State of the Union Proposals: Will They Fly?

Social Security

"Save Social Security first," urged the president.

Clinton proposes that Congress not spend any budget surplus until it fixes America's federal retirement nest egg. The program is expected to go bankrupt in 2029, as the baby-boomer generation retires, drawing more money out than workers put in.

Al Gore is expected to attend a series of town-hall meetings on the issue this summer. Those will be followed by a White House conference on specific reforms Clinton wants the next Congress to enact.

Few dispute the need to fix the program. And Congress may set aside some money.

But lawmakers are under pressure to spend any surplus on fixing the country's roads, bridges, and transit systems. Republicans will push hard to return at least some surplus funds to taxpayers through tax cuts or to use surpluses to pay down the national debt.

- Lawrence J. Goodrich

Education

Congress and voters alike support the president's call for a national effort to reduce class size in the early grades, hire 100,000 new teachers, and raise academic standards.

But Republicans doubt he can come up with nearly $40 billion to fund new programs, such as school construction and after-school learning centers, and still balance the budget. They also insist that poor parents would rather exit failing city schools through a school-choice or voucher plan than wait to see if new federal programs can improve them.

Although the federal government accounts for only 7 percent of public-school spending, Washington puts the money into programs it sees as important. The GOP wants most of that money to go to the classroom.

House Republicans say they will oppose Clinton's push for national testing, on grounds that standards and tests should be determined locally.

- Gail Russell Chaddock

Child Care

Congress and voters alike support the president's call for a national effort to reduce class size in the early grades, hire 100,000 new teachers, and raise academic standards.

But Republicans doubt he can come up with nearly $40 billion to fund new programs, such as school construction and after-school learning centers, and still balance the budget. They also insist that poor parents would rather exit failing city schools through a school-choice or voucher plan than wait to see if new federal programs can improve them.

Although the federal government accounts for only 7 percent of public-school spending, Washington puts the money into programs it sees as important. The GOP wants most of that money to go to the classroom.

House Republicans say they will oppose Clinton's push for national testing, on grounds that standards and tests should be determined locally.

- Gail Russell Chaddock

Trade

Two obstacles block the president's effort to win the authority to negotiate trade agreements on a "fast track."

First, the US trade deficit will significantly widen in coming months, largely because of a collapse in demand for US exports in East Asia. This will inject controversy into most free-trade initiatives.

Second, allegations that Clinton had a sexual liaison with a young woman and then lied about it will distract him from focused public campaigns for fast track, more funding for the International Monetary Fund, and other prickly international initiatives, they add. Lawmakers have already balked at many of these trade-related measures.

"Whenever the president is pushing for something, it does not help to have the Democratic Party and the entire political establishment running away from him," says Ian Vasquez at the Cato Institute in Washington.

- James L. Tyson

Medicare

Two obstacles block the president's effort to win the authority to negotiate trade agreements on a "fast track."

First, the US trade deficit will significantly widen in coming months, largely because of a collapse in demand for US exports in East Asia. This will inject controversy into most free-trade initiatives.

Second, allegations that Clinton had a sexual liaison with a young woman and then lied about it will distract him from focused public campaigns for fast track, more funding for the International Monetary Fund, and other prickly international initiatives, they add. Lawmakers have already balked at many of these trade-related measures.

"Whenever the president is pushing for something, it does not help to have the Democratic Party and the entire political establishment running away from him," says Ian Vasquez at the Cato Institute in Washington.

- James L. Tyson

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