THE WHITE HOUSEOffice of the Press SecretaryDallas, Texas___________________________________________________________________________For Immediate Release April 7, 1995REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWSPAPER EDITORSLoews Anatole Hotel Dallas, Texas
11:55 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Fishbait Fog.
(Laughter.) It's got kind of a nice ring, doesn't it? (Laughter.) I
knew he was born in New Orleans before he ever said it. I love to
listen to people from New Orleans talk.
I thank you for that kind introduction. Your convention
program chair, Bob Hayman (phonetic), and your incoming president, Bill
Ketler, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very glad to be here.
I thought that in addition to me you were going to hear
from three people who had run, are running, and were about to run for
President. But only Bill Weld showed up. I hope he stays in the about
to run. He and Steve Barrel* are very impressive men, and I'm glad that
they came here and gave the Republican point of view.
It's a privilege to be here. I'd like to begin by saying
that I am very proud, and I know you are, for the work that the
Interamerican Press Association has done in its Declaration of
Chapultepec. I know that you and the Newspaper Association of America
have worked tirelessly for press freedoms all throughout the Americas.
And just before I came out here I was proud to sign a Charter of
Endorsement for the Declaration of Chapultepec. And I thank you for
giving me that opportunity and what you have done to advance the cause
of a free press. (Applause.)
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who said,
well, in the '94 election we discovered the limits of liberalism, and
now we're about to discover the limits of conservatism. And it put me
in mind of a story I once heard about the -- and, actually, I thought
about it because I met Mr. Favre -- about the late Huey Long, who, when
he was governor and he was preaching his share the wealth plan was out
in the country one day at a little country crossroads. And he had all
the people gathered up. And he was going on about how the people were
being plundered by the organized wealthy interests in Louisiana.
And he saw a guy out in the crowd that he knew and he said,
"Brother Jones, if you had three cadillacs, wouldn't you give up one of
them so we could gather up the kids and take them to school during the
week and take them to church on the weekend?" He said, "Sure, I would."
He said, "And if you had $3 million, wouldn't you give up just a million
of it so we could put a roof over everybody 's head and make sure
everybody had food to eat?" He said, "Well, of course, I would." He
said, "And if you had three hogs --" He said, "Wait a minute, Governor,
I've got three hogs." (Laughter and applause.)
Anyway, that's the limits of liberalism. Now we're about
to discover the limits of conservatism. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we are at an historic moment in our
country's history -- on the verge of a new century, living in a very
different kind of economy with a bewildering way of challenges and
opportunities. In 1992 and in 1994, the voters spoke out and demanded
bold changes in the way we govern and the policies we pursue. They know
better than anyone else that they are living in a time with new
challenges that demand new answers.
In the last two years, my administration has begun to meet
those challenges. I ran for President because I felt we were being
victimized by 12 years of gridlock in which the deficit had gone up, the
wealthiest Americans had done quite well, the middle class had stagnated
and the poor were in trouble; in which the American Dream was really at
risk because half of the American people were working for the same or
lower wages that they had made 15 years earlier.
I had a clear mission. I wanted to grow the middle class,
shrink the underclass and speed up the opportunities for entrepreneurs.
I wanted to promote the mainstream values of responsibility and work,
family and community. I wanted to reform the government so that we
could enhance opportunity, shrink bureaucracy, increase our security
and, most important of all, empower people through education to make the
most of their own lives.
In the first two years we've made good progress. The
economy is up and the deficit is down. We've expanded educational
opportunities from Head Start through more college loans that are more
affordable. The American people are marching toward more security
because there are no Russian missiles pointed at the children of our
country for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, because we
passed a serious crime bill that will lower the crime rate in many of
our communities throughout the country, and because we've begun to
address some of the problems of family security with the Family and
Medical Leave Act. And certainly, we have done a lot to shrink and
reform the government's bureaucracy.
But it is not enough. Too many Americans don't yet feel
any of those benefits. Too many Americans don't yet feel any of those
benefits, too many still feel uncertain about their own future, and too
many people are overwhelmingly concerned about the social and the
underlying moral problems of our society. And so in 1994, they voted to
give the Republicans a chance to run the Congress.
In the last 100 days, the House of Representatives has
passed a series of bold initiatives. We will soon begin the second 100
days of this Congress. In the first 100 days, the mission of the House
Republicans was to suggest ways in which we should change our government
and our society. In the second 100 days, and beyond, our mission
together must be to decide which of these House proposals should be
adopted, which should be modified and which should be stopped.
