WASHINGTON — In a much anticipated State of the Union speech that avoided the scandal of the moment, President Clinton did strike the right themes, if not always the right details, according to Maine’s congressional delegation.
The delegation unanimously agreed that Clinton did the right thing by not mentioning the allegations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. “The American people would like the State of the Union address to be about the state of the union,” said Rep. John Baldacci, D-Bangor.
Sen. Olympia Snowe said Congress must focus on the legislative agenda laid out by Clinton in the more than 70-minute speech, and let independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr handle the allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice.
“We should follow our course, and the justice system will follow its course,” she said.
At a pre-address dinner for all 100 senators, “there was lots of discussion about the allegations,” said Sen. Susan Collins. But once the speech began, the lawmakers focused solely on the issues, she said.
And Collins said she was disappointed with Clinton’s plan to put all future budgetary surpluses toward preserving Social Security. While that is a worthy goal, she said, a large portion of the annual surplus should go toward retiring the nation’s $5.4 trillion debt — the result of almost 30 years of red ink.
Baldacci said he was willing to consider putting some of the surplus toward other expenditures, but a majority of it should go toward shoring up Social Security. Regardless, eliminating the annual deficits shouldn’t be overlooked as a major accomplishment, he said. “When I first came here, it was $293 billion.”
Rep. Tom Allen, D-Portland, said the president’s $22 billion plan of federal subsidies and tax breaks for improving child care would hit home in Maine, as would White House plans to fund school construction and hire more teachers to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio.
“Too much child care is mediocre. Too much child care is expensive,” he said.
Snowe, however, said the Republicans will counter with their own plans in those areas, agreeing with the White House concepts but differing in details.
Collins said she doesn’t expect the allegations against Clinton to drag Congress into a partisan fight that threatens to kill off the legislative agenda for the year. But, she warned, that could happen if the White House tries to “paint this all as a conspiracy of the far right,” as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton did Tuesday.
“Monica Lewinsky is not part of the far right,” Collins said.