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Clinton and Dole Trade Jabs Over Impact of Family, Medical Leave

Campaign: President calls law helpful, GOP opponent says it meddles. Meanwhile, Kemp draws fire for his comments praising Louis Farrakhan.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Picking up an apparent gift from his opponent, President Clinton on Tuesday took Bob Dole to task over the issue of family leave.

In a campaign appearance and in a new television advertisement, Clinton said the Family and Medical Leave law, which protects workers from being fired if they take time off to care for an ill relative or a new child, had helped millions of families cope with medical emergencies without imposing burdensome costs on business.

Dole, who opposed the legislation when it was in Congress, in recent days has renewed his criticism of it--despite polls indicating the law is extremely popular. On Saturday and again on Monday, Dole said that relations between workers and their employers should not be a federal concern. The law represents the "long arm of the federal government" meddling in private affairs, Dole said.

"Why should the federal government be getting into family leave?" Dole said in Pittsburgh on Saturday. "It ought to be left to the employees or the state or the county. The federal government ought to be out of it."

Clinton strongly disagreed. "Twelve million people have taken a little time off when a baby was born or when a parent was sick . . . and the American economy has been growing like crazy since we've passed the Family and Medical Leave law," Clinton said at an appearance in Kansas City. "I think we were right to do it. I think those who opposed us have been proved wrong by the evidence."

The dispute once again diverted attention from the issue Dole has tried to make the main focus of his campaign--his proposal for a 15% across-the-board cut in income tax rates. His lack of success with that theme so far has prompted increasing concern among Republicans on Capitol Hill that he is headed for a serious loss that could also jeopardize the party's control of Congress. Partly to try to quell such talk, Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp, plan to meet with congressional GOP leaders today.

Kemp, meanwhile, was embroiled in his own minor flap involving comments he made over the weekend in an interview with the Boston Globe that praised Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam.

In the interview, Kemp had praised Farrakhan's message of self-help for blacks and the Million Man March that he had led last year. The remarks drew criticism from some Jewish leaders because of Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitic statements.

In a speech in New York to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Kemp reminded his listeners of his long-standing support for Israel, and adding, "I call on Louis Farrakhan and his followers to once and for all renounce anti-Semitism."

Clinton and his aides have seized on Dole's opposition to the family leave law, which Clinton signed early in his term. Clinton aides believe family leave is one of the president's most politically marketable accomplishments.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry, referring to small-group discussions Dole has been conducting around the country, said of Dole, "He is listening to America and hearing strange voices."

The new ad, which begins running today in 25 cities, features a Texas couple describing the death of their daughter from cancer and thanking Clinton for signing the family leave law "so parents can be with a newborn or a sick child and not lose their job." The ad goes on to note that Dole "led a six-year fight against family leave." Republicans quickly objected, saying the ad unfairly portrayed Dole as mean-spirited and anti-family.

"We care about kids, we care about families, we don't think the government ought to be involved," Dole said during an appearance in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Clinton made his remarks on family leave as he began a three-day campaign trip that is scheduled to bring him to California late today in what will be his 27th presidential visit to the state. Today he is expected to unveil a proposal for increased federal money to states to pay for drug testing in prisons.

Earlier in the day, speaking to a meeting of the Southern Governors' Assn., Clinton defended his controversial decision last month to sign the welfare reform bill.

Noting that many governors had asked for more freedom to experiment with welfare reform at the state level, Clinton said, "you asked for this, and now you've got it."

Clinton praised Missouri's program that uses welfare funds to subsidize businesses that hire former welfare recipients. The money goes to the newly hired workers in the form of supplements to their paychecks, rather than as welfare checks. Clinton said other states should adopt the income supplement idea to help create the millions of jobs that will be needed to make the new welfare law work.

"We have to prove all the skeptics wrong," Clinton said.

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