Clinton brings NATO sales pitch home
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) _ Beginning a home-turf campaign to win approval for NATO expansion, President Clinton told West Point cadets today that an expanded alliance could help spare them the horrors of war.
``We must not fail history’s challenge at this moment,″ Clinton told the graduating corps of cadets assembled on the field at Michie Stadium. ``To build and secure a new Europe _ peaceful, democratic and undivided at last _ there must be a new NATO with new missions, new members and new partners.″
Citing the Western alliance’s increasing role in peacekeeping missions, Clinton advised: ``That, in turn, makes it less likely that you will ever be called to fight another war across the Atlantic.″
The president’s 25-minute commencement address capped a week focused on foreign policy, with Clinton traveling to Paris, London and the Netherlands to promote the expansion of NATO to include former Soviet bloc nations.
The Senate will have to approve any enlargement of the 16-nation military alliance, and the administration expects a fight. But Clinton, who said U.S. commitments to new NATO members would cost taxpayers an annual $200 million over the next 10 years, was taking his argument directly to the nation.
``Because it is not without cost or risk, it is appropriate to have an open, full, national discussion before proceeding,″ Clinton said. ``It is especially important to those of you in this class. As the sentinels of our security in the years ahead, your work will be easier and safer if we do the right thing _ and riskier and much more difficult if we do not.″
To a roar of approval, Clinton also exercised his prerogative as commander in chief and granted amnesty to cadets facing disciplinary actions for minor violations of cadet rules.
``The cheering was a little disconcerting,″ Clinton chuckled. ``Now, the operative word there was minor.″
Diplomas were distributed after the president spoke, and the cadets again roared as Cadet Jason M. Havey was called up to accept his. Havey was the class goat, last among his peers academically, thus saving the others from that dubious distinction.
Separately, Clinton used his weekly radio address to insist that Congress stay within the outlines of the broadly written balanced-budget plan as lawmakers draft specific tax cuts.
Clinton said tax cuts ``must not be written in such a way that they reopen the deficit and bust the budget in years to come.″ Trying to limit the reach of congressional tax writers, Clinton said, ``We cannot put our prosperity at risk through time-bomb tax cuts that explode the deficit in five or 10 or 20 years.″
On the economic front, the president seized Friday’s news that the economy grew at a robust 5.8 percent rate, the highest in a decade. With a 77 percent reduction in the deficit over five years and the lowest jobless rate in 24 years, ``our economy leads the world,″ Clinton boasted in his radio speech.
The balanced-budget outline agreed by Clinton and Republican leaders sets overall spending and tax totals for the next five years. Actual changes in tax and spending law will have to be made in 15 separate bills later this year, and battles over these are certain.
Over the five years, the measure is to produce $321 billion in savings. It also maps $85 billion in net tax cuts and $31 billion in new spending for children’s health care as well as restored welfare benefits for many legal immigrants _ for a net deficit reduction of $204 billion.
The plan envisions a $500 per-child tax credit and $35 billion in tax relief targeted at helping families pay for college.