Thank you very much. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President has given me a very generous introduction and has fairly characterized the struggle in which we have been engaged. I might say also, for all of you sports fans, he's given a whole new meaning to the term "tie-breaker." [Laughter]
But I think it would really be unfortunate if this event were to come and go without recognizing the fact that the people in Congress who voted for this plan had to labor under historically difficult circumstances. They had to reverse a plan of trickle-down economics in which it was the accepted path always to say the right thing but never to do it, and in which, if you tried to do the right thing, people would say the wrong things about you and cloud the debate with a fog of misinformation.
In this incredible series of events that have unfolded, there were many Members of Congress who never appeared on the evening news, whose names never appeared in the newspapers simply because of their quiet courage and determination to do what they thought was right and to see this process through to the end. And I think I would be remiss, therefore, if on this occasion I did not ask at least all the sitting Members of the United States Congress who are here to stand and to receive a round of applause. Would you all please stand? I also want to explicitly thank all the many members of the Cabinet and the administration who are here who worked so hard on this program, as well as the many citizens throughout the country who helped us to lobby it through.
Today we come here for more than a bill signing. We come here to begin a new direction for our Nation. We are taking steps necessary and long overdue to revive our economy, to renew our American dream, to restore confidence in our own ability to take charge of our own affairs. This was clearly not an easy fight. When I presented this program to Congress, I had hoped for something quite different: I had hoped that it would spark a genuine, open, honest, bipartisan national debate about the serious choices before us, about the world economy we face as we move toward the 21st century, about the problems we have here at home and all the people whose lives and potential we lose and what economic consequence that has for all the rest of Americans. I had hoped that we could discuss whether and to what extent the revival of the competitive skills of our work force could raise incomes and generate jobs; how we could both reduce the deficit and increase investment in our future; whether we could escape the trap that has afflicted so many wealthy countries, that even when their economies are growing now they don't seem to be creating jobs; how we could escape the policies of the seventies and the eighties which led middle class Americans to work longer work weeks for lower pay while they paid more for the essentials of life; whether we could bring the power of free enterprise to bear in the poor inner cities and rural areas of this country and lift people up with the force of the American dream; whether the short-term consequences of bringing the deficit down would be more than overweighed by the short-term benefits of lower interest rates and the long-term benefits of being in control of our economic destiny.
These are the kinds of things that I wanted to see debated. And to be sure, to some extent, we did debate them. But for 5 months the American people heard too little about the real debate and too much from those who oversimplified and often downright misrepresented the questions of tax increases and spending cuts because they had narrow economic or political or personal reasons to do so.
So today, as we sign this landmark legislation, I say again, now we can talk about the national interests, how this plan will begin to bring the change we need in America, how we can have economic revival and hope if this is a beginning and we move forward from here. After all, after 12 years of the most rapid increase in deficits in our country's history, when the national debt went from $1 to $4 trillion in only 12 years, this is the largest deficit reduction plan in history, with $255 billion in real enforceable spending cuts in very specific areas, not generalized hot air and tomorrow's promises but specific cuts. After 12 years of trickle-down economics where taxes were lowered on the wealthiest Americans, raised on the middle class, hoping that investments would be made which would reverse the trends of the last 20 years, we now have real fairness in the Tax Code with over 80 percent of the new tax burden being borne by those who make over $200,000 a year, with the middle class asked to pay only $3 a month, and with a tax cut to working families with children who make under $27,000 a year. By expanding this earned-income tax credit to working families and especially to the working poor, this Congress has made history by enabling us to say for the first time now, if you work hard and you have children in your home and you spend 40 hours a week at work, you can be a successful worker and a successful parent, and you will be lifted out of poverty.
Every elected public official in America sometime in the last 10 years has given someplace between one and a thousand speeches decrying the welfare system, extolling the values of work and family. But finally, the people who voted yes on this plan put a down payment toward ending welfare as we know it by finally doing something to reward work and family instead of just talking about it.
Everybody in this debate talked about small business, and the people who opposed this plan said it was bad for small business. But in truth, the opposition plan actually increased the burden on small business people who took out their own health insurance by taking away their deduction for it, while this plan increases by 75 percent the expensing allowance for small businesses in ways that will give over 90 percent of the small businesses in America a tax cut if they do what they ought to do, invest more money in their business. Others talked about it; we did it. And we should be proud of it, and we should tell the small business community about it.
Others talked about the importance of small business as a job generator. This plan passed a pro-jobs capital gains tax that reduces tax rates by 50 percent for people who invest their money in new and small businesses and hold those investments for 5 years or more, the most dramatic incentive we have ever had to encourage people to take money out of their savings and take a chance on the free enterprise sector in America in the places where the jobs are being created, in the small business sector. That's what this plan does. Instead of talking about doing something for small business, this plan actually did it. And all of you need to be proud of that.