In the first 100 days, it fell to the House of
Representatives to propose. In the next 100 days and beyond, the
President has to lead the quiet, reasoned forces of both parties in both
Houses to sift through the rhetoric and decide what is really best for
America. In making these decisions, it is absolutely vital that we keep
alive the spirit and the momentum of change. But the momentum must not
carry us so far that we betray our legacy of compassion, decency and
We have entered a new era. For years, out here in the
country, the old political categories have basically been defunct and a
new political discussion has been begging to be born. It must be now so
in Washington, as well. The old labels of liberal and conservative,
spender and cutter, even Democrat and Republican, are not what matter
most anymore. What matters most is finding practical, pragmatic
solutions based on what we know works in our lives and our shared
experiences so that we can go forward together as a nation. Ideological
purity is for partisan extremists. Practical solution, based on real
experience, hard evidence and common sense -- that's what this country
We've been saddled too long for a political debate -- with
a political debate that doesn't tell us what we ought to do, just who we
out to blame. And we have got to stop pointing fingers at each other so
that we can join hands.
You know, our country has often moved forward spurred on by
purists, reformists, populist agendas which articulated grievances and
proposed radical departures. But if you think about our most successful
periods of reform, these initiatives have been shaped by presidents who
incorporated what was good, smoothed out what was rough, and discarded
what would hurt. That was the role of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow
Wilson in the aftermath of the populist era. That was the role of
Franklin Roosevelt in the aftermath of the La Follette progressive
movement. And that is my job in the next 100 days and for all the days
I serve as President.
We stand at a crossroads. In one direction lies
confrontation and gridlock; in the other lies achievement and progress.
I was not elected President to pile up a stack of vetoes. I was elected
President to change the direction of America. That's what I have spent
the last two years doing and that's what I want to spend the next 100
days and beyond doing. Whether we can do that depends upon what all of
us in Washington do from here on out.
So I appeal today to Republicans and to Democrats alike to
get together, to keep the momentum for change going, not to allow the
energy and longing for change now to be dissipated amid a partisan
clutter of accusations. After all, we share much common ground.
For example, in 1992, I was elected to end welfare as we
know it. That was part of my New Covenant of opportunity and
responsibility. In 1994, the Republicans made the same demand with
their Contract. In the last two years, I have already given 25 states,
one-half of the country, the opportunity to do just that on their own.
And I introduced the most sweeping welfare reform the country had ever
seen. I want to work with the Congress to get real welfare reform.
In 1992, I was elected to slash the deficit. That also was
part of my New Covenant. In 1994, the Republican Contract called for a
continuing deficit reduction and movement toward a balanced budget.
Well, I cut the deficit by $600 billion, cut 300 programs; I proposed to
consolidate or eliminate 400 more. I want to cut the deficit. Except
for the interest run up between 1981 and 1992, our budget would be in
balance today. My administration is the only one in 30 years to run an
operating surplus. I will work with the Republicans to reduce the
In 1992, I was elected to shrink the size of the federal
government which I have done. That, too, was a part of my New Covenant.
In 1994, the Republican Contract said we should shrink the government.
I have already cut 100,000 bureaucratic positions and we are on the way
under budgets already passed to reducing the government by 270,000, to
its smallest size since President Kennedy occupied this office. I want
to work with Congress to reduce the size of government.
We both want tax cuts, less intrusive government
regulations, the line-item veto, the toughest possible fight against
crime. These were a part of the New Covenant and a part of the
Republican Contract. In two years, we have made real progress on all
these fronts, but we can, and we should do more.
We are near many breakthroughs. The real issue is whether
we will have the wisdom and the courage to see our common ground and
walk on it. To do that, we must abandon extreme positions and work
together. This is no time for ideological extremism. Good-faith
compromising, negotiating our differences, actually listening to one
another for a change -- these are the currency of a healthy democracy.
In that spirit, I come here today to outline where I stand
on the remaining items in the Republican Contract and the unfinished
business of my New Covenant.
Let's begin with taxes. In 1993, I made a down payment on
the middle-class tax cut I advocated when I ran for President. We cut
taxes for 15 million working families. What that means on average is
that this year a family of four with an income of $25,000 or less will
have about $1,000 in lower tax bills. We did this to ensure that nobody
who works full-time and has children should live in poverty. If you
want to reform the welfare system, you must reward work and parenting.
So I want a tax cut to expand, to include more members of
the middle class. Why? Because half the American people are working
for the same or lower incomes they were making 15 years ago. And we've
had a recovery that's produced 6.3 million new jobs, the lowest combined
rates of unemployment and inflation in 25 years, and we need to spread
the benefits of the recovery.
But this $200-billion tax cut, which is really more than
three times that if you look at it over a 10 year period, is a fantasy.
It's too much. It's not going to happen. We can't afford it. A
realistic cut would be somewhere around a third of that. That's
something we can afford. In the world we're living in up there, if we
go beyond that, what you're going to see is no success at deficit
reduction, or horrible injustice to the most vulnerable people in our
country. So we can't pass that. Let's get over it and talk about what
we can pass and work on doing it. Let's target a tax cut to the right
people and for the right purpose.
We have to choose: Do you want a tax cut for the wealthy
or for the middle class? The Republican plan gives half of the benefits
to the 10 percent of our people who are best off, and most importantly,
to the 10 percent of our people who have done very, very well in the
last 15 years. Twenty percent of the benefits go to the top one percent
of our people. They have done very well in the new global economy. The
middle class has suffered the stagnant incomes. Let's direct the tax
benefits to those people.
