In an election-year gift for homebuyers, President Clinton on Thursday announced a $200 reduction in closing costs for homes purchased with government-backed loans through the Federal Housing Administration.

The White House said the discount would help about 100,000 homebuyers a year. It would be available only to first-time purchasers who complete an accredited homebuyer education course.It was the second financial offering to middle-class Americans by Clinton this week. On Tuesday, he proposed a $1,500-a-student tax credit for the first two years of college; that would be paid for with higher taxes on corporations and a $16-per-passenger departure fee for international flights.

"It's been American dream week: college educations and home-ownership," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said.

Republican rival Bob Dole's campaign called the $200 savings "chump change compared to how much (Clinton) has raised costs on all homebuyers this year by refusing to sign a balanced budget."

"Since Bill Clinton slammed the door on a balanced budget this January, mortgage rates have jumped by a full percentage point . . . costing the average homeowner an additional $918 in interest payments each year," Dole's press secretary, Nelson Warfield, said.

Clinton, however, said Republicans walked away from balanced-budget negotiations and should come back and finish the job.

Clinton said the two sides should "pass the savings we have in common" to balance the budget. "If we did that," Clinton said, "we'd get interest rates down some more" and more Americans would be able to buy homes.

Clinton announced his proposal at the Homeownership Summit, a conference organized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The president boasted that the number of American homeowners has increased by 3.7 million families since he took office and said he was trying to boost that number to 8 million by the year 2000.

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The increase was due to a stable economy, low interest rates and Clinton's housing policies, the White House asserted.

Republicans dismissed Clinton's move as more election-year politics.

"Hard work and a good economy help Americans buy their own homes, not White House speeches," said Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., chairman of a Housing subcommittee.

Lazio said the Republicans' balanced-budget plan would produce big savings for homebuyers by reducing interest rates. Under a balanced budget, Lazio said, the monthly mortgage payment on a $100,000 home would be cut by $180 a month - almost $65,000 over the life of a 30-year loan.

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