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Clinton Pushes Small Government In His State of the Union Address

By Ann Devroy
The Washington Post

Borrowing generously from Republican themes, President Clinton Tuesday night declared that the "era of big government is over" and sought to ease middle-class anxieties with an upbeat vision of a nation pulling together to ready itself for the new century.

With Republicans bruised by weeks of vicious partisan budget battles sitting mostly silently in their seats, Clinton used his election-year State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress to point out how many goals he and Republicans share, without dwelling on how strenuously he and Congress have fought over how to achieve them.

He is for a balanced budget, but not their balanced budget. He is for welfare reform, but not their welfare reform. He is for family. Individual responsibility. Self-reliance. The fight against crime. The battle against drugs. But they disagree on government's role.

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, Kan., the leading Republican presidential candidate, made the differences between the presidential rhetoric and presidential action the theme of his televised response. In a tough, mince-no-words address, Dole said that though Clinton's "words speak of change, his deeds are a contradiction."

Clinton, Dole said, is the "chief obstacle" to a balanced budget, the "rearguard of the welfare state" and "the last defender of a discredited status quo." Predicting a winter of challenge, Dole said congressional Republicans will keep sending Clinton the elements oftheir agenda and "challenge President Clinton again and again to walk the talk he talks so well."

The president offerred a handful of modest proposals aimed primarily at easing middle-class anxieties, including a $1,000 scholarship for the top 5 percent of all high school graduates.

He called for tax incentives for businesses that clean up abandoned properties and expansion of a federally funded college work-study program to 1 million students, up from 700,000 now.

He called for an FBI-led war against youth gangs and for legislation protecting workers' pensions and insuring health care benefits for employees who change jobs or have preexisting conditions.

By federal program standards, the money involved was a thimble of water in a receding ocean of federal spending.

Next week, Clinton is to formally lay down a 1997 budget that cuts $297 billion in domestic discretionary spending over seven years, $159 billion more than the president was proposing only a month ago.