|STATE OF THE UNION REACTION|
January 20, 1999
KWAME HOLMAN: The president and Mrs. Clinton were joined by Vice President and Mrs. Gore this afternoon to whip up support for initiatives laid out in last night's State of the Union address. At the first stop on a two-city trip, they were welcomed to an arena in Buffalo, New York, by an enthusiastic crowd of 20,000.
SPOKESMAN: Welcome to our community. I'll tell you -- it's great to have you here anytime, but especially after that speech last night.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president focused today on the plan he unveiled last night, to devote $2.7 trillion of projected federal budget surpluses over the next 15 years to shoring up Social Security reserves. Nearly $700 billion of that sum would be invested in the stock market on behalf of retirees for the first time in history.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It's not just a seniors issue; it's an issue for all Americans. Now, we're going to have a big argument about this. And we should. And I hope it'll be a good debate. Last night, I proposed setting aside more than 10 percent of the surplus to actually give people an incentive to save-- a targeted tax cut to say, if you will set up this universal savings account, a U.S.A. account, the government will give you, in effect, a tax cut; we will match the money in your savings account. You can invest it however you want for your own retirement. I want every American to have a savings account and have a part of this country's wealth. If everybody was a part of the wealth, you would see the income gap shrinking instead of growing. And that's what this is about.
KWAME HOLMAN: But this morning, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan told the House Ways and Means Committee he has doubts about the president's Social Security proposal. He said he is skeptical of a "quasi-governmental board" that would oversee the investment of Social Security funds in the stock market.
ALAN GREENSPAN: There are those who are arguing for a special type of board, which would be technically independent of the political system in a way which the Federal Reserve is supposed to be independent of the political system. I guess I've been around this town too long to seriously believe that with that huge pot of funds sitting out there, that pressures to find means to employ it for means other than direct budgetary expenditures, in other words, it is -- if you have a particular project and you are restrained by budget caps, there are lots of alternate ways in which you do it, by regulation, mandation of actions on the private sector and this would be an additional one.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president's idea got a warmer reception, however, from his party's leadership in the House of Representatives.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: I was excited about these U.S.A. accounts because it will provide mechanisms for the middle class and those who seek to be in the middle class an opportunity for them to say that they have a retirement for their future, as well as those now who are at the top of our economic ladder.
KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, after the president's address to congress, members we talked to said they still were anxious to hear more particulars on the Social Security plan, but welcomed the president's effort.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) Maine: I'm not sure what the details of the U.S.A. accounts are going to be, but I was pleased that the president indicated a willingness to reach out and work to save Social Security for current and future retirees on a bipartisan basis. We need his leadership, and I thought it was a hopeful sign tonight that he seemed to be reaching out and offering to work with congress to ensure that Social Security is there not just for our parents but for our children as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Senator Susan Collins said the ongoing senate impeachment trial had little effect on last night's atmosphere.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: It was an awkward situation. We had adjourned the trial just a few hours earlier, and then to march over and have essentially a pep rally is awkward; it is uncomfortable. But the president has taught all of us to compartmentalize, I think, and to separate out the issues of the day from the trial.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republican Senator Robert Bennett said he noticed a subtle dynamic last night.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, (R) Utah: We all realize that even by his supporters he's now been branded a liar. Now, his supporters say his lies were inconsequential or about a private matter, they didn't matter, but you have the New York Times, not historically known as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, saying Mr. Clinton is a habitual liar and that he lies about everything. And I think the realization of that, going in and listening to him, was kind of a, "gee, the emperor has no clothes here." And when he talks about new programs and new spending on new initiatives that are going to be just wonderful, there was a sense of, "well, yeah, and which snake did this oil come from?" So it was probably subconscious on the parts of many, but I think it was clearly there.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some congressional Republicans said they agreed with much of what the president had to say last night but that the atmosphere in which he said it was somewhat surreal.