But we also have to choose what kind of tax break. Shall
we just put money in people's pockets? Or shouldn't we do something
that will strengthen families and increase the whole wealth and success
of the United States over the long run? Let's help our people get the
education and job training they need.
The technology revolution, the global economy -- these are
dividing opportunity at home and abroad. The middle class is splitting
apart. And the fault line is education. Those who have it do well;
those who don't are in trouble. So let's use the tax cut as I propose
in the Middle Class Bill of Rights as sort of a scholarship given by
America to people for their cost of education after high school. And
let's provide for an IRA that people can withdraw from tax free to meet
the exigencies that their families face -- college education, health
care costs, first-time home, care of an elderly parent. These things
will strengthen our country and we can afford it.
Let's take welfare reform. As I said, both of us, both the
Republican Contract and my New Covenant, have focused heavily on welfare
reform. What do we agree on? That there ought to be a limit to
welfare; that there ought to be flexibility for the states; that we
ought to have the toughest possible child support enforcement; and that
people have to take more responsibility for their own lives and for the
children they bring into this world.
But the current House bill focuses primarily on cutting
costs. It's weak on work and tough on kids. It punishes young people
for past mistakes. We must require them, instead, to look to the
future, and in the future, to be responsible parents, to be responsible
workers, to be responsible students, and then give them the opportunity
to do that.
The House bill also punishes young children for the sins of
their parents. I think that's wrong. Rich or poor, black, white or
brown, in or out of wedlock, a baby is a baby; a child is a child. It's
part of our future, and we have an obligation to those children not to
punish them for something over which they had absolutely no control.
Now, that's where I disagree. But look what we agree on.
We are near historic change. We can do this. We can make a difference.
We can break the culture of welfare, and we can do something good for
our country to support the values we all believe in. And we can give
these children a better future. But to do it, we're going to have to
talk through our differences and get beyond the rhetoric to how these
real lives work, and not stand on the sidelines posturing for political
Let's take cutting the deficit. The balanced budget
amendment is dead. But now we have to get specific; how are we going to
cut the deficit and move this budget toward balance? If we can focus on
cuts, not making partisan points, that's the first step. There are cuts
I can't live with. There are cuts the Republicans can't live with.
Let's avoid them and make cuts we can all live with.
We shouldn't cut help for our children. That builds our
future. We shouldn't cut their education, their immunization, their
school lunches, the infant formulas or the nutrition programs. There's
no need to cut them. So far, based on the action they've taken, the
Republicans want the poor in this country to bear the burden of
two-thirds of their proposed cuts and only get five percent of the
benefit of the tax cuts. It is not right. It is wrong. But that
doesn't mean we don't have to cut the budget and reduce the deficit.
The rescission package that passed the Senate last night
gives us a model about how we should proceed. The House passed a
rescission package with completely unacceptable cuts in education, child
nutrition, environment, housing and national service. The Senate
Republicans, to their credit, restored several of these cuts. I
insisted on restoring even more and replacing them with better cuts.
And almost every one of the Democrats in the Senate agreed.
So, yesterday, over the course of the debate, they worked
that out. Those cuts were restored as well. There will still be a $16
billion reduction in the deficit this year. The bill passed 99-0 in the
Senate, and I will sign the Senate bill if the House and the Senate will
send it to me. That's how we should be doing the business of America.
Let's talk about the line-item veto. As I said before,
that was in the Republican Contract, and I campaigned for President on
it in 1992. I appeal to Congress to pass it in its strongest form. I
appeal to members of my own party who have reservations about it to
support it as well. The line-item veto has passed both the Senate and
If you look at how it passed the Senate, that's an example
of how we can make this system work. I strongly supported it. I
campaigned to Democratic senators and asked them to support it. They
worked out their differences, and it passed overwhelmingly in the
The President and the Congress both need the power to cut
spending. If you doubt it -- if you doubt it -- look at the bill that
Congress recently passed to restore to 3.2 million self-employed
Americans -- farmers, small businesspeople, professionals and all their
family members -- the 25 percent deduction for the cost of their health
That was a part of my health care plan. I desperately want
to do that. We ought to do more. They ought to be treated just like
corporations. It is imperative to sign it. But hidden in that bill was
a special tax break for people who did not need it. If I had the Senate
version of the line-item veto, I could sign the bill and help the people
who are entitled to it, and veto the special break. This is the kind of
thing that's been hidden in bills of Congress forever. We can now do
something about it, and we ought to do it.
Political reform -- something that was also in the
Republican Contract: Two of the 10 items in the Republican Contract
have actually become law. And two, term limits and the balanced budget
amendment, have been defeated. Of the two that have become law, they
were both about political reform and they were also both part of my 1992
commitments to the American people. One applies to Congress the laws
they impose on the private sector. The other limits the ability of
Congress to impose unfunded mandates on state and local government. I
was proud to sign them both. They will advance the cause of responsible
government in this country.
