce a pile of political issues for the next election.”
Clinton addressed several other issues, including:
TRADE WITH JAPAN: Clinton sounded a hawkish note, reflecting his administration’s belief the Japanese have been stalling for years in opening their markets to foreign automobiles and auto parts. “We have strong differences” with the Japanese, Clinton said, in talks that ended another inconclusive phase in Washington on Tuesday.
RE-ELECTION PROSPECTS: Clinton gave a somewhat hesitant reply to a question about why the voters should give him a second term. “I believe I should be re-elected because I have done what I have said I would do, because we have got good results, because the policies that I now advocate, most importantly, will address the outstanding problems of the country.”
SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE: Clinton said emphatically that he is “going to the mat” to fight for the confirmation of Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr., who has acknowledged performing several dozen abortions during his career as an obstetriciangynecologist. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, said Tuesday he firmly opposes Foster’s confirmation and will try to prevent the nomination from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.
ATOMIC BOMBING OF JAPAN: Clinton said that he will not apologize to Japan for President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on the country during World War II, a decision “that we did not believe then and I do not believe now was a mistake.” But, he said, U.S.-Japan friendship will go on despite the historical controversy over the bomb during this 50th anniversary year. “We have gone on from that,” he said. “The way to bridge the gulf is to talk about the friendship that we have now.”
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Clinton said “the government should never give someone who is unqualified anything over someone who is qualified” but deferred a more detailed response until after his administration completes its review of federal affirmative action programs, which he said “won’t be long.”
FLAT TAX PROPOSAL: Asked whether he would support a flat tax, a measure that would greatly simplify the nation’s bewildering tax code, Clinton expressed doubts, warning that such a tax might explode the deficit and also be unfair. He cited research suggesting that a flat tax would increase taxes for Americans earning less than $200,000 a year, while lowering them for households that earn more than $200,000.