President Clinton stood with congressional Democrats Wednesday and announced that party unity was behind an ambitious legislative agenda.
"We stand today unified," Mr. Clinton said. "We stand today well aware of the challenges before us."
The key points of the 1999 "Families First" agenda follow the goals of the president's State of the Union Address, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley. The plan calls for spending the budget surplus to shore up Social Security and Medicare and also raising the minimum wage.
President Clinton and congressional Democrats hoped to gain a tactical advantage over Republican lawmakers still wrestling with their plans Wednesday. So far, GOP lawmakers have identified goals such as a tax cut, a military pay raise, and reforms to Social Security and education. But they have reached no consensus on how to go about reaching them.
The president boasted Wednesday that, during his six years in office, the nation has enjoyed its longest peacetime economic expansion, with low unemployment and low inflation.
"What we had before that was more than a decade in which the leaders of the other party talked tough, but took the easy way out," Mr. Clinton said. "We were unashamed about being compassionate, unashamed that we cared about those that needed a hand up in life."
He commended Republicans for agreeing to reserve billions of dollars for fixing Social Security but said they have not signed on to his proposals for salvaging Medicare. "There are still strong differences in our approach, and we must resolve them in a way that benefits the American people."
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., urged Republicans to work with Democrats on health care reforms and legislation that helps working Americans. "We want to make progress now. This month. This year. This session. We can't afford to waste another year or two mired in partisan wrangling and gridlock," Gephardt said.
Key provisions of the "Families First" four-page wish list are:
- modernizing schools and improving accountability of local school systems
- approving a "patients' bill of rights" on health care
- expanding pension benefits
- dispatching more police officers to fight crime
- offering several small targeted tax reductions for purposes such as caring for a child or an elderly relative
Topping the agenda is a bid to set aside 77 percent of projected federal budget surpluses for Social Security and Medicare.
As part of his fiscal 2000 budget plan, Mr. Clinton has proposed setting aside 62 percent ($2.8 trillion) of the expected $4.9 trillion in budget surpluses over the next 15 years to shore up Social Security so it can bear the massive waves of expected baby-boomer retirements. He also wants Medicare to get 15 percent, or $686 billion.
Republicans agree with the notion of preserving 62 percent of surpluses for Social Scurity, but they want to set aside $200 billion more than President Clinton has proposed for that purpose over the next decade.
Tuesday, Republican leaders agreed on a push to allow Social Security funds to be used only to shore up the pension system or bring down the national debt. In a closed meeting, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., instructed budget writers to agree on a workable proposal to be announced this week, and to be on Mr. Clinton's desk in a few weeks.
On Wednesday afternoon, the president heads to New Jersey, where he will speak at a fund-raising reception for Sen. Robert Torricelli.