Good morning. I ran for President because I believed the American dream was at risk for millions of our fellow citizens. I wanted to grow the middle class, shrink the under class, create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to succeed, so that our economy would produce the American dream. I wanted to promote mainstream values of responsibility, work, family, and community. And I wanted to reform Government to make it smaller, less bureaucratic, put it back on the side of ordinary Americans.
We're working at making progress on all these fronts—unemployment down, jobs up—real progress in giving people in the under class a chance to work their way into the middle class. But there's still a lot of challenges we face. There's no greater gap between mainstream American values and Government than the failed welfare system.
Last night the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, spoke eloquently about the need to reform the welfare system. And I ran for President saying that I would work to end welfare as we know it. This has been a big issue for me for long time. I've worked to move people from welfare to work for 15 years now. So the Speaker and I have a lot in common. We both want bold welfare reform. We both think that we need to make people leave welfare after a specific number of years. We both want to require welfare recipients to work to get benefits. We both want States to have a lot of flexibility to adopt their own programs.
I've gone a long way toward doing that by letting 25 States adopt bold new reforms for their own welfare systems. And we both want tough steps to enforce child support. The welfare reform plan I sent to Congress last year included the toughest possible child support enforcement. And now the Speaker and his colleagues in the House have taken our child enforcement measures and put it into their bill, including our plan to ask States to deny driver's licenses and professional licenses to deadbeat parents.
In spite of these similarities, we still have two key differences I want to talk to you about. They relate to work and to children. First, cutting costs is the primary goal of the Republican welfare bill. By arbitrarily cutting future welfare costs the Republicans get money to pay for their tax cuts. Well, I agree we need to cut costs, but we also have to be sure that when people leave welfare they have the education, training, and skills they need to get jobs, not simply to be off welfare and turn to lives of crime or to remain in poverty.
If we cut child care, how can we expect mothers to go to work? If we cut job training, how will people learn to work? If we cut job programs and these people can't find jobs in the private sector, how can we require them to work?
My top priority is to get people off welfare and into jobs. I want to replace welfare with work, so people earn a paycheck, not a welfare check. To do that, we have to take some of the money we save and plow it into job training, education, and child care.
I want tough welfare reform, but we've got to be practical. If we're going to make people on welfare work, we have to make it possible for them to work. If we're going to make people self-reliant, we have to make it possible for them to support themselves. We can be tough, but we've got to be practical.
I want welfare reform that moves people from dependence to independence, from welfare to work. So my proposal is a welfare-to-work plan, not just a welfare plan that cuts welfare. So that's the first change I want to make in the Republican welfare proposal. Before I'll sign it into law, it's got to have a stronger work component.
Second, the House bill is too tough on children. It cuts off aid to children who are on welfare just because their mothers are young and unmarried. These children didn't choose to be born to single mothers; they didn't choose to be born on welfare; they didn't choose to be born to women who are teenagers. We ought to remember that a child is a child, a baby is a baby. Whether they're white, black, or brown, whether they're born in or out of wedlock, anybody anywhere is entitled to a chance, and innocence, if it's a baby. We simply shouldn't punish babies and children for their parents' mistakes.
So we can be good to our children and give them a chance to have a better life because we've got a stake in that. Just think about it. Every child born in America, whether they're born to a welfare family or to a middle class family or to a wealthy family, is going to grow up and be a part of our future. The child may grow up to be in a university or be in jail or somewhere in between. But the chances are awful good that what happens to the child will be influenced by what happens to the babies in their earliest days and months and years.
So let's don't punish these babies and children for their parents' errors. Instead, let's give them a chance to grow up with a good education and a head start, so they'll be independent, working citizens.
So I say to Speaker Gingrich and to the leaders of the Senate and the House in both parties, let's work together to get this job done. Let's prove to the American people that we can reform welfare, really reform it, without letting this issue divide us. It is time to end welfare as we know it, to put people to work without punishing children.
Thanks for listening.