MINNEAPOLIS -- As his quest for re-election moved into its final week, President Clinton pointed yesterday to new figures showing that the federal deficit had dropped to its lowest level since 1981 and proclaimed, "America's awake and moving in the right direction."
Clinton's focus on the economy marked one in a series of thematic rally speeches his aides say he will deliver in the closing days of the presidential race to sum up his case for a second term. The addresses are to culminate Friday when the president -- returning to a theme he unveiled in the summer of 1995 -- plans to speak of the "common ground" that he believes defines the nation's political center.
The president opened his daylong swing through three Midwestern states in University City, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, where he stood before a riotous red, white and blue array of flags, charts and banners designed to show that he had more than fulfilled his 1992 campaign pledge to cut the federal deficit by half.
Speaking over a distant crowd of hecklers, Clinton said that four years ago, voters had to take his pledge to cut the deficit on faith. He continued: "Today, there is a record, and we can show you. And that's why they're trying to shout us down, because we can show you," he said, playing on Missouri's reputation as the "Show Me" state.
A giant bar graph hanging along the facade of City Hall charted the deficit's downward path. And the pillars of the building bore long arrows pointing downward that carried the slogan: "Down 63 percent during President Clinton's watch."
As thousands looked on, two young people called to the outdoor stage by Clinton pulled a string attached to the bar graph banner, which unveiled a section showing that the deficit had dropped to $107.3 billion in the federal fiscal year that ended in September. White House officials said the deficit was the lowest since 1981, the first year of the Reagan administration.
Clinton never mentioned his opponent, Bob Dole, by name, but he directly answered the Republican's late campaign call for America to "wake up" by pointing to the health of the economy. "America is awake and moving in the right direction," he said.
The president repeated the economic themes throughout the day as he swung through Missouri and Minnesota and pushed on to Illinois.
His aides said the primary purpose of his appearances was to lend energy to the campaigns of Democratic congressional candidates, including Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who is being furiously assaulted by his opponent as a liberal. Wellstone is the only Democratic senator up for re-election who voted against the welfare bill that Clinton signed in the summer. Clinton praised him yesterday for having "a great heart."
At each stop, Clinton drew boisterous crowds, though there were protesters, too. One woman outside the Target Center sports arena in Minneapolis hoisted a homemade protest sign that read, "Smoke Dope, Dodge the Draft, Cheat on Your Wife, Become President, The American Dream."
Clinton noted that when he took office four years ago, the federal deficit had reached $290 billion and that the Republicans had refused to vote for the package of tax increases and spending cuts he pushed through Congress in 1993, when it was controlled by Democrats, to attack the problem.
He praised Wellstone for supporting that economic plan. "You need to know when we brought the deficit down, there was not a single member of the other party who voted for it," Clinton told the more than 15,000 people who filled the Target Center.
"Well," he added, his voice getting aw-shucks folksy, "Paul Wellstone said, 'I think we ought to bring the deficit down.' " That decision, he said, seeking to inoculate Wellstone from the charge of being a liberal, "was the conservative thing to do -- to protect our future, to conserve our people and our resources and get our house in order."
The Republicans, however, refer to the 1993 deficit-reduction package as an example of liberalism because of the tax increases it contained.
Even though the federal deficit has dropped in every year of his term, Clinton's own original budget plan for the 1996 fiscal year still foresaw continuous deficits in the $200 billion range. The president did not embrace the call for a multiyear balanced budget until months after the Republicans took control of Congress and began drafting a seven-year budget-balancing plan.
For that reason, the Republicans said that they were responsible for the drop in the deficit. "This is a huge credit to the common-sense Republican Congress which fought for spending constraints," said Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Franklin Raines, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, attributed most of the deficit reduction to stronger-than-expected economic growth, which brought in more tax revenues than anticipated, and reduced spending. He said the spending cuts made in discretionary domestic programs had been "relatively modest."
Pub Date: 10/29/96