President Clinton took a poke at Congress on Tuesday, noting seven times in a brief speech that in the schedule set by Republicans, legislators have just 70 working days left this year, even though it is only March.
But that is still enough time to pass landmark legislation on tobacco and child care, Clinton said, and he urged Congress to do so.
“We should not let the calendar get in the way of the urgent need for action,” he said on Tuesday morning in Bridgeport, Conn. The president spoke before attending two fund-raising events - one over lunch in Connecticut, the other over dinner here - that pulled in $850,000 for the Democratic National Committee.
“Do everything you can to send a clear and unambiguous signal that you do not want the election year to be a relaxation year,” Clinton implored his audience in Bridgeport. “You want it to be a legislating year for the children of this country.”
Increasingly, Democrats have cast the Republican-controlled Congress as “do nothing,” and the president’s call to action on Tuesday was intended to build on that theme. It had the added advantage of portraying Clinton as steeped in the nation’s business, even though the independent counsel’s investigation into his relationship with a former White House intern has tied up the White House and continues to consume much of Washington.
The president’s call for Congress to resolve the dispute over tobacco legislation dovetailed with his plea that Congress provide more money for child care. He has said that the proposed $368.5 billion settlement with the tobacco companies would help pay for his $21 billion child-care proposal.
Clinton’s importuning on tobacco also provided a way for him to deflect criticism for dining here on Tuesday night at the suburban home of a prominent trial lawyer who stands to reap a windfall from the tobacco deal.
The lawyer, Stanley Chesley, who has represented smokers, helped negotiate the proposed settlement reached last June between 40 states and the tobacco companies. Chesley, who testified last week on Capitol Hill in favor of the deal, has said that Tuesday night’s cash cornucopia had nothing to do with tobacco.