Excerpts From President Clinton's Address to Congress

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Following are excerpts from President Clinton's Feb. 17 address to a joint session of Congress:

... When Presidents speak to Congress and the nation from this podium, typically they comment on the full range of challenges and opportunities that face the United States. But this is not an ordinary time. And for all the many tasks that require our attention, I believe tonight one calls on us to focus, to unite, and to act--and that is our economy. For more than anything else, our task tonight as Americans is to make our economy thrive again.

Let me begin by saying that it has been too long--at least three decades--since a President has come and challenged Americans to join him on a great national journey, not merely to consume the bounty of today but to invest for a much greater one tomorrow. ...

Our nation needs a new direction. Tonight, I present to you a comprehensive plan to set our nation on that new course.

I believe we will find our new direction in the basic old values that brought us here over the last two centuries: a commitment to opportunity, to individual responsibility, to community, to work, to family, and to faith. We must now break the old habits of both political parties and say there can be no more something for nothing, and admit frankly that we are all in this together. ...

To create jobs and guarantee a strong recovery, I call on Congress to enact an immediate package of jobs investments of over $30 billion, to put people to work now, to create a half a million jobs, jobs to rebuild our highways and airports, to renovate housing, to bring new life to rural communities, and spread hope and opportunity among our nation's youth.

Especially I want to emphasize, after the events of last year in Los Angeles and the countless stories of despair in our cities and in our poor rural communities, this proposal will create almost 700,000 new summer jobs for displaced, unemployed young people alone this summer.

And tonight I invite America's business leaders to join us in this effort so that together we can provide over one million summer jobs in cities and poor rural areas for our young people. ...

Perhaps the most fundamental change the new direction I propose offers is its focus on the future and its investment which I seek in our children. Each day we delay really making a commitment to our children carries a dear cost. Half of the 2-year-olds in this country today don't receive the immunizations they need against deadly diseases. Our plan will provide them for every eligible child. And we know now that we will save $10 later for every $1 we spend by eliminating preventable childhood diseases. That's a good investment no matter how you measure it.

I recommend that the Women, Infants, and Children's nutrition program be expanded so that every expectant mother who needs the help gets it.

We all know that Head Start, a program that prepares children for school, is a success story. We all know that it saves money, but today it just reaches barely over a third of all the eligible children. Under this plan every eligible child will be able to get a head start. ...

We have to ask more in our schools of our students, our teachers, our principals, our parents. Yes, we must give them the resources they need to meet high standards, but we must also use the authority and the influence and the funding of the Education Department to promote strategies that really work to increase learning in our schools.

We have to recognize that all of our high school graduates need some further education in order to be competitive in this global economy. So we have to establish a partnership between businesses and education and the government for apprenticeship programs in every state in this country to give our people the skills they need.

Lifelong learning must benefit not just young high school graduates but workers, too, throughout their career. The average 18-year-old today will change jobs seven times in a lifetime. We have done a lot in this country on worker training in the last few years, but the system is too fractured. We must develop a unified, simplified, sensible, streamlined worker-training program so that workers receive the training they need regardless of why they lost their jobs or whether they simply need to learn something new to keep them. We have got to do better on this.

And finally, I propose a program that got a great response from the American people all across this country last year, a program of national service to make college loans available to all Americans, and to challenge them at the same time to give something back to their country, as teachers or police officers or community-service workers; to give them the option to pay the loans back, but at tax time so they can't beat the bill, but to encourage them instead to pay it back by making their country better and giving us the benefit of their talents. ...

Later this year we will offer a plan to end welfare as we know it. I have worked on this issue for the better part of a decade, and I know from personal conversations with many people that no one--no one--wants to change the welfare system as badly as those who are trapped in it.

I want to offer the people on welfare the education, the training, the child care, the health care they need to get back on their feet but say after two years they must get back to work, too, in private business if possible, in public service if necessary. We have to end welfare as a way of life and make it a path to independence and dignity.

Our next great goal should be to strengthen our families. I compliment the Congress for passing the Family and Medical Leave Act as a good first step.

But it is time to do more. This plan will give this country the toughest child-support enforcement it has ever had. It is time to demand that people take responsibility for the child they bring into this world. ...

Next I recommend that we make 150 specific budget cuts, as you know; and that all those who say we should cut more be as specific as I have been.

Finally, let me say to my friends on both sides of the aisle, it is not enough simply to cut government. We have to rethink the whole way it works. When I became President, I was amazed at just the way the White House worked in ways that added lots of money to what taxpayers had to pay--outmoded ways that didn't take maximum advantage of technology and didn't do things that any business would have done years ago to save taxpayers' money.

So I want to bring a new spirit of innovation into every government department. I want to push education reform, as I said, not just to spend more money but to really improve learning. Some things work and some things don't. We ought to be subsidizing the things that work and discouraging the things that don't. ...

I'd like for us to not only have welfare reform but to re-examine the whole focus of all of our programs that help people, to shift them from entitlement programs to empowerment programs. In the end, we want people not to need us anymore. I think that's important. ...

Let me say to all the people watching us tonight who will ask me these questions beginning tomorrow as I go around the country and who've asked it in the past: We're not cutting the deficit just because experts say it's the thing to do or because it has some intrinsic merit. We have to cut the deficit because the more we spend paying off the debt, the less tax dollars we have to invest in jobs, in education, and the future of this country.

And the more money we take out of the pool of available savings, the harder it is for people in the private sector to borrow money at affordable interest rates for a college loan for their children, for a home mortgage, or to start a new business. That's why we've got to reduce the debt, because it is crowding out other activities that we ought to be engaged in and that the American people ought to be engaged in....

I have to say that we all know our government has been just great at building programs. The time has come to show the American people that we can limit them, too, that we can not only start things, but we can actually stop things. ...

Unless we have the courage now to start building our future and stop borrowing from it, we're condemning ourselves to years of stagnation, interrupted by occasional recessions, to slow growth in jobs, to no more growth in incomes, to more debt, to more disappointment. Unless we change, unless we increase investment and reduce the debt to raise productivity so that we can generate both jobs and incomes, we will be condemning our children and our children's children to a lesser life than we enjoyed. ...

Vol. 12, Issue 22

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