(CNSNews.com) - President Clinton proposed on Wednesday spending billions to renovate poor, run-down schools as he and fellow Democrats laid out an agenda designed to help them wrest Congress from the Republicans.
The White House said the plan, to be put forward in the president's fiscal 2001 budget next month, would offer a mixture of grants and interest-free loans that would finance $7 billion worth of renovations at some 8,300 schools around the United States.
Clinton announced the proposal flanked by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the top Democrats in Congress, saying it was one of a series of issues that they want lawmakers to pass this year.
Wire services report that these issues include raising the minimum wage, reforming the Medicare health care program for the elderly -- to include a prescription drug benefit, offering targeted tax cuts, shoring up the Social Security retirement income system and enacting new gun control and hate crimes legislation.
On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans said they plan to push again this year for tax cut legislation as part of an agenda that they hope will help them keep control of the House of Representatives and Senate.
House Republican Conference Chairman JC Watts of Oklahoma said he thought an agenda that focused on cutting taxes, local control of schools, maintaining a strong military, and protecting Social Security and Medicare would help Republicans in the November elections.
However, prospects are slim for legislation on any of these issues, all of which languished in Congress last year, and both sides appeared to be crafting their priorities with a view to winning votes in the November elections.
"President Kennedy once said the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. Well, today the sun is shining on America, and the roofs that need most fixing in America are the roofs of our nation's schools,'' Clinton said.
Clinton rejected a suggestion that the Democrats might do better in the elections by not passing legislation and using the issues to highlight their differences with the Republicans. "It does not hurt the cause of the Democratic Party to pass these reforms,'' Clinton said.
The president plans to resurrect a proposal that he has made for the past two years under which the federal government would offer tax credits to pay the interest on nearly $25 billion in bonds to build and renovate public schools. That proposal, which would cost the Treasury a total of $3.7 billion over five years in lost tax revenues, went nowhere in Congress last year.
In seeking an initial $1.3 billion for the schools renovation project, White House officials said they were shifting tactics by trying to get the money from the congressional committees that write spending bills rather than those that oversee tax legislation.
Representative Bill Archer (R-TX), who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said school renovation was a top priority and chided Clinton for vetoing a $1.4 billion school construction bond initiative endorsed by the Republicans last year.
"For the past two years the House of Representatives passed plans to help build and renovate public schools, but both times the president blocked them,'' Archer said. "I hope this year that our school children will come before politics and that the president works with us to enact a school construction initiative into law. We need to get this done.''
The $1.4 billion was part of the $792 Republican-sponsored tax cut that Clinton vetoed last year. The House Ways and Means committee said its plan would have offered the tax credits to all schools instead of just those in poor neighborhoods.