Energetic programme for prosperous nation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 January, 1999, 12:00am

With one eye on his impeachment trial and another on the opinion polls, President Bill Clinton's annual national address painted a picture of a country enjoying unprecedented prosperity.

Determined to show Congress and the people that he is fit to govern despite the threat of dismissal hanging over his head, Mr Clinton's State of the Union speech was a rallying cry for Americans to prepare themselves for the next century.

His long and energetic list of policy proposals, some of which were admittedly recycled from last year's list, revealed a president eager to massage his disintegrating legacy into better shape.

Uniquely, senators had been hearing the White House case against impeachment only hours before they and members of the House of Representatives rose, in the traditional display of pomp and ceremony, to give President Clinton a noisy, exuberant ovation for the annual address.

It was a tense situation only touched upon once when, in a veiled reference, Mr Clinton said: 'Perhaps in the daily press of events, in the clash of controversy, we do not see our own time for what it truly is - a new dawn for America.' While Democrats cheered and applauded noisily during the 75-minute address, Republicans mostly remained seated and clapped politely, if only occasionally.

The central theme of the speech saw Mr Clinton calling on Congress to help him ensure that, after eight years of outstanding economic growth, future problems were being dealt with now.

'The state of our union is strong,' he said. 'Now, America is working again. The promise of our future is limitless.

'But we cannot realise that promise if we allow the hum of our prosperity to lull us into complacency. How we fare as a nation far into the 21st century depends upon what we do as a nation today.' Top of the agenda was investing most of the new budget surplus to make sure that Social Security - the national old-age pension system - is saved from bankruptcy in 30 years' time.

Mr Clinton also renewed previous calls to spend more money on fixing schools and improving teaching standards, bolstering health insurance protection and increasing access to child care.

The President also called on legislators to stop working against him on trade and said he would urge world leaders to launch a new round of global trade talks under the World Trade Organisation.

'I think he's fighting for the last two years of his administration,' said political analyst Stephen Hess. 'It's unusual in a seventh year of a presidency to still be producing a laundry list of proposals that have a serious possibility of enactment.' Republican members of Congress seemed to recognise that they could not continue to block every White House proposal and expect to survive at the polls in the year 2000.