Good morning. With only 5 days left in the current fiscal year, Congress still has a lot of work to do. For almost 7 years now, Vice President Gore and I have pursued a new economic strategy that focused on fiscal discipline, expanding trade in American products and services, and investing in our people and new technology.
The results are now clear. The past 6 1/2 years have produced the longest peacetime expansion in history: more than 19 million new jobs; rising wages; the lowest unemployment, welfare, and crime rates in a generation; the highest levels of homeownership ever; a balanced budget; and the largest surplus ever. It has given the American people more money in their paychecks, lower interest rates for homes and cars, more help through efforts like the HOPE scholarship to open the doors of college to all. We're on a path of progress and prosperity. The American people want it to continue.
That's why 2 days ago I vetoed the Republicans' risky $792 billion tax plan. It was just too big, too bloated; it would place too big a burden on our economy and run the risk of higher interest rates and lower growth. Also, it didn't add a day to the Social Security Trust Fund or a dollar to Medicare. And it would have forced cuts of nearly 50 percent in everything from education to health care to the environment to veterans programs to national security, even in air traffic safety.
It would have created an untenable choice for the Congress: these irresponsible cuts on the one hand; or on the other, diverting ever more funds from the Social Security surplus and from debt reduction. We said, all of us did just a few months ago, that we shouldn't spend the Social Security surplus anymore.
Today I say again to the congressional majority, we don't have to do that. I gave them a plan to expand the life of the Social Security Trust Fund 50 years, to extend Medicare over 25 years, and add prescription drug coverage, to invest in education and other priorities, to provide an affordable tax cut, and still to pay down the debt and make us debt-free as a nation for the first time since 1835.
But the congressional majority continues on a track that doesn't adequately fund America's real priorities, while already spending large amounts of the Social Security surplus, instead of preserving it for debt reduction. A month ago their own Congressional Budget Office estimated they'd used $16 to $19 billion of the surplus for Social Security, and steps they've taken since then have only made it go higher. They have used what the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and others have called budget gimmicks to give the impression that they have simply created $17 billion out of thin air.
At the same time, they're still not providing nearly enough for education and other vital priorities. In fact, the very same day I vetoed their budget-busting tax plan, they passed a bill out of committee that would seriously undermine our efforts to strengthen education. It would eliminate our effort to hire 100,000 quality teachers and reduce class size, something they themselves endorsed last year at election time. It would deny hundreds of thousands of young people access to after-school programs. It would eliminate our mentoring program, which is designed to get poor children into college. It doesn't improve or expand Head Start. It cuts the successful America Reads program, which now involves students from a thousand colleges going to tens of thousands of our young children to make sure they can read. It cuts our efforts to connect all our classrooms and schools to the Internet by the year 2000. And, again, there's not any funding for our plan to build or modernize 6,000 schools. All this at a time when we need to be doing more, not less, to prepare for the 21st century, for what is now the largest group of schoolchildren in our history.
There's a better way. The Republicans should work with us to create a budget that pays for itself with straightforward proposals like our tobacco policy. They should work with us to create a real Social Security lockbox that would devote the entire surplus to debt reduction from Social Security taxes and extend the life of Social Security until the middle of the next century, something their plan doesn't do.
Thursday I asked the Republicans to work with me on bipartisan Medicare proposal to modernize Medicare and provide voluntary prescription drug benefits and keep it solvent until 2027. Following a meeting with my advisers, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Bill Roth, has agreed to engage in serious discussion on meaningful Medicare reform.
I'm reaching out to the Republicans to engage with us on Medicare. I want to do the same on education, on Social Security, on paying down our debt. We owe it to the American people to give it our best efforts. The results could make the 21st century America's best days.
Thanks for listening.