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Clinton Pledges Prompt Action to Revive Ailing U.S. Economy

By Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.

President-elect Bill Clinton, in his first press conference since the election nine days ago, pledged Thursday that he would take "aggressive and prompt action" to revive the ailing economy and would reverse Bush administration policies on abortion counseling and Haitian refugees.

Clinton made clear in the 35-minute session at the Old Statehouse here that he would turn his immediate attention as president to getting "this economy working again." He said he would ask Congress for an investment tax credit that could create 500,000 jobs annually and for an accelerated program of spending on highways and other public-works projects -- two linchpins of his economic program.

"I expect to keep the focus on these economic issues," Clinton said. "And I'm not trying to scale back or scale down, or anything else. I think the American people understand that these problems are of long duration and there won't be any overnight miracles. But I think they expect aggressive and prompt action and I'm going to give it to them."

Clinton said he was "having a wonderful time" settling in to his new job and, in answering questions from reporters, sounded confident in his mastery of subjects that ranged from policy toward Korea to the savings and loan crisis. He did not stray from the positions he staked out as a candidate, but sent a clear signal that the transition was under his direct control and that -- despite the clamor from the press -- he would not be pressured into appointing top advisers or making significant policy announcements before he is ready.

With Vice President-elect Al Gore standing by his side, Clinton said he was moving his transition "into high gear" with the appointment of some four dozen aides to help him formulate policy proposals and fill key jobs during the transition. The appointments were drawn mainly from his campaign and from among informal advisers such as Robert Reich of Harvard, who will be in charge of an economic-policy cluster.

Friday, Clinton will announce ethics rules for the transition, the first part of a three-step ethics package that will also include rules for those who take jobs in his administration and a campaign-finance and lobbying-reform proposal to be sent to Congress.

As he discussed his economic plans, Clinton sidestepped a question about whether the planned $20 billion-a-year public-works program might have to be increased in order to stimulate the anemic growth picture, saying only, "I'm going to pursue my course, which is increase investment, gradual but disciplined reduction of the deficit, and we'll see if it works."

Likewise, Clinton said he was not ready to discuss options he was considering to jumpstart the economy without congressional action. Asked to be specific about such plans, he said, "I could when I'm really ready to talk about what I want to do. I don't want to -- I think it's very important for me not to be hypothetical in that."

But Clinton said he had no doubt about what he would do about some Bush administration policies. As he had during the campaign, Clinton said he disagreed with the so-called "gag rule" restricting abortion counselling at federally funded family-planning clinics and wanted to repeal it.

He also said he disagreed with the administration's decision to send Haitian refugees back to their country without a hearing. Clinton said that although "there is a legitimate distinction between political and economic refugees," the Haitians should "get a chance to make their case" that they are fleeing for political reasons.

"I am not in a position now to tell you exactly how we're going to do it, or what the specifics will be, but I can tell you I'm going to change the policy," he said.

On another subject, whether to lift the ban on gays in the military, Clinton reiterated his promise to "move forward on that," but sounded cautious in his approach to the controversial subject.

Asked about President Bush's decision to accept the resignation of Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth M. Tamposi, who allegedly directed State Department officials to search the passport files of the Clinton and his mother, the president-elect was implicitly critical of Bush's delay in dismissing Tamposi.

"Let me just say this," he said. "If I catch anybody using the State Department like that when I'm president, you won't have to wait until after the election to see them gone. ... I just want you to know that the State Department of this country is not going to be fooling with Bill Clinton's politics, and if I catch anybody doing it, I will fire them the next day."

Clinton also expressed concern about the recent announcement by Timothy Ryan, the outgoing director of the Office of Thrift Supervision that the savings and loan bailout will cost another $50 billion. He said it was "interesting" that "they came out with that figure, which was a higher figure than they were using before the election, as soon as the election was over."