The plan offers incentives to Americans to invest to revive the homebuilding market; to invest in research and development, something that especially helps high-tech companies; to invest in new plant and equipment. Even the biggest companies in America now will be able to have tax incentives if they are willing to invest in growing more jobs here at home. These are the right ways to cut taxes, my fellow Americans, cutting taxes for people because they spent their money in growing this economy and putting their fellow Americans to work. And that's what this plan does.
This plan was criticized in some quarters because it did spend some new money on some new things. I would argue to you that anybody who thinks that all Government spending is the same might just as well say all kinds of bread taste the same. We did not come here to leave our judgment and our knowledge about the global economy at the city borders of Washington, DC.
So yes, I plead guilty: We reformed the student loan program to lower the interest rates on student loans and make it easier for people to take out college loans and to repay them. We did, finally, after 6 long years of reducing defense spending at rapid rates, at throwing people in the street from California to Connecticut, we finally did put some more money in here for defense conversion to give those people a chance to go back to work in a peacetime economy, to contribute to the American dream. We did spend some more money on Head Start and on poor pregnant mothers to try to get their children into the world in good shape, to try to lower the tax burden on other people and increase their productivity. We did spend some money to try to give 6 million more children inoculations, because no one can explain to me why the United States of America has the third worst immunization record in the Western Hemisphere and we're paying a fortune for it.
This plan has already begun to work. Ever since it was clear that we were working to bring down the deficit and every time we made progress along the way, long-term interest rates dropped, enabling millions of Americans to refinance their home either to lower their monthly payments or to build up their own savings, enabling businesses to refinance their loans and, over the long run, lowering the cost of new investment in new jobs.
Because of the leadership of the Speaker of the House, Senator Mitchell, Congressman Gephardt, the hard work of the committee chairs, Senator Moynihan, Congressman Rostenkowski, Senator Sasser, Congressman Sabo, the committee chairs in all the other committees in the Congress, and as I said earlier, the simple courage of millions of Americans in supporting this plan and the quiet courage of so many Members of Congress who literally put their careers on the line, this country has begun to take responsibility for itself.
I say to those Members who took a big chance in voting for this, with all the rhetoric that was thrown against them, if you go home and look your people in the eye and tell them you were willing to put your job on the line so that they can keep their jobs, I think they will understand and reward you with reelection.
This plan is only the beginning. As I said on February 17th and would like to say again today as we close, this administration views job creation and deficit reduction, expanding international trade and providing health care at affordable rates to all Americans, training and educating our work force, making our families healthier and our streets safer, reforming our welfare system and reinventing our Government not as different challenges requiring disparate solutions in different coalitions but part of the fabric of reviving the dream that we were all raised with.
We cannot simply say, "This is a complicated time, and we're unequal to the challenge. So we'll do this, and 4 or 5 years from now we'll worry about that." We have to think about what it takes to build the fabric of community, to rebuild the fabric of our families, to give our children a good shot, and to have sensible economic policies at home and with our allies around the world. Toward this end let me say again, in the long run we cannot succeed in an endless season of partisan bitterness and rancor and bickering. If some of us have to make hard choices while others stand aside and hope that the house collapses, nothing will in the end get done.
And so I ask today of the American people and the American people's representatives, without regard to your party or philosophy, when the August recess is over, let us join again in the common work of American renewal. There is so much to be done that can only be done if we're all willing to carry our share of the load. Clearly, that is what the American people want us to do.
In the very first week when the Congress comes back, the Senate will have a chance to demonstrate that bipartisan spirit by passing the national service plan that the House has already passed and opening up the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of young Americans to pay their college way by serving their communities and rebuilding a sense of community in this country. And then we will move on to the other great issues of the day. And move on we must. We cannot stand still.
I remember every time I do something like this who we're really working for: I remember the people that Senator Moynihan and I saw lined along the long way from the airport to Hyde Park in New York; the people who stood out in 3-degree weather in Chillicothe, Ohio, to visit with me about their hopes for America; the young people I saw at Rutgers in New Jersey, in New Orleans, and in Boston, so deeply committed to the idea of national service because they want to be in a position to give something back to their country and to believe that their country can work for them again; high school students in Chicago who for the first time are dreaming of an affordable college education; and inner-city youths I saw at the playground in Los Angeles who believe that there's no reason they can't live in a neighborhood that is free of crime and full of opportunity. These are the people that we all came here to work for. These are the people that we celebrate for today.
This is a beginning. Let us resolve when this recess is over to come back with a new determination to finish the work. And let us again hold our hands out to those who were not part of this process and say, "America needs us all. Let us go forward together."
Thank you, and God bless you all.