But political reform means more. It must include, I
believe, both lobbying reform and campaign finance reform. If you doubt
how much we need lobby reform just go back and refer to the story that
was rightly printed just a few days ago about how, in this session of
Congress, you have lobbyists actually sitting at the table with
congressmen, writing bills for them and then explaining to them what the
bills mean. It seems to me that since these bills help the people the
lobbyists represent, but drastically restrict the ability of the
government to act in the areas of the environment, in protecting our
people, we need some significant reform in our lobbying laws. So I
don't think we should stop there.
Regulatory reform -- another big item in the Republican
Contract: There are lots of horror stories. Every one of you probably
knows a story that shows where a bureaucrat overreached, or there were
too many regulations, or there was too little common sense. I am
committed to changing the culture of regulation that has dominated our
country for a long time. I have gone around espousing to everybody that
they ought to read Mr. Howard's book, The Death of Common Sense.
But for two years, we have been working through the
Reinventing Government Initiative that the Vice President has headed to
change the culture of regulation. We deregulated banking. We
deregulated intrastate trucking. We have reformed the procedures of the
SBA. We scrapped the 10,000-page federal personnel manual. We have
dramatically changed the way the General Services Administration
operates in ways that have saved hundreds of millions of dollars for the
taxpayers and put more competition into the process, thanks to the BSA
Director, Roger Johnson, who happens to be here with me today. We are
working on these things to move forward.
But we must do more. And yet, surely, the answer is not to
stop the government from regulating what it needs to regulate. If the
Republicans send me a bill that would let unsafe planes fly or
contaminated meat be sold, or contaminated water continue to find itself
into city water systems, I will veto it. I will veto it. But if
Congress will just sit down with me and work out a reasonable solution
for more flexible regulatory reform, we can create an historic
I agree that Congress has a role to play. I agree that
Congress sometimes hears things about the way regulations work that
people in the Executive Branch don't. Congresswoman Johnson and
Congressman Bryant and Congressman Geren flew down here with me today --
they're out there all the time talking to their members. They may hear
things we don't. That's why I approve of the Senate's 45-day override
legislation. But I will veto any bill that lets a bunch of lawyers tie
up regulation for years. We've got too much of that as it is.
So I say, flexibility, yes; reform, yes; but paralysis and
Let's talk about legal reform. Are there too many
lawsuits? Of course, there are. Do jury awards once in a while get out
of hand? Yes, they do. Does this affect the insurance system in the
country? It has an impact on it. But at a time when we're giving more
and more responsibility to the states in which one of the signal ideas
of the Republican Contract that I largely agree with is that the state
and local governments should have more responsibility, do we really want
to take the entire civil justice system away from the states for the
first time in 200 years? I don't think so.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Should we put
justice out of the reach of ordinary people with a "loser pay" rule?
No. Think about it this way -- "loser pays" will keep ordinary citizens
from exercising their rights in court just as a poll tax used to keep
ordinary people of color and poverty from exercising their right to
vote. I will veto any bill with a "loser pay" requirement such as that
that was in the House bill. I don't think it's right.
Punitive damages -- they could stand some reform, but not
artificial ceilings. Punitive damages are designed to deter bad future
conduct. Now, if you have a national ceiling of $250,000 think what
that means -- $250,000 may be too burdensome for a small businessperson
who loses a lawsuit. You don't want to put them out of business unless
they're malicious. But does anybody seriously believe that $250,000
will have any kind of significant deterrent impact on a giant
multinational corporation? So let's negotiate realistic reforms that
improve the system, but don't wreck it.
Crime: Crime was a big part of the New Covenant, a big
part of why I ran for President. The personal security of the American
people should be our first concern. And we delivered. After six years
we broke gridlock and I signed a crime bill that was endorsed by all the
major law enforcement organizations in the country, the cities, the
counties, the prosecutors, the attorneys general -- everybody. And it
had bipartisan support, too, until we got close to the last election --
Republicans and Democrats cosponsoring all major provisions.
What was in the crime bill? It had more punishment, three
strikes and you're out, expansion of capital punishment. It had more
police -- 100,000 police on our street. And I might say that over half
of the communities in this country have already received grants under
the police program just since last October. We're ahead of schedule and
under budget. There are already about 17,000 police officers authorized
and funded to be hired.
It had more prisons -- something the Republicans very much
wanted -- as long as the states agreed to change their sentencing
procedures. And it had more prevention programs -- something the police
demanded. The police said, you cannot police and punish and imprison
your way out of the crime crisis. You have got to give these children
in our country something to say yes to. You've got to give them a
reason to stay off drugs, a reason to stay in school, a reason to
believe they can have a future. So it had all those things.
Now, if the Republicans wish to continue to try to repeal
the commitment to 100,000 police, or to repeal the assault weapons ban,
they have a perfect right to do it. But if they send me those
provisions I will veto them. On the other hand, while the rest of their
crime bill needs some work, and I disagree with some provisions of it,
it has some good points. If we can build on the '94 crime bill instead
of tear it down, we can continue our efforts to make the American people
more secure. So let's do that. Let's pass a crime bill we can be proud
of, that builds the country up and makes our citizens safer.
