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News briefs, part 2

Clinton Begins Drive for Economic Plan With National Address

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

President Clinton, conceding he cannot reverse the nation's economic slide without raising taxes on the middle class, said Monday he will ask virtually all Americans to endure sacrifice to pay for his economic growth and deficit reduction program.

Mixing a populist appeal with the majesty of an Oval Office setting, the president urged a national television audience to resist special-interest lobbyists and defenders of the status quo, and to join him in a crusade to restore the nation's economic future.

He promised to soak the rich before attacking the wallets of the middle class, but admitted he could not achieve his goals of long-term deficit reduction and job creation without boosting the taxes of the vast majority of Americans.

Using several computer-generated charts, Clinton laid the blame for the nation's economic slide squarely on the Republican administrations of the past 12 years. He said the federal deficit had "exploded" under former Presidents Reagan and Bush, growing from $80 billion to more than $300 billion.

He noted that the current economic expansion has created far fewer jobs than previous recoveries and has left 9 million Americans still jobless two years after the recession of 1990-91 had technically bottomed out.

Clinton offered no explicit new specifics on the plan, which will be formally unveiled in an address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night. But the key elements are already known: a $31 billion short-term stimulus package of public works spending and business tax cuts designed to create 500,000 jobs by the end of next year; $250 billion in spending cuts, including specific reductions in 150 domestic programs; and about $250 billion in higher taxes on corporations, the wealthy, and all forms of energy use. The proposed changes include increased taxes on the Social Security benefits received by higher-income retirees.

Labor, Congressional Leaders Signal Support of Clinton Tax Plan

The Washington Post

BAL HARBOUR, Fla.

Organized labor Monday signaled its willingness to go along with higher taxes on the American worker as part of President Clinton's new economic program, as long as any sacrifices called for by the White House are distributed fairly throughout society.

"We believe that if we want programs from our government we ought to be willing to pay for them in a fair and equitable way," AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said after a meeting with top Democratic congressional leaders. "Our members are prepared to pay their fair share."

But Kirkland stopped short of giving Clinton a blank check of approval for his economic program. "I haven't seen it so I can't offer any guarantees in advance," he said.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, gathered here for its annual mid-winter meeting, met in the morning with Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Me., House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Miss., to discuss labor's legislative agenda and the president's economic proposal.

Despite any reservations labor might have about individual parts of the program, however, the union leaders gathered here Monday did not appear ready to cross their new friend in the White House.

Kirkland said Monday that if Clinton can bring about health care reform, the president will guarantee his place in history. For organized labor, the health care issue is the number one legislative priority on the agenda.

After meeting with the union leaders, Foley, Mitchell and Gephardt emerged with the same basic message: Give the president's economic program a chance and judge it in its entirety, not on the basis of one or two issues.

The three congressional leaders also defended the need for a stimulus spending package in the face of signs that the economy is improving and Republican claims that no further action is needed.

Bombs Rip Colombian Capital

The Washington Post

BOGOTA, Colombia

Two powerful car bombs rocked downtown Bogota Monday, leaving four dead and 117 wounded in the latest blow of a terror campaign blamed on fugitive cocaine boss Pablo Escobar.

Scores of businesses, hotels and offices were badly damaged when the two bombs went off almost simultaneously at 10:20 a.m. in the heart of the business district, according to authorities.

The escalation in Escobar's terrorism marked a setback for President Cesar Gaviria, who was elected three years ago promising to end the wave of narco-terrorism buffeting Colombia at that time. An upsurge of violence by the traffickers, coupled with killings by vigilante groups seeking to take revenge, has rolled over the country in the past six weeks, swiftly eroding Gaviria's popularity.

Escobar, who heads the drug smuggling cartel based in the Colombian city of Medellin, continues to elude arrest despite being one of the most hunted men in the world.

Government and international agencies have offered a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture. Thousands of troops have been deployed to pursue him. A wanted poster of Escobar and his closest associates is constantly flashed on television, with the reward offer and numbers one can call with promises of confidentiality.

Monday's car bombings -- Escobar's trademark terror tool -- brought to five the number set off in the capital since Jan. 21. A Jan. 31 blast killed 20 people, including a dozen children. Escobar also began new attacks against policemen in Medellin, where more than 60 law enforcement officials have been gunned down in the past nine months.