News In Brief

President Clinton's lawyers will open their impeachment defense today, insisting that allegations against the president aren't supported by the facts and don't warrant nullifying a national election, a White House spokesman said. Following this week's defense and a period for senators to ask questions, the trial will move to votes on motions - including the possible calling of witnesses, which seems increasingly likely to gain the necessary support of a majority of senators.

Clinton is expected to deliver a dramatic State of the Union message tonight, mapping his legislative priorities and ignoring, if possible, the ongoing impeachment trial.

Perhaps the biggest issue he'll address is Social Security. Last year he called on Congress "to save Social Security first." Using that slogan, he defeated GOP tax-cut proposals, but he hasn't revealed his proposals for ensuring the solvency of the Social Security fund.

A key GOP senator said the US budget surplus could reach $700 billion over the next 10 years - and he proposed using as much as $600 billion for tax cuts. Chairman Pete Domenici of New Mexico said the projection comes from his Senate Budget Committee and represents a sum "over and above what's needed for Social Security." He said he's working on a plan that would cut taxes 4 percent in the first year and build to a 15 percent reduction.

Clinton will propose a $500 child-care tax credit for some stay-at-home parents as part of a broad child-care package to aid the working poor and middle-class families, a White House official said. He is to outline the proposal, expected to cost $1.3 billion over five years, in the State of the Union speech. Under the plan, a family earning $30,000 a year with a child aged one or younger plus one stay-at-home parent would be eligible for a tax credit of up to $500 for child-care expenses, the official said.

Vice President Gore was expected to mark Martin Luther King Day by proposing a 15 percent increase in federal funding for civil-rights enforcement. Last year the administration asked for an $86 million increase and got $64 million from Congress. This year it is reportedly seeking an additional $84 million.

In a direct challenge to the United Methodist Church, a lesbian couple in Sacramento, Calif., was married by 97 members of the clergy. Across the street from the ceremony, about 20 followers of a Kansas preacher who has led antigay protests around the country held a protest demonstration. In 1996 the church banned "homosexual unions." A Nebraska minister who officiated at such a ceremony one year later was put on trial by the church, but eventually acquitted.

Tornadoes hit western Tennessee, killing eight people, injuring at least 100 others, and damaging many homes and businesses. A spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said damage from the storm was most severe in Madison County.

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