The environmental protection area: A big part of my New
Covenant was protecting our environment and promoting our natural
resources. It's something we can all give to our children whether we
die rich or poor. And it is our obligation to our future economic
health, because no nation over the long run succeeds economically unless
you preserve your environment.
I just got back from Haiti, and I can tell you one of the
biggest obstacles to the survival of democracy in that country is they
have ripped all the trees off every hill in the country, and we need to
plant tens of millions of trees. We could put half the young people in
the country to work for a year just trying to undo the environmental
devastation. And unless we do it, they're not going to be able to
regain their economic footing.
I cannot and I will not compromise any clean water, any
clean air, any protection against toxic waste. The environment cannot
protect itself. And if it requires a presidential veto to protect it,
then that's what I'll provide.
I will also veto the House-passed requirement that
government pay property owners billions of dollars every time we act to
defend our national heritage of seashores or wetlands or open spaces.
If that law were on the books in every state in the country today, then
local governments would completely have to give up zoning or be bankrupt
every time they try to change a zoning law. That is why every time it's
been on the ballot in a state -- and it's been on the ballot 20 times,
including in conservative, Republican states -- it has been defeated.
The people of Arizona voted against it by a 20-point margin last
Well, the people do not have to vote -- do not have a vote
on this issue in Congress. But I do, and I'll use it. This is not a
Peacekeeping: Decades from now when we have our next
Republican president -- (laughter) -- he or she will be very grateful
that I refused to approve the so-called peacekeeping legislation passed
by the House. The United Nations and the world community did not
struggle through 45 years of stagnation because of Soviet vetoes to have
to deal with a new stagnation because of an American congressional veto.
The United Nations is 50 years old this year. But it's
only four or five years old as a real force for international stability
and security as it was imagined by Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt
and Dwight Eisenhower and Arthur Vandenberg, responsible Republicans and
Democrats. So let us learn from the United Nations' mistakes in
Somalia, and the United Nations' successes in Haiti and throughout the
world, about how we can best keep the peace in partnership with our
neighbors throughout the world.
In Haiti there were almost 30 countries in there with us
and the multinational force, and under the U.N. mission there now, well
over 30 countries -- people who came from a long way away because they
know the world must work together to promote humanity and peace and
democracy and decency. Let us not walk away from the United Nations and
isolate America from the world.
There's some other things I want to talk about. Those are
the items in the Republican Contract, many of which were also in my New
Covenant and where I stand on them. But I want to talk about some other
items as well -- the unfinished business of the agenda that I ran for
I was elected to fix a broken government, to relight the
dormant fires of the economy, to make sure that working families reap
the just reward of their effort and are able to pass their children the
same dream they had, and to end the sort of "something for nothing"
mentality that had crept into our country by restoring the values of
responsibility and work and family and community.
The Republican Contract, even where I agree with it, does
not deal with much of what is really at the heart of America's
challenges today -- opportunity and security for working Americans. So
let me talk about these issues.
Health care: In the State of the Union I said I had
learned that I bit off more than I could chew last year and we have to
reform health care a step at a time. But I haven't forgotten the need
to reform health care. Everybody knows we still have problems. It
costs too much; there are a lot of people who have inadequate coverage;
there are a lot of people who have no coverage at all; and there are
millions of Americans who could lose their coverage at any time.
So I call on Republicans to join me in taking this one step
at a time, beginning with things the majority of them have long
endorsed: First, making benefits portable so you don't lose your health
care when you change jobs. Second, requiring coverage for families with
a preexisting condition so the whole family doesn't lose health care
just because there's been one sick child.
I saw a couple from Delaware on the street in Washington a
couple of months ago when I was taking my jog -- the best-looking family
you ever saw. The young man and woman looked to be in their late '30s;
they had five children. Their fourth child had a birth defect and he
was a small businessman -- none of them had any health insurance.
That's an intolerable situation in this country, and we shouldn't' put
up with it.
The third thing we ought to do is to establish voluntary
pools, such as those established in Florida and many other states, which
allow small businesses and self-employed people to buy health care on
the same terms as those of us who work for government or big
corporations can buy it, to put some competitive power behind their
The fourth thing we should do is to expand home care for
the elderly, so that families who are struggling to keep their elderly
parents and grandparents at home in a more independent living setting
have some alternative before putting them into a nursing home when it
will almost certainly cost the government much, much more money.
And, finally, we ought to do our best in the way of
coverage to help families keep their coverage when they're unemployed
for an extended period of time. And we should do all this within the
context of a determination to hold down the costs of health care --
still the biggest problem for most Americans. We can do this without a
tax increase and while working to bring the deficit down. We have been
working very hard on this. The numbers clearly make that apparent.
The second issue I want to raise on our unfinished agenda
is the minimum wage. The minimum wage is the key, first, to welfare
reform. Unless work pays, why will people do it? There is some
evidence that not only will the minimum wage increase I proposed not
cost jobs, it might actually increase employment by drawing people into
the ranks of the employed who are hanging out now.
