Good morning. This morning I want to talk about the progress we're making in our drive to provide real health care security to America's working families. But before I do, I'd like to say a brief word about families who provide real national security for the American people.
Earlier this week at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State, six people died and more than 20 others were injured when an unhappy former airman brought an assault weapon onto the base and opened fire. And now the men and women at Fairchild grieve again. Yesterday afternoon a B-52 bomber from the 12th Air Combat Command crashed at the base during a training mission. All four airmen aboard were lost. Their deaths remind us again of the hazards and risks involved in maintaining our security and the debt of gratitude we owe each of our military personnel. I want to send my condolences and prayers to the families of the airmen and the good people who will continue doing the hard work of freedom at Fairchild.
After months of debate, health care reform is very much alive. And we have an extraordinary opportunity in the next few weeks to make sure that America joins every other advanced nation by guaranteeing health coverage to each and every citizen, not through a Government program but through private insurance and real opportunities for small business people and self-employed people to buy good insurance on the same terms that those of us in Government or people who work for big business can. I'm committed to making sure we don't miss this urgent opportunity.
This week we had a historic development. For the first time in American history and after 60 years of reform efforts, committees in both Houses of Congress have approved bills that guarantee universal health coverage, coverage to all American families.
Anyone who doubts the significance of this need only look at the last half century. President Roosevelt first tried to reform health care but couldn't get this far. President Truman tried several times and couldn't do it. President Nixon proposed universal health coverage with an employer-employee joint responsibility to pay for insurance, and he couldn't do it. President Carter also tried without success.
These reform efforts never got to this point. Now that we've come this far, we mustn't turn back. Momentum is building toward a solution for the health care crisis. And as we settle on one, we must make sure we go to the root of the problems in the current system.
Half measures, quick fixes, things that sound better than they actually will work, will only make matters worse. We have to help middle class Americans, whose economic success is the key to America's prosperity, know that they will always have health security, even if they have to change jobs or if they lose their jobs.
The whole purpose of our economic program is to make it possible for hard-working Americans to reap the potential of a vastly changing world economy. We're not proposing to hand anybody anything but to help all Americans get the tools they need to have good jobs and strong families now and in the future.
That's exactly what we have been doing. We've worked hard to get our economic house in order with tough deficit reduction and new investments in education, training, new technologies, the jobs of the 21st century. We've helped to restore the economy, and more than 3 million new jobs have been created since I took office last year. We've made a dramatic proposal to move people from welfare to work. We're creating educational and job training opportunities that will enable people to embrace change. We have a tough crime bill about to pass that will put 100,000 more police officers on the street, with tougher punishment, better prevention for our young people, a ban on assault weapons. We'll have 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President.
But unless we address the health care crisis, these other measures will not do all they should for our people. Unless we provide coverage for all Americans, our economy will continue to suffer and more and more Americans will lack the security they need to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.
We've heard a lot about measures lately that wouldn't provide coverage to all families. But make no mistake, measures that are half-hearted would at best, at best, guarantee that things stay only about as good as they are now. The poor would get health care. The wealthy would get health care. The middle class would get it sometimes and not get it sometimes, but they would be either left out into the cold or remain constantly at risk of losing coverage.
Our strength in the world has always been the imaginative ingenuity of our middle class. But the lack of security about health coverage is putting a roadblock in the way of middle class Americans as more and more people have to change jobs more often. Today, 81 million Americans live in families with preexisting conditions that could keep them from taking better jobs or creating new businesses and already mean that millions of them either don't have health insurance or pay too much for it. If middle class Americans are held back by worries about their health care and the health of their families, they often can't do what they must to succeed.
And people on welfare, who ought to become productive members of society, won't take jobs if it means giving up their health benefits. Just yesterday in Missouri, I met a woman who has moved from welfare to work but who says that when she loses her health benefits for her children, she's not sure she can stay working and may go back to welfare. We'll be telling our people that working hard doesn't count anymore when we ask people who leave welfare to go to work to pay taxes so that those who stayed on welfare can have health care for their children while they give it up. I know you believe we can't afford to send that message.
We shouldn't assume that doing nothing will protect what we have today, either. Nothing is what we have done for years. And just this week, a new report showed that the percentage of Americans without insurance has gone from 12 percent to 15 percent of our population in the last 12 years. Now, that's over 12 million Americans who don't have health insurance. In the last 3 years alone, more than 3 million Americans have been added to the rolls of the uninsured. Even those with insurance today can't count on having it tomorrow unless we fix our system and fix it now.
Actually, not all Americans face this kind of risk. Members of Congress, along with the President and all Federal Government employees, we have a great deal right now. We work for you, the taxpayers of America, and you reward us with health coverage that can't be taken away, even if we get sick. Not only that, we have a requirement that employers contribute most of the cost of our health plan—that's you, you're our employers—and we contribute some.
Now, I believe every working American deserves these same benefits and that same guarantee. I think you ought to tell Congress that you believe the same thing.
In the weeks ahead, special interests will again be spending millions of dollars, tens of millions, to block reform. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that the concerns of hardworking Americans don't get drowned out.
Harry Truman said it best about 50 years ago when he said, "There is no other way to assure that the average American family has a decent chance for adequate medical care. There's no way to assure a strong and healthy nation." I believe 50 years is long enough to wait to make good on that promise. Let's do it this year.
Thanks for listening.