Before hundreds of cheering truck assembly-line workers in a state important to his re-election hopes, President Clinton Friday called his budget battle with the Republican majority in Congress a choice between a vision of “a society where winner takes all or a society where everybody’s got a chance to win.”
In back-to-back appearances at the Peterbilt Truck Factory and a Democratic fund-raising lunch, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore provided a taste of how they might take the budget theme to the hustings if the November elections become a referendum on the two parties’ competing visions for shaping the federal government.
Impassioned, folksy and quoting lines from a country-western music song in the city that is home to the Grand Ole Opry, Clinton returned to some of the economic themes that had characterized his first race for president in 1992 - an emphasis on the needs of the middle class.
“We want to grow the middle class and strengthen the underclass,” Clinton said. “We think the best way to make more millionaires is to have more successful working people buying what they’re putting out, whether they’re products or services.”
Gore, returning to his home state, where Republicans captured the governorship and both Senate seats two years ago, called Republican prescriptions “an extremist agenda” and tied them to the ‘trickle-down economics” of the Reagan administration.
And going on the offensive on the Whitewater controversy, he accused the Republicans of practicing “character assassination” on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady, because they cannot “make any progress talking about the issues Americans care about.”
Clinton left Nashville at midday on an overnight flight to Bosnia, where he planned to meet today with U.S. troops stationed in Tuzla as part of the peacekeeping mission.
He also plans to tour U.S. military staging areas in Hungary and Italy and to meet with the presidents of Bosnia and Croatia.
Clinton asked the truck-factory workers to applaud three of their co-workers who had been sent to Germany in National Guard units called up to provide support for the deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia.
“We have worked hard, not to fight a war but to win a peace,” Clinton said, “for the humanitarian reasons that involved the people there and to keep that war from spreading in ways that could hurt the United States and our friends and allies in Europe.”
Clinton’s two stops in Nashville, however, mainly focused on campaign-style appeals for support in Washington’s budget fight, just a day after he declared during a news conference that he was optimistic that a budget deal could be reached “if we set aside partisanship and work to seize this moment.”
Describing the 50 hours of face-to-face negotiations he had with the Republican congressional leaders, Clinton said the talks had often reminded him of the lyrics of a country-western song, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when I’m stuck with a turkey like you.”
“Sometimes they think that about me. Sometimes I think that about them,” he said in reference to the congressional leaders - drawing hoots of laughter.
The president’s appearances came while Congress was taking a short recess and both parties were maneuvering for advantage in the budget standoff.