SPOKANE, Wash. -- Bill Clinton faced difficult questions on defense spending and trade as he began a campaign trip yesterday to two states, Washington and California, where these issues will be important in the fall election.
Starting a 20-hour day of events, Mr. Clinton joined about 20 Spokane residents for a round-table discussion of his economic policy. He didn't mention his proposal to cut the Pentagon's budget faster than is being done now. But, he warned, "No matter who the president is, the defense budget is going to go down."
Mr. Clinton also cited his plan to take $20 billion a year in defense cuts and invest it in transportation, communications and other areas that would generate economic growth. He said the money would be targeted "to a lot of areas where the unemployment has been relatively high."
Boeing Corp. and other defense contractors account for tens of thousands of jobs in Washington and California, states that the Democrats need to win.
On trade, Mr. Clinton maintained a wait-and-see stance on the free-trade agreement that the Bush administration is about to conclude with Mexico. Labor unions oppose the trade agreement, fearing that manufacturers will move to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages and lax environmental controls.
"Basically, I believe this country has to push for expanded trade," Mr. Clinton said. But, he said, he wants to be sure that labor standards and environmental controls are improved in Mexico, to prevent the kind of exodus of jobs that unions fear. He said the United States should be "very firm" in saying to Mexico, "We'll
make some more sacrifices to get more trade, but we're just not going to give our job base away."
Mr. Clinton also said he would insist on "more open trading rules" in dealing with developed countries.
On another issue, taxes, several of the Spokane residents expressed doubts about the government's ability to spend money wisely. Mr. Clinton, who supports raising taxes on upper-income people and lowering them on the middle class, said he favors dedicating future revenue increases to specific needs and programs. He said he had raised taxes and was still re-elected governor of Arkansas four times because the money was spent on education and programs for senior citizens.
He said people should "have a say" before Congress spends that extra revenue, apparently by communicating with their lawmakers.
Mr. Clinton also spoke to about 4,000 people at a rally in Spokane's River Front Park. They gave him a warm reception, but neither the crowd nor Mr. Clinton generated the passion seen on his recent bus tour through small-town America.
Whatever the crowd's opinion of Mr. Clinton, they seemed of one mind about President Bush. Gov. Booth Gardner, who accompanied Mr. Clinton, provoked an approving roar when he said, "We have to let go of George Bush."
In reply to a question about the standoff between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the United Nations, the Democratic presidential nominee issued his strongest statements yet on the issue.
"The guy is violating the cease-fire, and we need to stop him," he said. "You can't let Saddam Hussein violate the cease-fire agreement, for two reasons: One, if you let him, he will go back to persecuting the Kurds and developing nuclear weapons. Secondly, it would be giving the green light to every terrorist in the world."
Before leaving Little Rock, Ark., for Spokane, Mr. Clinton had referred to the heckling that Mr. Bush received Friday at a meeting with relatives of U.S. soldiers who are listed as missing in action. Mr. Clinton passed up a chance to attack Mr. Bush for having told hecklers to "shut up."
"I have a lot of sympathy with those people," Mr. Clinton said. "Whatever the truth is, they feel that their government, for years and years and years, has sort of stonewalled this issue."