Declaring the economic and political drag of budget deficits to be a thing of the past, President Clinton moved Tuesday to a broad agenda for the rest of the year, trying to summon support for a grab bag of causes from expanding trade to tightening pollution controls to passing wide-reaching laws to restrict tobacco.
Speaking to his second audience of students in two days, Clinton again called on Congress to support his plan for new national tests measured against voluntary standards in reading and math.
Clinton also threatened Tuesday to direct “the full glare of public light” toward any senators who try to block legislation to tighten campaign finance laws. But even as he spoke this afternoon about the peril of money in politics and a Senate committee grilled a former top Democratic official about fund raising, Clinton planned to attend two dinners Tuesday night to raise $550,000 for the Democratic National Committee.
Addressing the students and faculty of American University here, Clinton invoked John F. Kennedy’s vision of a world free from the Cold War, articulated 34 years ago at the same university.
“It is up to you and to me and to our fellow Americans to imagine what the 21st century will be, and then to do what is necessary to make that vision a reality for all our people,” he said.
Clinton addressed topics as open-ended as whether the rush of technology could leave citizens “each with our own Web page, but linked by few human bonds of community.” But he also raised more specific matters, urging for the first time in weeks that his nominee for ambassador to Mexico, William Weld, receive a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Clinton assured his college audience that Social Security would survive to benefit them, and he pledged in the next three months to appoint members of a new commission to study Medicare. He also called on Congress to take this “historic opportunity” to pass “sweeping legislation that focuses first and foremost on reducing smoking among young people.”
One of his senior aides billed the address, which Clinton worked on during the last two weeks of his vacation, as a “back to work, back to school, America’s back” speech. And Clinton provided a remarkably upbeat assessment of the nation’s health, pointing to low inflation and unemployment as the products of an economy so robust that “many of our poorest urban and rural communities are in a springtime of renewal.”
He lavishly praised the recent agreement to balance the budget by 2002.
“After years in which the two parties seemed often as tired and trapped as punch-drunk fighters in a ring getting smaller and smaller, finally we found a way for Democrats and Republicans to work together for the national interest.”
After he turned to foreign policy, however, Clinton sounded slightly defensive as he described his plans to meet here later this fall with Jiang Zemin, the president of China. He called the meeting “a chance for us to address candidly and face to face our differences on issues like human rights and religious freedom.”
He said that “sitting down together across the table is far more likely to produce progress than pointing fingers across the Pacific.”
Linking free trade with the growth of democracy, Clinton called for expanded trade with Asia and other parts of the world. Wednesday he plans to announce a campaign to persuade Congress to increase his powers to negotiate trade agreements.
For the first time since his address to the United Nations on June 26, Clinton returned to the subject of global climate change. He is trying to build public support for reducing greenhouse emissions in advance of a summit on climate change to be held in December in Kyoto, Japan.
Clinton warned that, if it is not checked, climate change could cause flooding in southern Florida and Louisiana over the next 50 years, and he said that Americans could take some cost-free steps to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.