By TOM RAUM

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton revived a suggestion Thursday that brought snickers when House Speaker Newt Gingrich first tossed it out: laptop computers for the nation's poor children.

Gingrich abandoned his proposal, which involved tax credits, as ``nutty.'' But Clinton told college reporters that the underlying concept of providing disadvantaged youths with more access to computer technology was sound. ``I don't think that's a bad idea at all,'' he said.

``I think that if we had enough resources to teach every poor child in this country how to interact with the whole world of information that's available -- if you could work that, it would be a very good thing,'' Clinton said.

In a session with college students from all 50 states, Clinton suggested Gingrich might have been too hasty in abandoning the concept.

``One thing I know that Mr. Gingrich said the other day, something that I really agreed with...he said it would really help to cure poverty if every poor child in America had a little laptop computer.''

``And then I think he backed off of it,'' Clinton said. ``He said maybe it was an unrealistic thing, but I don't think it is.''

Actually, Gingrich had suggested in January that perhaps poor people should be given tax credits for buying laptop computers so their children wouldn't be left behind in the information age.

At the time, much criticism of Gingrich's suggestion focused on the fact that since poor people don't have much income and, thus, pay little or no tax, they wouldn't get much benefit from tax credits.

A week after he made the proposal, Gingrich said the laptop tax credit may be ``a nutty idea'' but added he had included it in a grab bag of suggestions to get lawmakers thinking about innovative approaches.

It was ``a dumb idea. I shouldn't have said it,'' Gingrich said.

Clinton's comments did not touch on the tax-credit aspect.

``He finds Speaker Gingrich's idea intriguing,'' White House spokesman Mike McCurry said later.

At the same time, McCurry added, ``I didn't hear a comprehensive policy proposal.''

Clinton told the college newspaper reporters: ``I believe we should continue to press technology. It is not an excuse. It's not a substitute for learning to read, for learning to write, for learning to express yourself clearly, for learning to reason and argue and think. But it is enormous leverage to us, and I think we should do more.''

He also said he's determined to protect student loans and other education programs from unduly harsh cuts by Congress, saying ``the veto pen is always there.''

In the East Room question-and-answer session, Clinton said he still hopes to work out a compromise with legislators to avoid deep cuts, saying the Senate appears to be less enthusiastic about reductions than does the House.

One student reporter asked Clinton his advice for students who hoped to pursue a career in politics and government service.

``If you really want to make a positive difference, in my judgment, you have to be able to imagine what life is like for people who are very different than you,'' Clinton said.

AP-WS-03-23-95 1632EST

This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the originating newspaper or wire service. NewsHound is a service of the San Jose Mercury News. For more information call 1-800-818-NEWS.