Clinton takes economic plan to U.S. heartland President seeks support of people for looming battle CLINTON'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM

February 19, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Like a master traveling salesman with a suitcase full of potent if bitter elixirs, President Clinton hit the road yesterday hoping to persuade the American people that his prescription of spending cuts and tax increases would fix the ailing economy.

Fresh from Wednesday night's address outlining his strategy for economic recovery -- and hoping to capitalize on public goodwill reflected in overnight polls -- Mr. Clinton plunged right into the heartland and, appropriately, right into a shopping mall to sell his wares.

At the old train station-turned-mall -- not by chance the site of the finale of the first Clinton/Gore post-convention bus trip -- the president appealed to a mostly enthusiastic crowd of local business executives, politicians, labor and civic leaders, and assorted spectators to help him push his plan through Congress.

"There are already people who are saying that we really can't make fundamental changes," Mr. Clinton told the crowd, trying to quickly blunt criticism his dramatic package was already attracting. "There are people who are saying, 'Well, you can't bring the deficit down.' . . .

"I'm tired of all the naysayers. I think we can make some changes, but we need your help. We need you to tell your members of Congress

that we will support you if you make the honest, tough, hard decisions."

Yesterday's trip to Missouri and, later in the day, Ohio, marked the first in a series of field trips immediately taken by the president and top administration officials to rally grass-roots support for a plan that could be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

In what a Clinton spokesman called "a full-court press," top White House emissaries -- including the vice president and most the Cabinet -- fanned out throughout the country yesterday and today, making elaborate, flag-and-bunting "campaign" stops in 28 states to pound home the message.

In fact, although the president didn't travel by bus, the first leg of his initial two-day sales trip could have passed for Clinton Campaign -- The Sequel.

A high school marching band and chorus pumped up the patriotic tunes while the crowd waved signs and flags that had been handed out. Pamphlets entitled "A New Direction" touting the president's plan were passed through the crowd. Anti-abortion activists even got in some heckling.

Although much of the hefty crowd cheered Mr. Clinton's calls for reforms, there were clear signs of the opposition ahead. Amid such Clinton-friendly placards as "Health Care 4 All" and "Our Children's Future Starts Today" were others like "Bill Lied" and "The Devil's in the Details: Proceed With Caution."

"I'm from Missouri. I've got to be shown," said one skeptic, Frank Jurkiewicz, a retired electrical inspector and native of the "Show Me" state. "He's got some good ideas, but who are they going to hurt? If they're going to hurt me, I'm not for it."

In his pep-rally style remarks to the crowd, Mr. Clinton repeated many of the refrains of his address the previous night, outlining some of the spending cuts he has proposed and saving for last any mention of increased taxes. But he also tried to answer some of the criticism he was hearing already, mainly from Republicans and Perot supporters, that his cuts don't go far enough.

"I know there is more that we can eliminate. I am honestly #F looking," he said, speaking from a red-and-blue-draped platform with a decidedly populist touch sandwiched as it was between a Banana Republic and a Body Shop boutique. "I've just been there for four weeks and a day, and I'm nowhere near through."

Mr. Clinton's economic package is perhaps the linchpin of his presidency. And much of its success will depend on acceptance by the middle class. To that end, the president -- much like the special interest lobbyists he cautioned would be pounding the halls of Congress -- is making his pitch directly to the American people, hoping public enthusiasm will turn the heat on the legislature.

Many spectators at the Rouse-renovated Union Station here, some of whom had driven for hours to see the president, said they were impressed by the plan and were willing to pay higher taxes if they will produce a healthier economy.

"I'm willing to make some sacrifice as long as it's shared across the board," said Coley Cowan, an accountant from Springfield, Ill. "This is the first time in 12 years I've heard numbers from a politician that sound like they add up."

"I figure it's one less meal at a restaurant," said Ann Ruwitch of St. Louis. "I'm willing to do that."

Most counted themselves among the middle class -- the segment to whom candidate Clinton had promised tax breaks -- but were unfazed by the change in direction that would mean an increase in taxes for them. Some cited greater tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, suggesting Mr. Clinton's soak-the-rich message was coming through loud and clear.

Jim Hennicke, a printing press operator who fell asleep during much of Mr. Clinton's hour-long Congressional address, was resigned to paying higher taxes.

"Hey, I never believed it from the beginning," he said of a middle class tax break, "but I'd still vote for him. As long as he raises taxes even more on people making over $100,000 and the big buck corporations, I'm all for it."

Today, Mr. Clinton continues his take-it-to-the-people presidency, starting with a question-and-answer session at a high school in Chillicothe, Ohio, and then traveling to Hyde Park, N.Y., where he'll address a crowd at a middle school and then visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum.

Tomorrow the show will go on when the MTV president returns to Washington and to what's fast becoming a favorite milieu -- the televised town meeting, this one with a group of school children in an ABC special with Peter Jennings.

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