The Era of Small Government

A year after declaring that the era of big government had ended, President Clinton gave an outline of the smaller, more limited federal government he envisions for the 21st century in his State of the Union message last night.

The President listed a wide-ranging set of new initiatives in his address, from flextime for all American workers to guaranteeing that every child be able to log on to the Internet by age 12. Indeed, Clinton argued, "the enemy of our time is inaction."

But few of the initiatives Clinton proposed involved the federal government in a direct role. Even when the President issued a call for a "national crusade for educational standards," he hastened to add that he meant, "not federal government standards, but national standards."

The President repeated his inaugural address call for "a new kind of government." Such government, he said would not attempt "to solve all of our problems, but to give our people the tools they need to improve their lives."

In contrast with his previous addresses, Clinton said very little about his efforts to overhaul and downsize the federal government--he didn't even include his usual statements about reducing the bureaucracy to its smallest size in more than 30 years. The only reference Clinton made to Vice President Gore's reinventing government effort was a passing reference to the "work better, cost less" credo of the National Performance Review.

In the Republican response to the President's address, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., was less circumspect. "For a long time the federal government has been acting as if it didn't have any common sense," he said. Republicans, said Watts, would continue their efforts to devolve authority away from the federal government to the states and the people.

In his address, President Clinton pledged to submit a plan this week to balance the federal budget by 2002. "Let this Congress be the Congress that finally balances the budget," he said.

But Clinton took a firm stance against the balanced budget constitutional amendment currently being debated in Congress. "Balancing the budget requires only your vote and my signature," Clinton told the assembled Senators and Representatives, not amending the Constitution.

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