Mrs. Clinton Assails GOP In Providence Fund-Raisers

Republicans will dismantle Medicare and gut education and environmental programs, the first lady tells her Democratic audiences.


Journal-Bulletin State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE -- Laying out her husband's reelection message before several hundred loyal, cheering Democrats at a party fund-raiser yesterday, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted the Republicans who control Congress cannot be trusted on the issues of the environment, education and health care for the poor and elderly.

Echoing the President, Mrs. Clinton said in partisan language that the budget impasse in Washington is not likely to be decided until this year's election. To cheers from local Democrats, she focused on the issues that national opinion polls show more voters agree with the Clinton Administration than with the Republicans who control Congress, particularly health care and the environment.

Mrs. Clinton urged Democrats to view skeptically Republican efforts to slow the rate of growth in the Medicare program that provides health care to the elderly.

"If you read the fine print of their (Republican) proposal, it is nothing less than the eventual dismantling of Medicare," said Mrs. Clinton. She pledged that her husband will protect the program.

"He will not permit, under the guise of balancing the budget, the Republicans to dismantle the guarantee of medical care for our senior citizens," said Mrs. Clinton. "(Medicare) is how we say to our mothers and fathers and grandparents, we honor your work and contributions, we will be there for you are you have been there for us."

Mrs. Clinton's trip to Providence was a sideshow in a weeklong tour of the Northeast to promote her book about children, It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

On environmental issues, Mrs. Clinton pointed to the leaking barge that as of last night had spilled 700,000 gallons of heating fuel off Moonstone Beach as a good example of why enforcement of most environmental laws cannot be turned over to the states, as many leading Republicans have urged.

"When oil spills off the coast of Rhode Island, it is not just Rhode Island beaches that are damaged, it is American beaches that are damaged," she said. "The environment is not the province of any special group or interest, or even of any individual state. We should have a national commitment to ensuring that our environment is safe."

If her 15-minute speech provided a preview of the 1996 Clinton reelection campaign, it is clear this election will feature more defensive themes than the expansive vision of government the Clintons advocated in 1992 against George Bush.

Mrs. Clinton spoke yesterday of preserving the government programs that are the Democratic Party's principal legacy in Washington these days; her longest applause came when she underscored her husband's commitment to keeping as intact as he can the federal Medicare, Medicaid and education programs that are chief targets of the GOP.

This message is in sharp relief with 1992, when Mr. Clinton, and Mrs. Clinton particularly, advanced the notion that a government-managed, universal health care system was needed to protect the health of all Americans.

A bevy of Rhode Island Democrats flanked Mrs. Clinton at her speech, where she endorsed Rep. Jack Reed's campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Claiborne Pell.

Yesterday's friendly crowd gave Mrs. Clinton a brief respite from the Whitewater and White House travel office affairs that have haunted her in recent weeks, but the event showed that, much as the first lady wishes they would, those issues never really melt away. They generate almost daily doses of unfavorable news for she and her husband.

For example, yesterday's New York Times reported that the White House admitted Friday that Mrs. Clinton misspoke last Monday when she told a radio reporter that she and her aides had made available to the press all the information they had about the Whitewater land venture and her legal work for a failing Arkansas savings and loan.

At a brief news conference after her speech, all the questions focused on the controversies that polls show have made her the most unpopular first lady in more than three decades and how she plans to handle them.

"I will continue making myself available, I will continue answering them. I have a lot of faith in the American people and in our people's fundamental fairness. I think that the more this goes on . . . people (will) understand that a lot of these questions have been answered," she said.

"You know, the original question was did we or did we not lose money in a real estate deal in Arkansas in the 1970s and '80s. And we said yes and they said prove it, so now four years later there has been an independent study by a national law firm that spent $4 million to prove we lost $40,000.

"So we will continue to cooperate but we would also like to get the word out that there has been no substance to any of the allegations and many of the charges that have been thrown back and forth over the last years," she said.

Mrs. Clinton came to downtown Providence for about three hours yesterday to attend three separate fund-raisers at Citizens Bank for the state Democratic Party that raised more than $50,000, which the party will use to support candidates in this fall's elections. She spoke at each of the events: a $500 per person reception that drew mostly large contributors, a $100 per person event that drew more than 200 mostly professional women and a $35 rally that attracted party loyalists. Only the $35 event was open to reporters.

There were more women than men at the speech. And a few random interviews showed that a good number of them resent the Republican attacks on Mrs. Clinton.

"I have a great deal of admiration for the first lady and I hope her reputation can be restored," said Susan Dorr of Providence, a teacher at Wheeler School. "I think they are just trying to destroy her character for politics."

Mrs. Clinton worked health care into her speech when she mentioned a Barrington couple with a sick daughter she met yesterday morning on a visit to Children's Hospital in Boston. Sometimes, she said, catastrophic medical emergencies are more than a family can handle.

Mrs. Clinton said the plight of Rebecca and Robert Parant of Barrington and their 13-month-old daughter Maggie, who has been at the hospital for severe cardiac problems, points to the need to keep Medicaid available for parents whose childeren's illnesses are so costly they threaten to exceed the limits of their private insurance.

In a brief interview last night, Robert Parent said he was impressed by Mrs. Clinton. "It was a great experience." And he said that Maggie is doing well, but will need more costly medical care in the future.

Conspicuous by his absence was Arthur A. Coia of Barrington, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, who has been one of the Clintons' most visible supporters among national labor figures.

Upon taking control of the union in 1993, Coia boosted the union's political contributions to the Democratic Party and administration causes. The Laborers loaned $100,000 to the Clinton inaugural and also pledged $100,000 to the U.S. Botanic Garden, giving Coia and his wife access to a private dinner attended by the Clintons. From Jan. 1, 1993, to Dec. 31, 1994, they gave $368,000 in "soft money" contributions to the Democratic Party, making the union the party's sixth-leading donor.

With reports from staff writer Dean Starkman.

Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company.
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