Last night, President Clinton delivered his final State of the Union address. Crafted in partnership with Democratic members of Congress, the very ambitious address was a veritable laundry list of new initiatives and expanded programs, totalling hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending. Coming in at 89 minutes and interrupted 128 times by applause, the speech was the longest State of the Union ever, beating President Clinton's own 1995 record by eight minutes. Among the more significant new measures proposed are a new gun licensing program, a $350 billion tax cut, expanded federal health care programs (including a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries), and further engagement with China. Not surprisingly, this long list of new initiatives did not go over well with the Republican congressional leadership. In their response, the Republicans criticized the President's agenda as spendthrift and focused especially on two traditionally Democratic issues: health care and education, using Senators Bill Frist of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine, experts on those subjects. Both Frist and Collins emphasized local and state control of schools and health care over the President's proposed federal oversight. There is one issue, however, upon which the White House and the Republicans now agree and which will likely be enacted this year: reducing the so-called marriage tax penalty, under which working married couples who file jointly pay more tax than working singles. Finally, the President also used the address to increase the political capital of two candidates near and dear to him: Vice-President Gore and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of whom received several mentions and words of thanks in the course of the speech.
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