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Clinton pitches his plans to a skeptical nation

President Clinton, buttressed by brightly-colored charts, told a news conference Thursday night the nation was finally "putting our economic house in order," and urged Congress to enact his plan to cut the deficit by $500-billion.

At a news conference generally shunned by the nation's commercial networks, Clinton also claimed success in the U.N. military campaign against a Somali warlord. The action "crippled the forces" of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid and is over, said the commander-in-chief.

The president used the first prime-time news conference of his presidency to pitch his $500-billion five-year deficit reduction plan and put in a plug for his national health reform, still in the drafting stage.

"It's necessary. It's fair and it will work," he said of the massive deficit-cutting measure now making its way through the Senate. He said if enacted, it would keep interest rates down and job growth up.

"Here at home America's on the move. The last few days have been impressive," Clinton said, citing congressional movement this week on two additional initiatives: reforming political campaign funding and implementing a program of national service.

"This means we are putting our economic house in order," the president said.

"The economy is still bad for most Americans, but the trends are good," Clinton said, crediting the serious effort Congress is making to trim the deficit for pushing down interest rates.

Within moments after Clinton left the East Room, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole attacked his economic plan and his arithmetic. In a CNN interview, Dole said the administration's plan would fall short of its goal of $500-billion in deficit reduction.

"A lot of people out there are hoping for the American dream and all they see in this administration is more spending and more taxes," Dole added.

In an unusual attempt to capitalize on Clinton's appearance, the White House dispatched senior aide George Stephanopoulos to CNN. "We're really disappointed" that not all networks carried the news conference, he said.

On other subjects, Clinton:

Defended his decision to support building the space station, despite its enormous pricetag. "It is an important area of science and technology," he said.

Said he would like to see welfare reform enacted this year but "that will depend on how warmly embraced it is by Congress." He said his plan would limit how long people can collect benefits.

Expressed support for U.N.-proposed economic sanctions aimed at restoring democratic rule in Haiti but predicted "there will never be a resolution . . . unless we have a multinational peacekeeping force" there.

Refused to say what he might do in retaliation for an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate former President Bush earlier this year in Kuwait. "I have not received the final report from the FBI and until I do, I don't think I should say what I will and won't do."

Asked about a plan by international mediators to carve up Bosnia into three ethnic zones, Clinton said: "If the parties themselves, including the Bosnian government, agree to a different solution, then the United States would have to look at it very seriously."

He said he had hoped for a different outcome that would have kept Bosnia intact.

Only NBC and CNN carried Clinton's news conference live _ even though it was his news conference debut in prime-time _ and NBC pulled out after 25 minutes and before reporters ran out of questions. ABC and CBS opted for commercial programing throughout.

In was Clinton's third session with reporters since the beginning of the week, a fact cited by network officials in deciding to skip the session. It is rare, though, that the networks pass up live coverage of a prime-time presidential news conference.

Borrowing a tactic favored by Ross Perot, Clinton used two large blue charts to illustrate his arguments for Congress to pass his economic program.

"I have tried to tell the truth to the American people and if this plan passes you will see a continuation of the last several months" in which interest rates moved lower and thousands of new jobs were created, he said.

On Somalia, Clinton told the news conference in the East Room of the White House that Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had "reported to me this afternoon that this operation was over and was a success."

He said the U.S.-led operation had "sought to preserve the credibility of peace keeping in Somalia and around the world."

Clinton backs scaled-down "Freedom'

President Clinton, stressing the notion that the United States should remain a technological leader, urged Congress on Thursday to go forward with the space station _ but at a cheaper cost. Story, 3A

What's the design like?

Clinton chose a scaled-down, modular version of Space Station Freedom (shown above), which was proposed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. This plan uses a longer platform; all laboratory modules and external power, propulsion and guidance systems would be attached to it.

Why the change?

Cost, The space station is expected to cost about $10.5-billion over the next five years and could reach $16.5-billion by 2001. Reagan's station, originally estimated to cost 8-billion, could have cost $14.4-biilion more in the next five years and $25.6-billion to complete.

Why this design?

Because it's a simplified version of Freedom, the approximately $9-billion already spent won't be completely wasted. Our international partners like it because it requires fewer modifications on their part.

How would it be built?

Future space shuttle flights would ferry parts into space and astronauts would begin assembling it.

When would it be ready?

The first shuttle flight would be in 1997. A laboratory module would be added in 1998 and the station would be ready for occupancy by up to four astronauts by 2001.

Will it be built?

No one knows, but it already has survived several attempts to kill it. One reason: NASA promises thousands of jobs; 151 congressional districts would get space jobs.

Sources: Associated Press, Congressional Quarterly, the White House, the New York Times.