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Clinton Links Health, Crime Proposals : Reform: Speaking in Florida, the President calls for coordinated action to prevent wasteful violence and illness.


ST. PETERSBURG BEACH, Fla. — President Clinton sought Friday to link his health care reform plan and his support of anti-crime efforts, arguing for combined action to prevent wasteful violence and illness alike.

Clinton, stopping in a state recently jolted by highly publicized crimes, compared the payoff from programs for disadvantaged kids to the benefits of healthy living habits and regular medical check-ups.

The nation needs places where young people "can learn discipline and order, and be able to see the future as something that happens three years from now, not three minutes from now," the President told an audience of about 250 on a stifling Florida morning outside the Pinellas Marine Institute.

The center, housed in a spotless waterfront structure on stilts, seeks to rehabilitate youths with multiple arrest records by teaching them scuba diving, seamanship, boat repair and marine biology, along with regular high school skills. The program, one of 35 in seven states, is a favorite of Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, the former Dade County prosecutor who traveled with Clinton.

The visit gave Clinton an opportunity to express support for anti-crime legislation introduced Thursday in Congress. In particular, he cited his interest in provisions that would put another 50,000 police officers on the street and his support of the Brady bill, which would require a five-day waiting period in handgun sales.

The bills, sponsored by Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), would spend $3.4 billion to put more police on the street, limit Death-Row appeals, and authorize capital punishment for four dozen federal crimes.

Clinton suggested that the country needs to do more to keep people from possessing weapons "designed solely to kill other people"--a sentiment that won him loud applause when he introduced his health plan to Congress Wednesday night. He said he hoped to one day sign a bill that would outlaw possession of assault weapons.

Boosting his health care reform plan at every opportunity, the President cited the high costs of violence among the young. "One of the reasons American health care is so expensive is that our hospital and our emergency rooms are full of people who are cut up and shot," he said.

Clinton's trip to a vote-rich state he nearly won in 1992 also allowed the President to announce that the Justice Department would award two of five available $200,000 community policing demonstration grants to Tampa Bay governments. One of the three-year grants will go to St. Petersburg, and the other to neighboring Hillsborough County.

Upon his return to Washington, Clinton told reporters he would prefer to phase in new health benefits more slowly than to raise new taxes if the reform plan turns out to be more expensive than currently projected.

"We should have an annual review process which would permit us, if we don't realize the savings through management we intend to realize, to make a decision to phase in some of the newer benefits over a longer period of time," he said in response to a question.

"We shouldn't raise general taxes on people who are already paying too much for their own health care to pay for somebody else's health care who's not paying anything for it," Clinton said. "I just don't think that's right.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, defended the inclusion of abortion coverage in the Administration's health plan.

Under the reform plan, decisions regarding abortion "will still be made the way they are currently made," Mrs. Clinton said in an interview with CBS, adding that hospitals and doctors can decline to provide abortion services by exercising a "conscience exemption."

She said she did not expect Congress to delete abortion coverage from the package. "We're not going to get into that kind of problem, I don't think, because what we're trying to do is maintain what is available now," she said.

Mrs. Clinton said the package would expand family planning services to prevent the need for a bortion.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate resolved to live under the same health care system that Congress approves for all Americans. But the debate gave an advance indication of the strong and often personal feelings that some lawmakers hold on the issue.

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) touched off verbal fireworks when he proposed a Senate resolution declaring that members of Congress should enroll in "a standard health care plan that charges no more than the average premium," rather than availing themselves of higher-priced options.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) attacked Wellstone's plan, arguing that it would deprive senators of the right to choose among different plans, as other Americans would be able to do under Clinton's proposal.

"Every family, including a senator's family, should have the same choices," Boxer said.

Sensing an impasse, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) helped draft an acceptable compromise.

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