Good morning. My radio address this weekend is being hosted by Philadelphia station KYW.
When I was running for President, I met Americans all over our country who were uncertain about their future, worried about a tough economy in which every new day made it harder and harder to make ends meet, worried about a sudden health care crisis that could drown them in a sea of debt, and most often, worried about the surging tide of crime and violence that has become a familiar threat in almost every neighborhood in our country.
We've made real progress toward renewing the American dream since I took office a year and a half ago, putting our economic house in order with $255 billion in spending cuts, tax cuts for 15 million working families, an increase for the wealthiest 1.5 percent of our citizens, all of it going to deficit reduction. Our deficit will go down 3 years in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President. And we've got 3.8 million new jobs and record numbers of new businesses to show for it.
Expanded trade, real progress on health reform—we're moving in the right direction. But no matter how impressive these lists of accomplishments is, we will have failed to do our jobs if this year ends and Congress hasn't passed legislation to answer the urgent call of the American people to do something about crime and violence. For many millions of Americans, this is our number one concern. The random violence violates our values, our sense of family, our community, our whole hope for the future.
For 6 long years, the American people have waited while Congress and the President have debated on what to do about crime. The American people have asked for action, but all they've gotten is gridlock. As Americans have waited, children have been killed, terror has flourished. That waiting has to end and end now.
Both Chambers of Congress have now passed sweeping anticrime bills. Both versions will provide the most significant Federal attack on crime in the history of the United States. They include every major element of the crime fighting program I first called for when I was running for President: 100,000 more police officers on our street in community policing units; a ban on the most serious assault weapons that make our police officers often out-gunned by the gangs they face; a ban on ownership and possession of handguns by minors; a very tough penalty law, including a "three strikes and you're out" law; and prevention programs to help give kids something to say yes to.
The crucial task before Congress now is to prevent few remaining differences in the House and the Senate bill from threatening the whole bill. Congress is close to finishing this bill. Hard work by Members of both parties has resolved all the major differences.
In the past, Congress has been stymied by an either-or debate over the false choice between tougher punishment or smarter prevention. One of the first things I noticed during the Presidential campaign was that every place I went Americans, and police officers, especially, rejected that argument. Our citizens want criminals to be punished. They want young people, particularly in our poorest communities, also to have something to say yes to, to turn away from a life of crime.
The crime bill before Congress does both. It provides tough punishments for violent criminals, like "three strikes and you're out," and it provides about $8 billion to build prisons to ensure that violent criminals can be locked up. But it also provides about $8 billion for effective prevention programs, like the youth employment and skills program that will give youth in highcrime areas a chance to learn skills on the job, midnight basketball programs, after school programs, summer jobs programs, things that our young people can do to avoid getting into trouble.
After passing the Brady bill last year, we also worked very hard to earn an impressive victory that guarantees the bill will include a ban on deadly assault weapons that don't belong on our streets or in our schoolyards. And perhaps most important of all, this crime bill will put 100,000 new police officers on the streets of America, walking the beat, getting to know the neighborhoods, providing a strong role model for local youth, the best protection, toughest enforcement, and smartest prevention you can find.
In Philadelphia today, I have nearly a dozen of Philadelphia's finest police officers. This city has an effective community policing program, but like all cities, they need more help to do the job right.
So don't let anybody fool you. This crime bill will make a real difference across our country in every neighborhood, every city, and every town. It will help to lower the crime rate. It's what the American people are waiting for.
Let me close with a terrible story about a little boy who understood why we can't wait any longer. James Darby, a 9-year old from New Orleans, wrote me on April 29th. "Dear Mr. Clinton," he said, "I want you to stop the killing in the city. I think somebody might kill me. I'm asking you nicely to stop it. I know you can do it." Just 9 days later, walking home from a Mother's Day picnic, James Darby, age 9, was shot in the head and killed.
I can't tell you that our crime bill would have saved James' life. But I can tell you with absolutely no doubt that it will save other lives and without it we have no hope of giving a new sense of purpose and safety to our people.
Like thousands of children across our country, James Darby was terrified of the violence ravaging his own neighborhood. He knew it wasn't right, he knew it shouldn't continue, and he knew it could endanger him. His letter to me was just the best way he knew to ask for help. Well, we can help. This crime bill will help. All the major elements of the bill have been endorsed by the United States Conference of Mayors, by every major law enforcement organization in the country, including the Law Enforcement Steering Committee, with over half a million police officers in its membership, and by countless local police chiefs, sheriffs, community leaders, elected officials.
Join them. Together, the American people will be a mighty coalition with a simple but essential demand: Congress, pass the crime bill and pass it now. Remember what James Darby wrote. I know you can do it.
Thanks for listening.