Good morning. As we prepare to meet the demands of the 21st century, I believe our goal must be to offer opportunity to all Americans, to demand responsibility from all Americans, and to come together as a community to strengthen our shared values and to build a better future together. That is how we will meet our challenges.
This past week, those values were at work on Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans produced a bipartisan breakthrough for those Americans working hard to make the most of their own lives. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to pass a 90-cent increase in the minimum wage.
It's about time. You can't raise a family on $4.25 an hour, and if we don't raise it, the minimum wage will fall to a 40-year low this year in terms of what it will buy. So I congratulate the Republican Members of Congress who joined with the Democrats to honor work and family, opportunity and responsibility, by voting to give minimum wage workers a raise. They should send me the final legislation quickly, without delay. That will be a victory for both parties and, more important, for all working Americans.
The passage of the minimum wage shows what can happen when we're united, when we reach across party lines, when we work together. This can signify a new spirit of cooperation coming from Capitol Hill. If we continue this spirit, we can meet our other challenges as well.
No challenge is more important than replacing our broken welfare system. Throughout my Presidency I've been determined to enact reform that requires welfare recipients to work, provides child care, imposes time limits, strengthens child support enforcement by cracking down on deadbeat parents, requires teen mothers to stay in school as a condition of welfare. When necessary, I've acted without Congress. Our administration has approved 67 separate welfare reform experiments in 40 States to move people from welfare to work. Fully three-quarters of all welfare recipients are living under new rules right now. The New York Times has called it a quiet revolution in welfare. Today, 1.3 million fewer people are on welfare than the day I took office, and child support collections are up 40 percent.
For 3 1/2 years I've worked with Congress to craft legislation that replaces welfare with work. For months, the Republicans insisted that welfare reform be attached to a plan I strongly feel is misguided, to repeal Medicaid's guarantee of quality health care for elderly Americans, poor children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities. I'm determined to make welfare reform the law of the land, but I've also made it clear that I will not allow Medicaid to be destroyed, and I don't care what bill it's attached to.
This week the Republican leaders in Congress announced that they are ready to work with me to pass a straightforward welfare reform bill that I can sign into law, instead of sending me legislation they know I'll veto. This can be a real breakthrough, a genuine turning point. We are very close to replacing a broken welfare system with one that requires work, offers opportunity, and demands responsibility. If we work hard and work together we should now be able to pass real welfare reform and do it very soon.
Already bipartisan legislation has been proposed in the Senate by Democrat John Breaux and Republican John Chafee and in the House by Republican Mike Castle and Democrat John Tanner. These are good, strong bills. They would end welfare as we know it. They should be the basis for quick agreement between the parties. And I look forward to having a bipartisan welfare reform bill within the next month.
We should also extend this same spirit to our other pressing challenges as well. We should pass the Kassebaum-Kennedy health insurance reform bill which could benefit 25 million Americans by saying that you don't lose your health insurance when you change jobs or just because someone in your family has been sick. In its strongest form, this bill passed the Senate unanimously. But for months it slowed to a crawl as Republicans insisted on an untested and unlimited proposal for so-called medical savings accounts that have nothing to do with the fundamental purposes of Kennedy-Kassebaum reforms. So I urge them to reject the political games, and let's come to a quick agreement.
We should also reform our illegal immigration laws. I support legislation that builds on our efforts to restore the rule of law to our borders, ensures that American jobs are reserved for legal workers, and boosts deportation of criminal aliens. But some insist on kicking the children of illegal immigrants out of school. Every major law enforcement organization says this could lead to more crime. So let's put aside this punitive measure and reform our illegal immigration laws now.
It's no secret that this is a political year. And there will be plenty of time to discuss our differences in the months to come. But our Nation faces challenges that cannot wait until November: real welfare reform, a minimum wage increase, access to health insurance, stronger immigration laws. We can achieve all these things now if we work together.
I look forward to working with Majority Leader Lott, Speaker Gingrich, and the Democratic leaders of Congress to do the people's business in the coming weeks. If we're willing to put our differences aside for the sake of the American people, we can make this a time of genuine achievement for our Nation. It would not only be good for both parties, it would be very good for America.
Thanks for listening.