WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole warned Americans last night not to be fooled by President Clinton's words of future change and challenge, calling him "almost the last public defender of the discredited status quo."
Mr. Dole was responding to the president's State of the Union address in behalf of the Republican-led Congress and as the leading GOP challenger to Mr. Clinton's re-election bid this year.
"President Clinton may well be the rear guard of the welfare state," Mr. Dole charged. "He is the chief obstacle to a balanced budget and the balanced budget amendment. While the president's words speak of change, his deeds are a contradiction."
Mr. Dole's views reflected Republican frustration with the White House over the nation's spending priorities.
Congressional Republicans say they feel deceived by the Democratic president, who again last night committed himself to many of their conservative goals, such as a balanced budget and welfare reform, but who has vetoed the legislation they passed to make those goals a reality.
"Bill Clinton talks like a born-again conservative, but when the American people focus on what Bill Clinton really believes they see a congenital liberal," said Rep. Thomas D. DeLay of Texas, the House Republican whip.
"While he may have promised to balance the budget, cut taxes for middle-class families and end welfare as we know it, it was the Republicans in Congress who passed those initiatives. House Republicans kept their promises, Bill Clinton vetoed his promises," Mr. DeLay said.
By design, Republicans in the House chamber last night were polite -- even cordial.
They bit their tongues more than once when the president goaded them with lines as the one about lobbyists writing loopholes in environmental legislation. But the booing practiced on such occasions by lawmakers in both parties was declared out of order by the leadership.
"We want to encourage respect for the presidency -- after all, so many of our party colleagues are trying to get there," said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican conference.
Congressional Democrats did not feel so constrained, blaming the deadlock on the Republicans. "Americans have a right to be disgusted with what they have seen out of Washington the last several months," said Sen. John Glenn, the Ohio Democrat. "The extremist rhetoric and blackmail tactics of some in the Republican Party are counterproductive."
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat, said it was unfortunate that Republicans would not applaud Mr. Clinton's condemnation of shutting down the government.
Many other Democrats applauded Mr. Clinton's conciliatory approach. "I liked the theme the president used in the beginning and the end -- that we must face these challenges together," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore Democrat. "This was a good State of the Union. Not a Democratic State of the Union but an American State of the Union."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, another Maryland Democrat, called Mr. Clinton's speech "very powerful.
"He challenged the country and the Congress and himself in important areas: children and the family, economic security, educational opportunity, safe streets and neighborhoods and the environment -- all of which I think are items very much in the front of the agenda of the American people."
Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said she considered the address "an invitation to the Republicans" to work with him on common areas of concern. For example, Mr. Clinton drew bipartisan applause with a call for legislation protecting workers from losing health insurance when they change jobs.
Calling it "a good speech," Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the Western Maryland Republican, said: "If you didn't know his history, you might actually think he's a born again conservative. Much of what he said you would have found in a Ronald Reagan speech."
Rep. Constance A. Morella, the Montgomery County Republican, viewed the speech as "a great launching of his campaign. Now we have to see the translation of his rhetoric into actions."
Another Republican, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich of Baltimore County, called the speech "eloquent rhetoric," but derided it as "a poll-driven speech. That's not my view of leadership. He always wants it both ways."
Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore called the address "a good speech.
"I think the country needed a positive message of unity."