Good morning. As you know, I have spent the last week in intense discussion with congressional leaders over how to balance the budget in 7 years. It's important to balance the budget to lift the burden of debt from future generations.
In the last 3 years, we've cut our deficit in half, and we need to finish the job. But we have to balance the budget in a way that reflects our most fundamental values: increasing opportunity; asking everyone to assume responsibility; strengthening our families and the economy; and recognizing the duty we owe to each other, to our parents, our children, and those who need and deserve our help. That's how we've reduced the deficit since I took office: cutting unnecessary programs; reducing the size of the Federal Government by 200,000; reducing redtape but investing in education, the environment, research and technology; protecting Medicare and Medicaid; reducing taxes on the hardest pressed working families. It's worked. It's given us more jobs, more new businesses, low inflation, and record economic performance in the stock market and in many other places.
Now, that's how I want to finish the job of balancing the budget. But even as we continue talking, I hope Congress will agree to open the Government and open all the agencies that have closed so that we can end the financial and emotional turmoil for more than 280,000 furloughed Federal employees and 460,000 working-but-not-getting-paid Federal employees.
In the spirit of the holidays, we should do everything we can to put these people back to work and to resume critical services the American people need and deserve. Just last night, I signed legislation that Congress passed yesterday to allow 3.3 million veterans and 13 million needy children and their mothers to receive their benefits by January 1st. That's a good start. I hope we can resume all services as we work together to balance the budget.
Our talks are making progress. Yesterday we agreed to resume our negotiations next week with the goal of reaching an agreement as soon as possible. I am confident we can end this impasse and pass a 7-year balanced budget.
As we look back at this year, in this season of hope, I think we ought to take just a little time to reflect on the progress and accomplishment of America. It should give us real optimism that we can finish this budget job and go on to greater things in 1996.
Nineteen ninety-five was a year in which our country had the opportunity and the responsibility to play our role as the world's premier peacemaker. Our efforts opened the door to peace in places where only rancor and war had previously existed. As a peacemaker, not a policeman, we have helped the peace process finally begin to take hold in the Middle East, while we joined the world in mourning the tragic assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. We have done what Prime Minister Rabin would have wanted us to do: We've kept moving forward. And finally it looks like Israel and Syria will sit together in the United States to seek a way to resolve their differences and live together peacefully.
We're also helping to bring peace to Bosnia. The Dayton agreement and our decision to join in the international effort to secure the peace in Bosnia has given the people of the former Yugoslavia a chance to rebuild their lives. After 4 long years of horrible violence, America now has the opportunity to lead in the effort to bring lasting peace to that war-torn country and to stabilize Central Europe as well.
In Northern Ireland, I saw thousands and thousands of children beginning to celebrate their second Christmas season of peace. And in Haiti, they will soon celebrate the very first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected President to another in the history of the country. And American leadership helped to make both those celebrations possible.
The seeds of peace are also sinking deeper roots right here in America. We just learned that last year our murder rate dropped 12 percent, the largest decline in 35 years. Violent crime overall is down 5 percent. Now, we know our work is far from done on too many of our mean streets. Too many of our children still are raising themselves, not being taught right from wrong. There is still too much crime and violence, and it's still rising among teenagers in many parts of the country. But we are beginning to turn the tide. And we do know what works.
Much of the success is due to efforts in communities throughout our country to get guns off our streets and put more police on the streets and to give our young people something to say yes to as well as something to say no to. More importantly, it is due to the outpouring of grassroots community involvement in all these efforts, in the comprehensive fight against crime and violence. People are getting the message that community policing works. And it's up to every citizen to rise up, reach out, and link arms with local police to keep their own neighborhoods safe and their schools safe. Now, the progress we've seen is cause for hope. We just have to keep working on it here at home.
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, to our troops in Bosnia, to our toughest neighborhoods, America is leading the way to peace and reconciliation. All around the world billions of people look to America as a model of democracy and freedom. And we should see ourselves as others see us. We should finish the job of balancing the budget and reopening the Government in the spirit of cooperation and unity so that we can continue to grow and prosper together and be a force in the world for peace and freedom. That is the spirit of the season and the spirit of America.
Let each of us resolve to do what we can to be peacemakers. Let us bring peace to every child who deserves to be free from violence and full of hope. And as we celebrate the birth of a child whose only shelter was the straw of a manger, let us remember the words of the Prince of Peace who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." We ask the blessings of this peace for everyone. That is our prayer this Christmas.
Thanks for listening.