Good morning. At midnight last night, for the second time in a month, the Republican Congress shut down the Federal Government in an effort to force through their unacceptable cuts in health care, education, and the environment.
For weeks, my administration and the Republicans in Congress have been in serious negotiations over how to reach common ground on balancing the budget. A week ago, I forwarded to them a plan that would protect our principles and balance the budget in 7 years. I had hoped that this time would be different, that we were past the Republican threats to shut down the Government just to get their way.
But yesterday, they broke off our talks. Unbelievably, they actually said that as a condition for our talks to continue, we had to agree right now to make deep and unconscionable cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. That is unacceptable.
The cuts they propose would deprive millions of people of health care: poor children, pregnant women, the disabled, seniors in nursing homes.
They would let Medicare wither on the vine into a second-class system. Now, these things simply are not necessary to balance the budget.
Let me be clear: As I have said from the beginning, I very much want to work with Congress to get a balanced budget. After all, working with the previous Congress in my first 2 years as President, we cut the deficit I found when I became President in half. We reduced the size of the Federal Government by 200,000. We ought to finish the job. We shouldn't leave a legacy of debt to our children, but neither should we leave the next generation a legacy of neglect.
We've cut the deficit in half while continuing to invest in education, technology, research, the environment, Medicare, and Medicaid and cutting taxes on the most hard-pressed of our working people. That's what we ought to do in this budget plan.
Now as far as shutting the Government down goes, this is not a result of our lack of agreement on a balanced budget plan; the two things have no connection. The facts are plain: The Congress has failed to pass a budget for next year and the bills that would fund the agencies of Government on purpose. They have deliberately done this to force me to accept their long-term agenda of big cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment and a tax increase on working people. That's what's in their balanced budget plan. But it's not necessary to balance the budget. So for them to cause a shutdown, denying Americans the services their tax dollars support, as a tactic in the budget debate is wrong. It's irresponsible. I won't give in to the threat. I didn't last time, and I can't now. Let me tell you why.
I know you've been told that the winners and losers of this budget battle are all in Washington and it's all politics. But that's not true. America's children would bear the most pain from the sharp cuts proposed by the Republican Congress. If the Republican plan becomes law, millions of children would be denied basics they need: health care they now have, schooling they can count on, school lunches, a safe place to live, or air and water we can be sure is safe to breathe and to drink.
Just consider what would happen to Medicaid. For three decades, Medicaid has been a legal guarantee for millions who need medical care. It has been the primary source of health care for nearly one in five American children. And more than half of the children on Medicaid live in families with working parents. It is not a welfare program. But the Republican plan repeals Medicaid's guarantees, and that spells disaster for families in the middle class who are caught unprepared. Medicaid helps millions of children who are disabled or who suffer from chronic illnesses or who have the AIDS virus. But the Republican plan could pull this lifeline from millions of children.
In education, the Republican plan eliminates Head Start for 180,000 preschoolers. It cuts our efforts to keep drugs and violence out of our schools. It undermines our efforts to help schools meet national standards of excellence for the first time. It kills the AmeriCorps national service program. It denies scholarships to more than 350,000 deserving college students and takes away the best student loan program available to young people—it lowers the cost and eases the terms of repayment.
The Republican plan would raise taxes for over 7 million of our hardest pressed working families. Their budget cuts would leave children exposed to hazardous waste. And we know that pollution affects children more than it does adults. We want to clean up these sites, but the Republican cuts would limit what we can do.
The Republican budget cuts are aimed squarely at our children. They will face larger classes and fewer Head Start programs. Ten million will live near toxic waste sites that won't be cleaned. Fewer will be immunized. Millions will be denied adequate medical care. And more than one million will be forced into poverty.
That is no way to treat our children. Let them threaten to shut the Government down. It is not necessary to do this to balance the budget, and so I am not going to let them hurt our children and compromise their future.
Our budget proposal shows these cuts are not necessary. Our plan balances the budget in 7 years, reforms Medicare and Medicaid, keeps costs down. It protects education and gives working families with children a tax break, not a tax increase. It is wrong for the congressional Republicans to insist that I make deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid just as a condition to talk. It is wrong for them to shut the Government down again just before Christmas. It would be wrong for me to accept that threat. I rejected it last month; I reject it now.
I know this shutdown will affect the lives of millions of Americans, especially at this holiday season. I'll do whatever I can to lessen the impact. Above all, the Republicans should come back to the table. Congress should immediately pass straightforward legislation to reopen the Government. That is the responsible thing to do. And we should be talking again with each other about how to balance the budget in the interest of the American people.
I'll continue to fight for our American principles in this budget battle because that's the only way our children can come out the winners.
Thanks for listening.