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The Republican Party is inept to the point of being self-defeating in its efforts to cope politically with President Clinton.

On one hand, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde draw up plans to try to impeach the president on charges growing out of the sex scandals that recently have hogged the headlines. And on the other hand, GOP leaders in the Senate make a common man's hero out of Clinton by approving on party lines a 1999 budget that rejects the president's call for greater spending on more teachers, job training, school construction, child care and other education initiatives.

Just when it appeared that the president was in his deepest hole on charges of sexual abuse and perjury, Senate leaders enabled him to go before the AFL-CIO in Las Vegas and win a thunderous ovation after speaking like the savior of America's children.

Clinton already has the GOP in a bind by effectively taking credit for a soaring economy that is supposed to produce a surplus of revenues, and for pressuring the tobacco industry into ponying up billions of dollars to settle complaints about past health ravages of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Now he's goading the GOP into some losing stances about how to use America's new wealth.

President Clinton is proposing to spend $7.5 billion of the cash windfall over five years for child care, $7.3 billion to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce class sizes to 18 kids per teacher in kindergarten through the second grade and $5 billion for school construction.

But on Wednesday the Senate Budget Committee voted, 12-10, to totally reject Clinton's proposals. That enabled the otherwise beleaguered president to tell his Las Vegas audience, "If the Republican budget says no to new teachers and smaller classes; no to modernizing our schools; no to investing in higher education for our children . . . the American people should say no to that budget." His mostly blue-collar audience roared in agreement.

Clinton is now able to say that he and his Democrats have created a financial bonanza but the Republicans want to give it to their fat-cat supporters in tax cuts -- or at best they want to plough it into Medicare, the health-insurance program for the non-poor elderly. He again can portray the GOP as the party that cannot support any social program that lifts the level of life of ordinary Americans.

Clinton says the Republican budget plan "shortchanges our nation's future," and he is right. And the great mass of voters know it.

This society doesn't just need more teachers, it needs more superbly trained teachers.

If the federal government does not fund the training of the good teachers we need desperately, who will? Nobody.

What is at stake in this budget battle is control of both houses of Congress. While Republicans believe that Clinton's sexual transgressions will drag down most Democratic candidates this fall, the Democrats believe that most Americans care a lot more about education and day care than about the president's relationships with Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey.

We hold elections, of course, for the same reasons we hold NCAA basketball tournaments and Super Bowls: to find out whose odds and predictions are right. My early dope sheet says that as was the case in 1996, Clinton is going to outflank the Republicans with his "vision" for America that promises a glowing future for its children.

North America Syndicate

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