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State of Union is first campaign Clinton must win // SPEECH

To understand the limits facing President Clinton tonight in his State of the Union speech, consider his campaign to end teenage pregnancy.

During last year's address, he made the anti-pregnancy program a symbol of his "New Covenant" to link the government and the people toward common goals.

"We must have dramatic change in our economy, our government and ourselves," the president said as he stood in the glaring lights of the nationally televised address.

But a year later, there's still no plan to end teen pregnancy _ stalled like so much else in Clinton's agenda by the Republican Congress, the low speed of government bureaucracy and by the president himself.

In short, gridlock is back.

With the Republicans in charge of Congress, and a Democrat in the White House, neither side is seeing its agenda enacted, and neither side is showing much progress in finding compromise.

Clinton has the Republicans in disarray over their own campaign, this one centered on balancing the budget in seven years. At the same time, there is little Clinton has proposed that the GOP Congress has gone along with.

Of the dozen or so major policy challenges Clinton issued in last year's address, only one has become law _ lobbying reform legislation. A second initiative, to grant the president line-item veto power over appropriations bills, has passed both houses and is in a conference committee. A lesser-known provision, to prevent Washington from imposing unfunded requirements on state governments, also passed with Clinton's blessing.

The rest of the initiatives in Clinton's 1995 speech are unfulfilled. The list includes: legislation to combat terrorism, reforming the campaign finance system, providing a tax cut for the middle class, boosting the minimum wage and improving and expanding health coverage.

"The term "gridlock' certainly has jumped into my mind the last few months," said Florida Republican Sen. Connie Mack.

Republicans blame Clinton for blocking balanced budget legislation that included components that both sides agree on, such as a tax cut. "This president has stood in the way of the most meaningful legislation for change in the country," Mack said.

Both sides have the same solution: kick the other out of office this November.

So this address will amount to the president's first major speech of his re-election campaign, one with few new policy initiatives and much Clinton-style rhetoric boasting about what he has accomplished without the help of the GOP Congress. The White House promises a presidential address on his vision for the 21st century and what he calls this "age of possibility."

The truth is that over the last year, the Republican majority on Capitol Hill has punctured his hopes for an age of "probability." Just take a look at the record, starting with his fight against teenage pregnancy.

"We've got to ask our community leaders and all kinds of organizations to help us stop our most serious social problem: the epidemic of teen pregnancies and births where there is no marriage," the president said last year.

Noting that government can do only so much, Clinton urged parents and the nation's leaders to unite to fight teen pregnancy.

Who could disagree with that? The effort, though, stalled before it started when Dr. Henry Foster, the man Clinton chose to be surgeon general and to lead the effort, was cast aside by the Senate after he misled lawmakers about the number of abortions he had performed. More than six months later, Clinton still has not nominated another surgeon general candidate.

In the months since, though, allies to the Clinton administration worked to gather corporate and other leaders for a privately run campaign against teenage pregnancy. With the sense of urgency waning, however, it took months for the first meeting of that group to occur at the White House, causing even Clinton's allies to grumble that he had lost his interest.

The president still plans to tap Foster for some sort of role, though that announcement was delayed because of the recent government shutdown. The group of outsiders promises an announcement in the next few weeks.

"I believe that we are responding now and I'm very excited about it," said Urban Institute policy maker Isabel Sawhill, who is heading the teenage pregnancy project. "You don't just click your fingers and it happens."

That's true of many of the other Clinton initiatives from last year's big speech, too.

Campaign finance reform, for instance, is a perennial item on politicians' "to do" list. Last summer, Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich went so far as to shake hands in public agreement that they would tackle the problem.

But still, no reform. Common Cause, the self-styled citizens' lobby that is fighting for campaign finance reform, says that legislation is moving through Congress to allow voluntary spending limits among congressional candidates.

"This is the first time really in over a decade that you've got bi-partisan bills," said Don Simon, executive vice president of Common Cause. "We're hopeful."

Another reform sought by Clinton did make it. Lawmakers strengthened congressional rules for registering lobbyists, and Clinton signed it into law. Starting this year, lobbyists must disclose the issues they advocate, where they do their business and how much money they spend.

On the budget, Clinton has spent the year playing defense as much as offense. That strategy has won him popularity among voters, who see him protecting them from deep cuts in popular programs such as Medicare.

Clinton vetoed one balanced budget plan, saying it squeezed spending on Medicare and Medicaid too much. He also vetoed a welfare reform bill, saying it unfairly punished the poor.

A year ago, Clinton had renewed his challenge to end welfare as we know it.

"Nothing has done more to undermine our sense of common responsibility than our failed welfare system," Clinton said in last year's State of the Union speech.

But the president added: "Our goal should not be to punish them because they happen to be poor."

Clinton also asked Congress to pass some minor form of health care reform, arguing that Congress should at least take steps to help keep those who have coverage from losing it if they get sick and to expand long term care. But here again, he has tried to block spending slowdown by the GOP Congress, and his initiatives have been blocked.

As the chances for a budget deal wither, lawmakers are discussing a strategy of targeting specific programs for elimination. They've already employed that approach on Clinton's favorite program, Americorps, which would get no money at all under an appropriations bill Congress sent him. He vetoed it.