Back from Africa not 11 hours, President Clinton held court in the Rose Garden Friday, ticking off domestic priorities to tackle - education, anti-tobacco legislation and a warning to Congress on the budget.
He prepared to turn the coming week's focus back from his foreign travels - and away from sexual allegations - with a swift, one-after-another lineup of appearances on crime, Social Security and school construction meant to frame the strong economy as an opportunity to improve federal programs."The American people want us to use this sunlit moment not to sit back and enjoy, but to act," said Clinton, flanked by Vice President Al Gore and grinning economic advisers in a garden newly planted with red and yellow tulips.
Clinton used the sunny homecoming scene from his 12-day African tour to take on congressional Republicans who, in the Senate, passed a $1.73 trillion federal budget plan this week that promises modest tax cuts and little of what Clinton wanted for schools, child care and health.
Clinton said the plan "will squeeze out critical investments in education and children."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's response: "Oh, he's back. The last time I saw him he was smoking a cigar and playing the drums," referring to recent pictures of Clinton in Senegal.
Lott, R-Miss., noted that the Senate resolution would hike overall education spending by $9 billion, and targeted funds for disabled students would rise by $5 billion. "Education is a high priority for us. . . . He needs to check his figures before he starts" complaining, Lott told reporters.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici also noted that their plan would target any money from a settlement with tobacco companies to bolster Social Security and Medicare. "The president wants to spend that money on a raft of new Washington-based programs," the New Mexico Republican said.
The president also knocked a $217 billion highway spending bill bloated with special projects in almost every congressional district.