Declaring Victory

tshoop@govexec.com

Arguing that "the state of our union is strong," President Clinton declared a series of victories in the battle to reinvent government last night in his annual message to Congress. The President also renewed his pledge to balance the federal budget--possibly by the end of this fiscal year.

President Clinton opened his address with an overview of his efforts to reform and restructure government.

"We have shaped a new kind of government for the information age," he said, congratulating Vice President Gore and members of Congress for creating a federal establishment that is "leaner, more flexible, a catalyst for new ideas."

"We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer," said Clinton. "My fellow Americans, we have found a third way. We have the smallest government in 35 years, but a more progressive one. We have a smaller government, but a stronger nation."

The Clinton administration, the President said, has eliminated 300,000 federal jobs, cut 16,000 pages of regulations, and ended hundreds of unnecessary programs. "But we can do more," he said, singling out efforts to reform the operations of the IRS. He said the Senate should take up as its first order of business an IRS reform bill that passed the House last year--a bill the administration initially opposed.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., also targeted the IRS in the Republican response to Clinton's address. "We're going to eliminate the IRS as we know it today," he said. "It is morally wrong for people to live in fear of any government agency."

The President pledged to maintain the restraints on federal spending that agencies have operated under throughout the 1990s. He said that he will soon send Congress a plan that would balance the budget in fiscal 1999 for the first time in 30 years. The latest projections, Clinton said, show that the deficit for this fiscal year will be only $10 billion, less than half the deficit previously projected.

"If we hold fast to fiscal discipline," Clinton said, "we may balance the budget this year, four years ahead of schedule." He proposed that Congress and the administration approve only those projects "that can be accomplished without adding a dime to the deficit" and that no future surpluses be spent until the solvency of the Social Security System in the next century is guaranteed.

Still, the President proposed a series of new governmental initiatives, from a $21.7 billion child care initiative to $7.3 billion to hire 100,000 new teachers.

Specific proposals for federal agencies included:

  • Major budget increases for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other health-related agencies.
  • Funding for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and "sophisticated new technology" to fight the battle against drugs along the nation's borders.
  • An expansion of the Peace Corps over the next two years from 6,500 volunteers to 10,000.
  • A new effort to address the backlog of discrimination complaints at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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