Clinton lashes GOP in Senate Children's health hostage, he says

April 13, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau Staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Even as the White House was searching for a compromise to salvage President Clinton's economic stimulus package, Mr. Clinton launched yesterday his most scathing attack yet on Senate Republicans, saying they were making "hostages" of children not immunized against deadly diseases.

Mr. Clinton's outburst during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn comes at a time when the administration is trying to pressure Senate Republicans, who have blocked passage of the $16.3 billion package with a filibuster.

"You can look out there at those kids -- they are the hostages of the Senate filibuster," the president said.

"All this hot-air rhetoric about how this money is being wasted and that money is being wasted," the president added angrily, banging on his desk for emphasis.

"These people, most of them have been here for the last 12 years while we have run immunization into the ground . . . and they've always got some excuse, some of them, for not doing anything."

But White House officials acknowledged yesterday that they probably would not get the full $16.3 billion to immediately finance public works projects, create summer jobs, extend unemployment benefits and give block grants to communities.

The block grant program was seized upon by Republicans because it could be used to fund construction of community swimming pools and other projects they regard as unaffordable.

In Baltimore, that money is earmarked for the rehabilitation of run-down and abandoned row houses.

Nevertheless, it appears to be in jeopardy, and a pessimistic-sounding Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he was going to attend a strategy session at the White House tomorrow to see what could be done about saving it.

In the meantime, the White House is fighting for its program every way it knows how, including have the president play both roles in the traditional "good cop-bad cop" routine. The Good Cop is the one who privately assures Republican senators that they are not being taken for granted and that the White House will ensure that the stimulus money is not spent on pork. The Bad Cop was the one on display yesterday as he made a few brief remarks about the need for childhood vaccinations.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, on vacation in Florida, thought the president's outburst was a "cheap shot," an aide said.

"It's a shame President Clinton has resorted to using the children at the Easter egg hunt as a partisan political backdrop to hatch a new excuse for his so-called stimulus package," said the senator from Kansas.

"What President Clinton should tell those children is that he wants to saddle them with bigger deficits instead of paying for this new immunization spending and hundreds of other spending and taxing plans," he said.

Mr. Dole went on to say that Republicans supported immunization programs, that spending on immunization programs had increased tenfold since 1980 and that immediate money wasn't the issue here.

"It looks like the president has egg on his face, considering the fact that the childhood immunization program still has more than $137 million in unspent funds," the Republican leader said.

The $300 million for the childhood immunizations of preschoolers is a small part of Mr. Clinton's $16.3 billion emergency spending request, but Mr. Clinton's political advisers clearly think that in stressing such items as childhood vaccination and jobless benefits, the White House is putting pressure on the 43 Senate Republicans.

But Mr. Clinton's aides seemed at a loss to explain the president's attack, which could undercut sensitive negotiations with as many as 13 Senate Republicans in an attempt to break the logjam.

Asked if this was the best way to win friends and influence people, White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers asked, "How much worse can it get?"

White House officials reportedly were considering every option, including abandoning the stimulus package and, at the other extreme, simply playing chicken with the Senate Republicans to see who would crack first.

Two officials interviewed suggested that the president would choose a middle ground of negotiation in hopes Senate Republicans would accept a stimulus package of a lesser amount or one in which the money is phased in during the normal budget process.

Both sides appear to have much to gain by a compromise.

"All I know is that if these guys on the Hill don't move, somebody is going to get blamed," said political consultant Tom King, who advises several Democratic House members. "It could be Clinton; it could be the Senate Republicans. It might be all incumbents."

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