Clinton signs minimum wage bill Aides hope 90-cent raise will also lift president's standing

August 21, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton signed into law a 90-cent increase in the minimum wage yesterday, kicking off the first of three such South Lawn ceremonies that White House aides hope will give the president a lift before he boards a train for the Democratic convention in Chicago.

Passed by Congress three weeks ago, the new law requires the federal minimum wage be increased from $4.25 an hour to $4.75 effective Oct. 1.

On Sept. 1, 1997, it will go up again to $5.15 an hour.

"This bill says to the working people of America that if you're willing to take responsibility and go to work, your work will be honored," Clinton said at a White House ceremony that had all the trappings of an election-year campaign event.

For three years, the president's legislative achievements in Congress were hard won -- and rare. Yet this week, he gets to put his signature on three major new laws: the first increase in the minium wage in five years; a new measure that allows American workers to take their health insurance with them when they leave a job; and another ushering in a massive overhaul of the nation's welfare system.

Each signing ceremony is to be accompanied by strains of "Hail to the Chief," laudatory speeches and solemn assurances from Clinton that those who work hard in America will not be left behind as long as he is president.

"We've always said there was a time in the calendar for governing and working on things together and then there was a time, later, when it was the political season," said Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart. "The way the Republican leaders in Congress sent the bills down highlights the president's leadership. It allows him to finish this phase with a flourish before we move on to the political season."

A smiling Clinton made the same point himself yesterday. "We have made this a season of achievement for the people of America," he said.

The spate of bill signings comes a week after the Republican Party seemed to have resuscitated itself with a successful San Diego convention while also breathing new life into the campaign prospects of its own nominee, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Now, as Clinton himself said Sunday in New York, the Democrats believe it's their turn.

"It's called stepping on the 'bounce,' " quipped White House press secretary Mike McCurry, in reference to the "bounce" in public opinion surveys enjoyed by Dole after the GOP show in San Diego.

Poll numbers

In the latest poll that suggests Dole's momentum from last week's convention was melting fast, an ABC tracking poll showed Clinton's lead back at 12 percentage points in a three-way race including Texas billionaire Ross Perot.

Only 24 hours earlier, the same poll had Clinton leading Dole by 44 percent to 40 percent.

Republicans, doing their best to avoid being stepped on, lashed out at the Clinton record on fighting drugs yesterday. As for the minimum wage increase, which the GOP initially opposed, the Dole campaign released a statement of faint praise -- but said its proposed 15 percent tax cut would be even better.

"The signing of today's minimum wage bill is a helpful, but small step toward addressing the economic anxiety of American workers," said Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin. "Remember, a tax cut is a raise -- and that is exactly what Bob Dole will give Americans."

Campaigning

After tomorrow, Clinton will switch gears, aides say, and begin campaigning almost full time.

His schedule calls for a four-day train trip beginning Sunday in West Virginia and taking him to the convention via Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.

Those are prime battleground states in the Nov. 5 election. At each "whistle-stop" the president will unveil details of his plans for a second term.

In Chicago, the president is to deliver an address that his aides are advertising as "State of the Union II" instead of a traditional acceptance speech. The theme of the speech is where the president wants to take the country as the new century dawns.

Among the initiatives the president is expected to unveil are plans to revitalize America's inner cities, ways of creating job opportunities for welfare recipients facing new work requirements under the welfare reform bill and incentives for those engaged in vocational training or higher education.

Ann Lewis, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, said Clinton's stops along the way would feature Americans with "compelling personal stories" who will give a human face to issues the president has worked on.

One example will be Sarah Brady, wife of James Brady, who was press secretary to President Ronald Reagan when both were shot in 1981. Mrs. Brady has worked tirelessly for gun control ever since -- and Clinton was the president who signed a law requiring a waiting period for handgun purchases.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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