Good morning. This week we saw how events beyond our control can test the courage and fortitude of our people.
For many in the eastern half of our Nation, life is beginning to return to normal after the harshest stretch of winter in memory. And in southern California, there was another kind of disaster. I went to Los Angeles and saw the devastation that can occur in just a matter of moments in an earthquake. Freeways were crumbled, homes were destroyed, lives were shattered.
But even in this kind of adversity, or maybe even because of it, our people have become more determined. We've seen neighbor helping neighbor and total strangers performing acts of quiet heroism. In addition to Federal funds we've pledged, our recovery efforts are being coordinated on the site by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, James Lee Witt, and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, who are looking for more ways to help the quake's victims.
Los Angeles will come back. Together with the people of Los Angeles, we'll help to make that happen. That's the American way. At every crucial moment in our history, our people have somehow found the courage, the will, and the way to come together in the face of a challenge and to meet it head on. For the last year, we've been doing just that here in Washington.
It was one year ago this week that I took office as your President. The challenges before us were many. We faced a debt that has been mortgaging our future; we were burdened by the cynicism created when Government does wrong by people who do right. For two decades, the middle class had been working longer and harder just to hold its ground with stagnant wages. Seemingly secure jobs were lost and, along with declining wages, people lost the security of stable and reliable health insurance.
Well, after one year, the challenges aren't gone, but together we are surmounting many of them. We've moved to offer opportunity, challenge our people to assume more responsibility, and restore a sense of community to our land.
We built the foundation for a lasting economic recovery. We've broken gridlock and made Government an instrument of our common purpose as a people. And from meetings in Moscow to promote democracy to meetings in Tokyo to revive the world economy, our seriousness of purpose is winning respect around the world and getting results.
Here at home we've transformed America's agenda, addressing problems long deferred or denied. Now the debate is not over whether to provide health security but how and how quickly, not whether to reform welfare but how, not whether to make well-intentioned but ultimately futile efforts to protect American workers from economic change but how to give them the tools and the skills to make those changes their friend. At long last, we're addressing our challenges with clarity and confidence instead of running away from them.
We built the foundations for a real recovery that will endure and enrich the lives of all our people. Of course, the recovery is not yet complete. Many Americans haven't felt it yet, and our work can't be done until every American has the security to embrace the future without fear. We do have a long way to go. But clearly, we've turned the corner, and we're moving in the right direction.
We passed an economic plan that reflects our new approach: doing more with less, cutting Government spending that doesn't work, and investing in people and in what does work. Our plan will reduce the deficit by $500 billion over 5 years, cutting $255 billion in spending.
Before our plan passed, the deficit for next year alone was projected at $300 billion. That's $300 billion. But I've just learned from our Director of the Office of Management and Budget Leon Panetta that the deficit projection for next fiscal year is now under $180 billion, over $120 billion less, thanks to the enactment of the economic plan. That's lower even than our initial projections.
The fact is, if we stay on this plan, we will have cut the deficit in half as a percentage of our national income by 1996. But we must pass health care reform if we're going to keep the deficit going downward for the long haul and eventually bring the budget into balance.
Slowly but surely, our economic plan is creating new opportunity and providing new security for middle class families. Today more of these families are buying cars and homes or refinancing their mortgages because deficit reduction has helped to push interest rates to record lows.
In our steady aim to create jobs and increase incomes, we've provided bold new initiatives for small businesses, encouraging growth in an important source of new jobs. Last year alone the private economy created 1.6 million new jobs, 1 1/2 times as many as in the previous 4 years. We've reinforced these gains by passing NAFTA, by lifting export controls, by tearing down barriers to trade. All of these will translate into more jobs.
With the family and medical leave law, we've allowed Americans the freedom to take care of a sick loved one or a newborn without worrying that they'll lose their jobs for doing so. This is an important thing because restoring our social fabric is critical. And providing the opportunity for work, protecting the worker, and helping to keep families and communities together are crucial elements in achieving that social fabric. And so is protecting our citizens' safety on the streets, in homes, and in our schools. That's why we enacted the Brady bill, to put common sense into gun selling, and why when Congress returns next week, I will ask them to quickly pass the crime bill and send it to me for signing.
Step by step, we are reviving our economy, renewing our sense of common community, and restoring our people's confidence that our Nation can be strong at home and abroad and our Government can work for the benefit of ordinary Americans.
Yes, we've done a lot, but we have so much more to do.
As we enter this second year of taking on these challenges together, we know this: What's important is not just how many programs we pass but how many lives we improve. What's important is not just what we do for people but also what we can help our people to do for themselves. Ultimately, that will be the measure of our success.
Thanks for listening.