Good morning. On this Labor Day weekend, I am paying tribute to some of the most important labor ever performed on behalf of the American people. Hillary and I are in Hawaii, where we have gathered with veterans of World War II to honor the bravery and sacrifice of an extraordinary generation of Americans.
Fifty years ago today, freedom triumphed over tyranny because those brave men and women, along with their colleagues from the allied nations, won a victory for freedom in the great struggle of World War II. America and the entire world will forever be in their debt.
So when the veterans of World War II came home, America was ready to pay its debt to our soldiers. Even before the war ended, President Roosevelt had already signed the GI bill into law. The GI bill opened the doors to college for veterans and helped them to get a start on life with a new home. And because our Nation provided that kind of opportunity for the World War II veterans, the opportunity to build good lives for themselves and their families, they in turn were able to play an enormous part in making our Nation the strongest and most prosperous on Earth.
Today, our challenge is to build on the foundation they laid, to keep our Nation strong and to give all Americans the opportunity to make the most of their own lives as we move into the 21st century.
A central part of that challenge is our effort to balance the Federal budget to relieve future generations of Americans of the crushing debt burden imposed almost entirely in the 12 years before I took office. During that 12-year period, our national debt quadrupled. In 1993, in our administration's economic program, we passed the bill that cut the deficit from $290 billion a year all the way down to $160 billion in just 3 years. In fact, our budget would be balanced today but for the debt run up in the 12 years before I became President.
Well, now we all have to go the rest of the way to balance that budget. But how we do it will say a lot about the values we have as a people and how we understand what's in our interest as we move to the next century. I have a good plan to balance the budget. But it will also give every American the opportunity to build a good life for himself or herself and to build better futures for their families.
Our plan will give our children the best possible education. It will keep our streets safer. It will take care of our elderly. It will maintain the purity and clarity of our environment. And it will maintain the strength of our Armed Forces.
Our plan also will keep faith with the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms that we now hold dear. For over 50 years, all Americans who joined our military have known that they are making a bargain with America and that in return for their service to our country our country will stand by them. The young men and women who serve today in our military give us some of the best years of their lives. And one of the things we tell them is that the longer they serve our country, the more our country will owe them when their service is done.
Amazingly, there are those today who believe that in order to balance the budget it's all right to break our commitment to a group of more than 800,000 men and women who've already served for at least 15 years. Now when these people joined the armed services, they were told that their retirement pay would be based on whatever salary they were earning the day they retired. But now in the name of balancing the budget, some propose that we scale back their retirement pay in a way that will mean cuts for retired military personnel of as much as $200 a month.
But I disagree. I believe that after asking so much of these men and women, our country should keep its commitment to them and find a better path to balance the budget. I have a plan to balance the budget that doesn't break our commitment to those who serve us in uniform. I think that kind of broken commitment is unconscionable. And as long as I'm President, we're not going to break our word to the members of our Armed Forces or our veterans.
For the last 50 years, our Nation has kept commitments to veterans who fought and won World War II, those whom we honor here in Hawaii and all across America this weekend, and to the veterans who followed them. That's a big reason that we now have the finest military in the world, outstanding and brave men and women who understand the duty they owe to one another, their communities, to our country, and to the world. I think we have an obligation to them. You know, they give up a lot to serve us, a lot in time and money. But one of the things they get in return is a commitment on retirement, a reward for the work—the important work they do.
So on this Labor Day weekend when we honor the work of all Americans, let us, all of us, recommit ourselves to the legacy of World War II, to the men and women in uniform today, and to our obligations to them.
Hillary and I wish all of you a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Thanks for listening.