While decrying the early start of the 1996 presidential campaign, President Clinton Friday issued a full-scale defense of his administration, accused congressional Republicans of appearing “to target children” for spending cuts and fingered Republican front-runner Bob Dole as bearing some responsibility for the nation’s problems.
Enumerating his accomplishments, the president questioned why any Democrat would consider challenging him for the party’s nomination. “What would the issue be?” he asked.
The election may still be 20 months away, but with Republicans lining up to run against him - and some Democrats privately expressing concern about his re-election prospects - both the questions and the answers at a nationally televised afternoon news conference at the White House were colored by the upcoming campaign.
For 45 minutes, Clinton drew sharp contrasts between himself and Republicans, especially Dole, the Senate majority leader, while simultaneously insisting it was too early to even think about re-election politics. “I want everybody to relax, take a deep breath and go back to work,” he said.
But he also accused congressional Republicans of “outright hostility” toward vital government programs, with proposals to finance tax cuts for the wealthy with spending cuts in education, nutrition programs and anti-drug efforts that “appear to me to target children.”
To a challenge by House Republicans that he produce a seven-year plan to balance the budget, he said he would “wait now until they do their constitutional duty” and write their own.
When a reporter noted that Dole had accused Clinton of abdicating his responsibilities, Clinton retorted that Dole had been in Washington for 30 years and “he hasn’t always been in the minority.” He said Republican administrations had driven up the deficit and the debt that he was now struggling to control.
“And since I’ve been president,” Clinton said, “we’ve got a lower deficit, a lower unemployment rate, a lower inflation rate, a higher growth rate.”
He sidestepped a question about whether he expects a primary challenge for his renomination. “I hope there isn’t,” he said. “I think it would be a mistake for the Democratic Party.”