Good morning. This has been a very good week for America. On Friday I signed a bipartisan budget to keep the Government operating for the rest of the year. After a year of intense and sometimes heated debate, Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together and worked with us to craft an agreement that is good for the American people.
First of all, it keeps the deficit on the downward path we started in 1993. This budget cuts billions of dollars in spending. At the same time, the budget upholds America's most basic values, as I have pledged to do, by honoring our commitment to our elderly, to our children, and to our future by protecting Medicare and Medicaid, preserving our fight against crime, investing in education and in the protection of the environment.
Look how far we've come. A year ago, many in Congress insisted we could only move toward a balanced budget by imposing extreme measures and walking away from those commitments. I knew that wasn't true, and I was determined to hold the line. So now we aren't going to break our promise to put 100,000 new police officers on the street. We aren't going to stop enforcing antipollution laws and risk severe damage to our environment. We aren't going to abandon our effort to shrink class size and raise teachers' standards, to keep kids in school safe and make college more affordable. We aren't going to abandon our commitment to AmeriCorps, our national service program, which also helps young people pay for college as they serve in their communities.
But here's what we are going to do: We are going to cut the deficit for the 4th year in a row. This is the first time that has happened in almost 50 years, since Harry Truman was President. We're on the way to a balanced budget. The deficit this year will be less than half of what it was when I took office. And now we've got to finish the job.
Earlier this year I proposed a plan to balance the budget, and Congress' own economists have certified that plan will balance the budget in 7 years. Republicans in Congress have their own balanced budget plan. If you laid my plan and their plan side by side, you would find enough cuts in common to both plans to balance the budget and provide a tax cut for working families. So the ingredients for a balanced budget are clearly at hand. All we have to do is sit down together and assemble a final agreement based on the things we already agree on.
But that's the problem. I have made it clear that I want to meet with Congress and work this out as soon as possible. I said this week I'm willing to meet with a large group of lawmakers or a small group of Republican and Democratic leaders. When Senator Dole said that maybe the two of us ought to get together and work it out, I told Senator Dole I'd be more than happy to meet with him alone. I don't care how we do it. My singular goal is to work together with the Republicans to craft a bipartisan plan to balance the budget in 7 years while upholding our values and our commitment to the future.
I'd like to take a minute to speak directly to the Republicans in Congress. I know some people in your party are urging you to reject bipartisan negotiation in favor of more partisan confrontation. That would be a terrible mistake. Let me be blunt. I refused to accept extreme proposals for the last year and a half, and I will not accept extreme proposals for the future. If it is your political strategy to concoct a budget that you hope I will not sign, you ought to think again. If you torpedo these negotiations today, after so much progress has been made on a balanced budget, simply to create a campaign issue for later, the American people will see through that with their eyes closed.
So I urge you this morning to take the high road to progress. Do what we did with this year's budget, with the antiterrorism bill, with the telecommunications bill, with the lobby reform bill. Come meet with me and let's finish this job together. This is an historic chance to balance the budget. We're within inches of agreement, and nothing—not politics, not partisanship, not Presidential campaigns—nothing should be allowed to stop us.
Just about a year ago I gave a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. I told them then I did not want a pile of vetoes. I told them I wanted to work with Congress and get things done for the American people. But I also said I'd never accept extreme and unnecessary measures that would jeopardize our ability to care for our elderly, educate our children, and protect our environment. Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans in Congress didn't believe me. They shut the Government down. They refused to cooperate. But look what happened. When they tried to impose these drastic measures I was forced to stop them, just as I said I would. But then last week we worked together, and we quickly agreed on a budget plan that accomplishes what I said could be done all along: The deficit is going down, and our commitments are secure.
Today the Republican leaders in Congress face a similar choice. They can go it alone and we will end up going nowhere, or they can come on down to the White House and we will get a good job done for the American people together. That's how our system works best. That's how we should reform health care and help working families.
Every United States Senator, for example, every single one, 100 of them, voted to pass the bipartisan Kennedy-Kassebaum health care reform bill. Now, Republicans can work with us to make that health care more available to 43 million Americans by passing a bill that says that you ought to be able to keep your health insurance if you change jobs or lose a job, and you ought not to be denied health insurance just because somebody in your family has been sick. We can agree on that, or the Republicans can send me a more partisan bill that has special provisions for special interests.
The Republican leadership can work with us to raise the minimum wage, or they can go on ignoring working families and moderates in their very own party, and do their best to obstruct even a vote on the minimum wage.
Now, if you look at what's been done that is good in the last year and 4 months—this year's budget, the antiterrorism bill, the telecommunications bill, the lobby reform—every single good thing has been done because Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked together and worked with me. That's how to get things done.
The only way for us to move forward is to do it together. That's the right thing to do on balancing the budget, the right thing to do on health care reform, the right thing to do on the minimum wage. That is what we are here for: to move America forward. So let's get together, and let's get to work.
Thanks for listening.