Not only that, working people simply cannot live and raise
kids on $8,500 a year. Now, the Republicans want -- and they've wanted
for a long time -- they want to index tax rates against inflation, which
has now been done. Now they want to index capital gains against
inflation. They want to guard the defense budget against inflation.
But they're willing to let minimum wage workers fall to their lowest
real incomes in 40 years? That's what will happen if we don't raise the
minimum wage. The lowest real incomes in 40 years -- is that your idea
of the legacy for working people in the aftermath of the Cold War, in
the Information Age, leading America into a bright, new time?
The minimum wage, again, has always before been a
bipartisan issue. The last time we raised the minimum wage, it got an
enormous vote in the Congress from Republicans and Democrats. Let's
make the minimum wage a bipartisan issue again and raise it to a decent
level, so that working people and their children will not have to worry
about being punished for doing the right thing.
The last issue I want to talk about is education and
training. I've already said most of what I want to say about it. The
Secretary of Education is here with me today, along with many other
people in the White House -- my Chief of Staff, Mr. Panetta, and
others. We've all worked very hard on education. Why? Because I
believe that the most important job of government today is to give
people the tools they need to succeed in the global economy.
With all these changes that are going on, everybody knows
the government can't guarantee everybody a job. We haven't been able to
do it in a long time, and our ability to guarantee the same job for a
career is less than ever before. I can work to create healthy
conditions in which large numbers of jobs will be created, but
guaranteeing a particular job to a particular person for a lifetime, it
is out; it's not possible.
The only thing we can do is to make sure that for a whole
lifetime people will always be able to get the skills they need,
beginning at the earliest possible time with good education. That means
that as we cut the deficit and cut the budget, we must not cut
education. We shouldn't cut Head Start. We shouldn't cut aid to public
schools to meet national standards of excellence. We shouldn't cut
apprenticeships to help young people who don't go on to college get good
training so they can get a job with a growing income, not a shrinking
We sure shouldn't cut and make more expensive the college
loan program when we need more people going to college, and the cost of
going is higher than ever before. And we should not cut our national
service program, AmeriCorps, which lets people earn college money
through community service. Cutting education in the face of global
economic competition, as I have said repeatedly, would be just like
cutting the defense budget at the height of the Cold War. It undermines
our security as a people, and we shouldn't do it.
I advocated in the Middle Class Bill of Rights a deduction
for the cost of all education after high school; the ability to withdraw
tax-free from an IRA to pay for the cost of education after high school;
and a G.I. Bill for America's workers that would collapse literally
dozens of these federal programs that are here, there and yonder in job
training into one block grant, and not give it to the states, give it to
the people. Let Americans who are unemployed or grossly unemployed have
a voucher for cash money which they can use at any education or training
facility of their choice as long as it's decent and meets good standards
-- so that we can have a continuous, seamless web of lifetime of
education and training opportunities for the people of the United
Well, there it is. That's what I'm for and what I'm
against. I do not want a pile of vetoes. I want a pile of bills that
will move this country into the future. I don't want to see a big fight
between the Republicans and the Democrats. I want us to surprise
everybody in America by rolling up our sleeves and joining hands and
working together. I believe this is a time of such profound change that
we need a dynamic center that is not in the middle of what is left and
right, but is way beyond it. That's what I want, and that's what I'm
If you want to know how I'm going to make other decisions
-- if I left one out -- I would refer you to what I said in my address
to the nation on December 15th. My test is: Does an idea expand
middle-class incomes and opportunities? Does it promote values like
family, work, responsibility, and community? Does it strengthen the
hand of America's working families in a global economy. If it does,
I'll be for it, no matter who proposes it. And if it doesn't, I will
The future I want for America is like the one I imagined I
had when I was the age of these children that are here in this audience.
We can give this to our children. In fact, we can give a bigger future
to our children. I am absolutely convinced that if we are tough enough
and wise enough and unpolitical enough to put the interests of ordinary
Americans first, and to really focus on the future, that our best days
are before us, better than we can even imagine. But it all depends on
what we do at this crossroads. Let's get busy.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
* * * * *
Q Mr. President, you talk about a civilized conversation
in this country leading towards a new common ground. How would you
challenge American newspapers to forward that conversation, doing things
that we aren't doing now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know what each of you are
doing or not doing now. But I will give you some examples. I'll give
you three examples. I think you should try to replicate in your
communities the kind of conversation that Newsweek reprinted based on
questions they asked Speaker Gingrich and me about what the role of
government is and what it should be. I don't think that we -- I think
both of us are a little bit frustrated about it, because we didn't know
-- we just answered questions, and then they had to turn it into an
article, but it was the beginning of an interesting conversation about
what the role of government ought to be.
