In a nostalgic visit home, President Clinton focused his attention today on people who have not shared in America's booming economy, vowing he would use his final months in office to spread the wealth.
"I want you to know that in the year and a half I have left on my term, I am going to do everything I can to bring more economic opportunity not only to the Delta, but to every place in America that is not a part of what our country as a whole is enjoying today," he said in a visit to rural Helena.
Before heading to a private meeting with local business leaders, Clinton told an airport rally that he knows parts of his home state are suffering.
"Yesterday in Washington, I was able to announce that our country had produced 19 million jobs, and then some, since I became president," he said. "But the unemployment rate in the deep Delta is still twice the national average."
At a time in which he is frequently criticizing the GOP for pushing massive tax cuts, Clinton nevertheless offered a hint of bipartisan optimism with respect to the poor. "There's a great feeling in the Congress, and I think in both parties, that we ought to do something for the areas that have still not felt the economic recovery of the country," he said.
Last month, Clinton spent a week traveling to some of the nation's hardest hit communities as part of his "new markets" tour. On Thursday he sent legislation to Congress that includes a $1 billion package of tax incentives that would be used to generate $5 billion in private capital, and $300 million in loan guarantees.
"One of the things I asked the Congress to do is to give people in America with money to invest the same incentives to invest in poor communities in America we give them to invest in poor communities overseas," he said today.
Clinton also used his weekly radio address to promote educational programs targeted to the needy and to rap congressional Republicans for passing a $792 billion tax cut plan he says would jeopardize such critical assistance.
"Families don't take a costly vacation and then say they'll figure out when they get home whether they can make the mortgage payments or pay the college tuition," he said in the speech. "And I don't think we should decide on this big tax cut and just hope there's enough left over to pay for education and to save Social Security and Medicare and pay off our national debt."
House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (Okla.) said Clinton mischaracterized the tax package. "The debate over education is not about money but control. The choice is between Washington bureaucrats or parents, teachers and local leaders," he said in a statement.
"The very same tax relief package the president criticized today will make college more affordable by expanding popular prepaid tuition plans. The package also increases the amount of money parents can save for their children's education in tax-free savings accounts and makes these funds available for primary and secondary education costs as well as college."
Clinton today also announced the government would begin distributing $120 million in grants to help mentor young people from elementary school up to college. He also asked Congress to double funding for the program, named Gear Up.
On Friday, Clinton golfed with friends and attended a dinner in honor of fellow Arkansan James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On Sunday, he flies to St. Louis for the National Governors' Association meeting.