In a rare juxtaposition of events, President Clinton declared the state of the union “strong” Tuesday only hours after his attorneys made the case he should not be removed from office for high crimes and misdemeanors.
In a speech marked by partisan applause, Clinton spent more time on senior citizens than college students, announcing initiatives to save Social Security and Medicare and create new retirement accounts.
But Clinton praised the recent efforts to expand higher education opportunities to more Americans through loans and grants, including Pell grants and work-study jobs. He also lauded the HOPE Scholarship tax cuts that more than 5 million students will receive this year.
“Today we can say something we could not say six years ago,” Clinton said. “We have opened the doors to college to all Americans.”
He also praised the AmeriCorps program, which allows college students to earn money through community service. Clinton called for a $133 million increase in the program’s budget to raise the number of students involved.
“So far, in just four years, 100,000 young Americans have built low-income homes with Habitat for Humanity . and performed countless other acts of service that have made America better,” Clinton said. “I ask Congress to give more young Americans the chance to follow their lead and serve America in AmeriCorps.”
As part of proposed reforms to elementary and secondary education in the inner city, Clinton recommended college scholarships to students who commit to teaching in urban and rural areas and on Native American reservations.
Dan Small, director of Student Financial Assistance at GW, said people feel good that some increases were made in higher education funding.
“It’s a slow path,” Small said. “Everyone has been mostly concentrating in the loan area. We wish more concentration could be brought to the grant area.”
He said colleges have to convince the government that students need assistance and that more federal aid will not result in higher tuition.
The president called for a $1 increase in the minimum wage over the next two years, which would put it at $6.15 an hour. In addition, he stressed the need to strengthen equal pay laws for women and minority groups.
In a surprise announcement, Clinton said the Department of Justice will sue major tobacco companies, hoping to recoup losses from Medicare treatment for tobacco-related illnesses. He also urged Congress to pass a patient’s bill of rights for all Americans, an initiative that failed last year.
Clinton ignored the impeachment issue and instead urged bipartisan work between the White House and new House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
“Mr. Speaker, at your swearing in, you asked us all to work together in a spirit of civility and bipartisanship,” Clinton said. “Mr. Speaker, let’s do exactly that.”
Although he touched on the year 2000 computer problem and crime control in the speech, Clinton’s major announcement outlined plans to reform Social Security using the surplus created by the recently balanced budget.
Clinton proposed transferring 62 percent of the projected budget surplus over the next 15 years to Social Security, which will accumulate more than $2.7 trillion, according to White House documents.
“With the number of elderly Americans set to double by 2030, the Baby Boom will become a Senior Boom,” Clinton said. “So first and above all, we must save Social Security for the 21st century.”