The second thing I would advise is to take each one of
these issues -- I saw in the, I think it was in the Dallas Morning News,
one of the papers today, I saw that I read had a portrait of a family on
welfare. Take each of these big issues and try to figure out how to go
from rhetoric to reality so that people can understand what all these
labels mean. Because if all you hear about these debates is what sort
of pierces through in 10 or 15 seconds on the evening news, chances are
your opinion will be more dominated by the rhetoric. And if it happens
to comport with the facts, that's fine; but if it doesn't, that's not so
good. Newspapers can do that. Newspapers can analyze in depth real,
hard evidence on various problems.
And the third thing I think maybe you ought to consider
doing is sponsoring conversations within your community of people of
different political and racial and other stripes -- just people who are
different. Because we are running the risk -- interestingly enough, we
have more information than ever before, but the way we get it may divide
us from one another instead of unite us.
And I think it might be really interesting if all the
newspapers in the country sponsored community discussions. I don't mean
bring people like me or people who want to be president, or even maybe
people from Congress in from outside, but I mean the people in your
local community who would represent different political points of view
and live in different neighborhoods and are from different racial
backgrounds and have an agenda of common topics that are being discussed
all around the country -- and let people listen to each other and talk
to each other.
My experience has always been that the differences among
us, except on a few issues, are not nearly as profound as we think they
are. And then report that to your readers. Because we have to
establish some sense of common ground. If all of our public discourse
is about segmenting the electorate and then trying to make sure that by
election day you've got the biggest segment, and there's never an
opportunity to redefine where we are in common, that may work okay in a
stable time because the polices are more or less set, the direction is
more or less set; nobody's going to veer too much one way or the other
anyway. But in a time of real profound change where the information
revolution has made all of us actors, it is important that we try to
establish more common ground. So those would be my three suggestions.
Q Mr. President, we're coming upon the ceremonies to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of V-J Day. And someone suggested that
it's time to try to heal the wounds of that war, and that the United
States should take the first step by apologizing for dropping a bomb on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Should we apologize, and did President Harry
Truman make the right decision in dropping the bomb?
THE PRESIDENT: No. And based on the facts he had before
him, yes. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, last week you went to Haiti where the
military operation of our troops and other nations really helped restore
order and to stop the refugees from coming to our state and to our
country. Several miles away, there are several thousand Cubans trying
to flee that oppressive regime who are now being detained indefinitely
in Guantanamo. What's the way out for our policy and for those Cubans?
THE PRESIDENT: First, we are doing our best to deal with
the situation at Guantanamo, which is a very difficult one, for reasons
because of where you're from you understand as well as I do. We have
moved quickly, or as quickly as we could to review the cases of the
children and the elderly people who are there, and we have moved quite a
lot of people into the United States. We are now having detailed
discussions about what we should do about the remainder of the people
who are there at Guantanamo. Meanwhile, we've done what we could to
make their conditions as livable, as bearable as possible.
As to our policy, even though I recognize most countries
disagree with it, I think being firm has been the proper policy. And I
do not believe we should change it except within the confines of the
Cuba Democracy Act. I would remind everyone here who's interested in
this that the Cuba Democracy Act, while it stiffened sanctions against
Cuba, also for the first time explicitly laid out in legislative
language the conditions under which the United States might change
various actions toward Cuba in return for actions by the Cubans.
Let me give you just one example. We have established, for
the first time, direct phone service into Cuba. And the lines are quite
jammed, as I understand it. It's cut the cost of calling home and
calling relatives for Cuban Americans. And it's enabled the Cuban
government to earn some money, because in all direct telephone
conversations internationally, countries -- at least, many countries,
put a fee on such conversations. We did that because we thought it was
the appropriate thing to do given the state of our relations and because
of some things that had changed. Cuba is now establishing a more
genuine farmers market that shows some movement in that area.
But the Cuban Democracy Act gives us a framework for future
movement, and I -- and also a firmness in our policy. And I think we
should stay with both, both the firmness and the framework of the Act.
Q We have heard from several people here that there ought
to be a multiracial box on the U.S. Census forms so that people with
parents of two races wouldn't have to deny one of them. What do you
think should happen here?
THE PRESIDENT: I wouldn't be opposed to that. That's the
first time I ever heard it, but it makes sense. It's interesting that
you raised that because of a related debate that's going on in
Washington today, which is whether we should pass a federal law which
makes it clear that we should not discriminate against parents of one
race in their attempts to adopt a child of another race. And I
personally strongly support that position. And we've been trying to
work through it to make -- I thought we had adopted that position last
year at the end of the year. We did in large measure. We're talking
about whether we need any other legal changes to achieve that.
But I -- we are clearly going to have more and more
multiracial, multiethnic children and families in this country. You're
the first person who ever asked me that question. But I think it ought
to be done. I can't see any reason not to do it.
Q One of the issues we've been examining at this
convention, Mr. President, is the new Information Age and our own role
in it. And one of the issues that's likely to come up in the next 100
days to which you referred is a broad reform of telecommunications
policy. Do you think that a pragmatic, practical compromise solution in
this area, which affects how people get their dial tones and what is on
that dial tone, is likely to come out of these discussions?
