President Clinton announced a new measure aimed at warding off contaminated food imports while Republicans advocated a $1 trillion tax-cut proposal yesterday in their weekly radio addresses.
Clinton is instructing inspectors at American ports to brand food products rejected for health or safety reasons with a "Refused U.S." to assure that such products are conspicuously marked and not easily slipped past inspectors at another U.S. port -- a practice known as "port shopping."
Clinton also is ordering the Customs Service and the Food and Drug Administration to "rigorously enforce and expand our policy of destroying imported food that poses a serious health threat rather than risk letting it reach our grocery stores or the global market."
But he said he does not want to be unduly alarmist. "There's no evidence that these fruits and vegetables are less safe than those grown here," Clinton said. "But some recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have been traced in imported foods."
The president said he is acting because imported food is now on more American menus than ever before. In a memo to the secretaries of the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, Clinton noted that food imports have doubled over the past seven years and that a further 30 percent increase is expected by 2002.
The president called on Congress to grant the Agriculture Department authority to impose civil penalties and order mandatory recalls of unsafe meat and poultry.
A food industry representative objected to that proposal. "Government mandates may score political points, but they won't make the system safer," said Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "Companies have every incentive to act swiftly and responsibly" to protect the food supply.
Clinton also asked Congress to approve the $72 million he requested to increase the number of inspections of high-risk food products in the United States and of food producers around the world.
In the Republican weekly address, Rep. J.D. Hayworth (Ariz.) pushed a $1 trillion tax cut, marking the Fourth of July with a call for "financial independence" for U.S. families.
"For too long, you've been asked to sacrifice so that Washington could supposedly do more," he said.
House Republicans say the federal budget surplus is so big that Congress can cut taxes by nearly $1 trillion and still brace Social Security and Medicare for retiring baby boomers. Democrats and some moderate Republicans, however, say the surplus should first be used to increase spending on education and other programs once Medicare and Social Security are safeguarded and the national debt is erased.
A tax package to be drafted within the next two weeks by the House Ways and Means Committee will include reduction of the so-called marriage penalty, an end to the death tax and safeguards so that Americans aren't penalized for investing and seniors don't suffer for working past age 65, Hayworth said.
Hayworth, who is a Ways and Means member, criticized Clinton's plan to provide a prescription drug benefit to all Medicare recipients.
Republicans have questioned whether such a benefit is needed by all 39 million Medicare beneficiaries when two-thirds already have drug coverage -- mainly from private insurance or retirement benefits from employers.
"One of my constituents got it right when she said that under the president's plan she'd be subsidizing the likes of Donald Trump and Ross Perot," Hayworth said.
Medicare can best be strengthened by attacking waste, allowing recipients more control over their health care and providing prescription drug benefits to low-income seniors, Hayworth said.