WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's State of the Union speech drew both praise and criticism last night with Democrats applauding his promise to push both health care and welfare reform this year and Republicans warning that he would bring more big government.
"I don't buy this Washington-insider debate that pits health care against welfare reform," said Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa. "We absolutely have to do both."
But Republicans found much in the president's speech to criticize.
Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the Senate minority leader, focused on the president's health care proposal. "Our country has health care problems but no health care crisis. But we will have a crisis if we take the president's medicine -- a massive overdose of government control."
The divergent partisan readings of Clinton's speech were perhaps best summed up by Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.
Mr. Dingell said the president "struck exactly the right tones. He laid out a very ambitious program, but we're going to do our best to get it all for him."
Mr. Kolbe complained about the partisan tone of the speech and called it "long on rhetoric but short on specifics. I need to see the numbers. Where the president has a problem with credibility is when he talks so glowingly about health care and welfare reforms but doesn't explain how he's going to pay for it."
Rep. Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., the House speaker, predicted passage of both health care and welfare reform legislation this year.
He said Democrats will press for "guaranteed [health] insurance for every American . . . not subject to cancellation [and] do that in a way that preserves choice [of doctors], preserves quality and contains cost controls."
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, seconded that, saying "the essential element is guaranteed health care for every American, coverage that can't be taken away."
Republicans, along with some Democrats, remain staunchly +V opposed to universal coverage and cost controls.
Bill Gradison, president of the health insurance trade association, said Mr. Clinton must negotiate with the major interest groups if he wants to salvage his goal of universal coverage.
The final plan "won't look like anything that's on the table now," said Mr. Gradison, a former Republican member of Congress from Ohio. "It will be a combination of elements in the proposals that have been put forward so far, artfully written to produce 218 votes in the House, 51 votes in the Senate and the signature of the president."
Empower America, a conservative organization, said Mr. Clinton's speech had one purpose: "to resuscitate his faltering health care plan," which "has steadily been losing support with the American people."
"He has manufactured a phony health care 'crisis' to scare people into accepting his plan to nationalize the health care industry," said a statement by the group, led by Republican former Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp and other conservatives. "The truth is, there is no health care 'crisis' today -- the only crisis will come if the Clinton plan becomes law."
To that, Speaker Foley retorted: "Every poll I've seen on the issue says that Americans agree there is a crisis in health care by something like 71 percent to 25 or 30."
Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas, a leader of the Democrats' conservative wing, said he was upbeat about the president's message.
"I liked his emphasis on children, and his crime remarks were right on target," said Mr. Stenholm, who indicated that he will still try to persuade fellow Democrats to cut even more from federal programs. "I was also pleasantly surprised by his defense statement. I assume he's going to submit a really tough budget, cutting other things more deeply to keep defense from suffering even more."
Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., liked what she heard in Clinton's speech.
"For 12 long years, Americans endured utter neglect," she said. "President Clinton is now leading this country with a sense of urgent action. The do-nothing crowd will always be around to crow about what's wrong with the plan."
But Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., was disappointed.
"Tonight, the president touched on many themes important to our country," he said. "On issue after issue, the president has made moving and thoughtful statements, but he seems unwilling to translate his frequently earnest remarks into effective policies."
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., praised Mr. Clinton's call for life imprisonment of three-time losers.