THE PRESIDENT: I do. I think it is likely. Let me say
that I very much wanted to pass a telecommunications act in the last
session of Congress. And we came within a hair's breath of being able
to do it. Some rather -- to me any way -- rather minor problems hung it
up in the Senate. And, as you know, it's not difficult to hang a bill
up in the Senate. And so it got hung. If we can pass the right kind of
telecommunications act it can be good for American consumers and it can
pump billions of more dollars into this economy and create a very large
number of jobs.
It's interesting that you would ask me this. The Vice
President and I had lunch yesterday -- our weekly lunch -- and we talked
about this for quite some time. My concern about the bill in its
present form in the Senate is that I believe, as written, it would lead
to a rather rapid increase and a rather substantial increase in both
telephone and cable rates in ways that I do not believe are necessary to
get the benefits that the telecommunications bill seeks to achieve. So
I would like to see some provisions in there which deal with that.
I can also tell you that the antitrust division of the
Justice Department has some fairly serious reservations about how far it
goes. Now, I have, in several areas, been willing to see, because of
the globalization of the economy, some modifications in our antitrust
laws. But I'm concerned -- and I think they're warranted. But I think
that this may go too far. But the most important concern I have is, are
we going to have a very large and unnecessary increase in cable and
phone rates immediately if the bill, as passed, is adopted? That is my
major concern. But I think we can get one and we certainly need to get
Q Mr. President, yesterday on the front page of The New
York Times was this headline: "Hillary Clinton, a Traditional First
Lady Now." Could you tell us, was there a point where you sat down with
the First Lady to discuss her role for the remainder of your term --
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q and if so, what was the content of that discussion and
what prompted it? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) I was trying to think of
something really funny to say, but it would be a polite way of saying I
don't discuss my private conversations with my wife. (Laughter.)
Actually, while I was very pleased with the First Lady's
trip and with the way my wife and daughter were treated and what they
learned, and very, very pleased with the coverage, I don't really agree
with that. I mean, I think that I very much wanted her to go to India,
to Pakistan, to Bangladesh, Nepal, to Sri Lanka because that part of the
world is a very important part of the world to us. And for various
reasons, we have not been as closely involved, even with the democracies
there, as we might have been, largely as a legacy of the Cold War.
But one of the biggest obstacles to the modernization of
those countries and to the vitality and preservation of democracy are
the challenges faced by women and children there. I did not consider
the trip either too traditional or unimportant. I thought what they
were doing -- what Hillary was doing -- was profoundly important. And
after getting a blow-by-blow description of the trip for a good long
while yesterday from both my wife and daughter, I still feel that way.
So I -- when my wife was an unconventional First Lady of
Arkansas, and working full-time, and as she told that lady in the
Bangladesh village, making more money than her husband -- (laughter) --
still her first concern was always for the welfare of mothers, children
and families. She founded an organization called the Advocates for
Families and Children in our state. She was on the board of the
Children's Hospital. We built an intensive care nursery there -- the
first time the state had ever been involved. This is a 25-year concern
of hers, and I wouldn't over-read the significance of it.
I also wouldn't underestimate the significance of having a
First Lady who can galvanize a global discussion about the role of women
and young girls in our planet and for our future. (Applause.)
Q You alluded to our being in the Information Age. Many
of us in this room are investigating and developing ways of
disseminating information electronically. There are thousands outside
this room who are doing the same. What role, if any, does the federal
government have in censoring or regulating that information and news?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me begin by saying I support what
you're doing and I've tried to bring the White House up to date
electronically. You know, we have a pretty sophisticated e-mail
operation. And now you can take a tour of the White House and all the
federal agencies on the Internet and find out more than you ever wanted
to know. So we're trying to be there for you in virtual reality land.
I guess you're asking me about the bill that Senator Exon
introduced on trying to regulate obscenity through the e-mail system, or
through the electronic superhighway. To be perfectly honest with you, I
have not read the bill. I am not familiar with its contents, and I
don't know what I think. I do believe -- about this specific bill.
(Laughter.) I'll tell you what I think about the issue.
I believe that insofar as that governments have the legal
right to regulate obscenity that has not been classified as speech under
the First Amendment, and insofar as the American public widely supports,
for example, limiting access of children to pornographic magazines, I
think it is folly to think that we should sit idly by when a child who
is a computer whiz may be exposed to things on that computer, which in
some ways are more powerful, more raw and more inappropriate than those
things from which we protect them when they walk in a 7-Eleven.
So as a matter of principle, I am not opposed to it. I
just can't comment on the details of the bill, because I do not know
enough about it. And I do not believe in any way, shape or form that we
should be able to do on e-mail, or through the electronic superhighway,
in terms of government regulation of speech, anything beyond what we
could elsewhere. I think the First Amendment has to be uniform in its
So I'm not calling for a dilution of the First Amendment.
But if you just imagine, those of us who have children and who think
about this, you just think about what's the difference in going in the
7-Eleven and hooking up to the computer. I think that we have to find
some resolution of this. And within the Supreme Court's standards,
which are very strict, I am not -- am philosophically opposed to some
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END12:55 P.M. CDT