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Clinton Stresses Worker Issues on Midwest Stops

Politics: President campaigns in Reagan Democrat country. He praises vocational education projects and pitches new 401(k) rules.


YPSILANTI, Mich. — President Clinton plunged into working-class regions of the Midwest on Tuesday, stressing two issues of interest to so-called Reagan Democrats: Vocational education and protection of retirement funds.

In a Washington ceremony before departing for the Midwest, Clinton announced regulations to make it easier for workers to carry some retirement investments with them when they switch jobs.

The new rules, like legislation signed last month assuring portability of health insurance, are designed to make workers feel more confident as they move between jobs in a fast-changing economy. They will take effect Jan. 1 and do not require Congress to act.

Clinton's announcement dealt with the handling of retirement funds controlled by individual workers, such as the popular 401(k) programs in which both worker and employer may contribute to a tax-deferred account.

Under current rules, workers sometimes find themselves in a difficult situation when changing jobs: Their old employers want them to withdraw the retirement funds to avoid the costs of record keeping, but their new companies do not want to accept the money for fear that a new deposit might put the company in violation of complicated federal rules for calculating 401(k) eligibility.

Under Clinton's proposal, which officials say would help 1 million workers annually, companies would be forbidden to employ certain tactics to push workers into withdrawing their money when they leave. And companies would be guaranteed that accepting rollover retirement funds from a new worker would not put them in violation of federal eligibility rules.

These rule changes "will make it easier for businesses to do the right thing by helping their employees save for retirement," Clinton said.

Later, Clinton made stops in two communities--one near Detroit, the other outside Chicago--with heavy concentrations of the socially conservative Democrats whose support has been pivotal in recent presidential elections.

In Westland, Mich., a working-class western suburb of Detroit, Clinton toured a workshop at the William D. Ford Vocational and Technical Center and gazed in wonder at a computer-aided manufacturing machine operated by 31-year-old Craig Lindberg, who has only partial use of his hands.

At a rally a few minutes later, Clinton said that such high-tech vocational opportunities are the answer for young people who might otherwise be left behind by a shifting economy.

Although he was in the middle of the country's auto-assembly heartland, Clinton plugged the benefits of greater global trade, provided it can be conducted on terms that are fair to Americans.

In a reference to his administration's trade agreements with Japan, Clinton said one of his "proudest moments as president" was when he sat in a U.S.-built auto in a Tokyo showroom.

The growing confidence of Clinton's campaign was evident as aides announced last-minute plans to swing through South Dakota on Friday, a state no Democratic presidential candidate has won since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Aides contend that the polls now show that Clinton might have a shot at winning the state.

Richter reported from Ypsilanti and Rosenblatt from Washington.

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