President Clinton’s calls for more cooperation with Congress to balance the budget and solve the nation’s problems left Northwest Republicans skeptical Tuesday night.
“He always gives a good speech,” Rep. George Nethercutt said. “He’s proven he can talk the talk.”
The Spokane attorney said Republicans are frustrated, however, because some of the things that Clinton mentioned, such as a balanced budget, only happen under pressure from Congress.
Patty Murray, the region’s sole Democrat in the Senate, agreed that the GOP deserves credit for pushing the balanced budget. But now that there are three balanced budget plans on the negotiating table, the time for rhetoric is over.
Unless they are planning on using it as a campaign issue for the rest of the year, all sides should compromise and balance the budget, she said.
“This was the first positive message of hope and promise that challenges us to work together,” she said. “A lot (of the speech) could have been said by a number of Republican presidents.”
Republicans questioned whether Clinton truly believes his calls for smaller government.
“Tonight Clinton sounded like a Republican, but his words don’t match his actions,” Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne said.
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig argued that the programs Clinton has called untouchable - Medicare and Medicaid - are the ones making government larger.
The president’s plan to offer scholarships to the nation’s top high school students is an example of old-style Democratic program, Nethercutt said. It sounds good, but would cost money.
Nethercutt also accused the president of using federal workers for his own political gain by blaming the government’s partial shutdown on Republicans.
“He knows very well that had he signed those bills, they (federal workers) would have remained on the job,” Nethercutt said.
Congress probably won’t follow Clinton’s suggestion that it quickly pass the parts of the budget on which all sides agree, Nethercutt predicted. Instead, it will probably send him legislation that pays temporarily for programs the GOP supports.
But most Northwest Republicans were reluctant to force another partial shutdown of the government.
Craig and Kempthorne also said they would oppose any action that would result in the government defaulting on its debts.
Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, criticized Clinton for being short on specifics. She wanted him to “talk numbers,” not talk about policy.
“It was like a ‘Father Knows Best’ show, where he used his address to tell us how we should live,” she said.
Clinton is misjudging the West when he said Americans shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves, Chenoweth contends.
“That’s what we’re asking in the West: Leave us alone so that we can fend for ourselves.”