Good morning. At this time of great progress and hope for our Nation, we have the chance of a lifetime to build an even stronger America in the 21st century by facing our great longterm challenges like saving Social Security and Medicare, paying off our national debt and bringing economic opportunity to people and places left behind in our recovery, giving all our children a world-class education—and the challenge I want to speak with you about today: fighting crime and making America the world's safest big nation.
For too many years it looked as if the crime rate would rise forever. In too many places, families barricaded themselves behind barred doors and windows; children were afraid to walk to school; and once thriving communities became proving grounds for lawless gangs.
I took office determined to change this. More than 6 1/2 years ago, Vice President Gore and I put in place a tough, smart anticrime strategy of more police, better prevention, and tougher punishments; a strategy that took assault weapons off our streets and kept illegal guns out of the hands of criminals and away from our children; above all, an anticrime strategy that funded local solutions to local problems, spearheaded by Attorney General Janet Reno, herself a former prosecutor.
This strategy, pioneered in our communities, has been taken nationwide by our 1994 crime bill. It has worked beyond all expectations. The murder rate is down to its lowest level in 30 years; overall crime, its lowest level in 26 years; violent crime has dropped by 27 percent in the last 6 years alone. And in many smaller ways, reducing crimes like vandalism that undermine our quality of life, we're beginning to restore civility to our everyday lives. Community policing has been central to our success. This May I was proud to announce that since I signed the crime bill in 1994, we've funded 100,000 community police officers to work with local citizens, identify problems, track criminals, and help bring people and life back to our streets.
Today I'm pleased to announce 65 new grants to help communities around the country hire more than 800 new police officers, including 200 community police officers right here in the District of Columbia. We'll also help the District hire 40 new community prosecutors to work closely with police and with residents on our streets, in our neighborhoods, to fight and prevent crime.
Every major law enforcement organization supports our community policing program. I propose to put 50,000 more officers in our neighborhoods, those that still have too much crime. But our ability to continue to do this— indeed, our ability to meet many of our vital national needs—will be put at risk by the tax and budget plan now being pressed by Republican leaders in Congress. This week the Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a reckless plan that would cost $800 billion in the next 10 years and a staggering $3 trillion over the next two decades. It is so large, and it balloons in size so dramatically in future years that it would make it impossible to invest our surplus to save Social Security, to save and strengthen Medicare with a prescription drug benefit, to pay off our national debt.
Beyond that, the GOP tax cut is so large it would require dramatic cuts in vital areas, such as education, the environment, biomedical research, defense, and crime fighting. The Republican budget already cuts our successful community policing proposal in half. Their reckless tax plan would threaten law enforcement across the board, forcing reductions in the number of Federal agents and cutting deeply into support for State and local law enforcement. To make matters worse, of course, the House Republicans are refusing to take steps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, like closing the gun show loophole. Indeed, they want to weaken the existing laws with a pawnshop loophole. To keep the crime rate falling, we need more police on the street and fewer guns in the hands of criminals, not the reverse.
We have a rare and fleeting chance to use the fruits of our prosperity today to build America for tomorrow. We can invest now to save Social Security and modernize Medicare for the 21st century with more prevention for cancer, osteoporosis, and other conditions and with that prescription drug benefit; to lift our children by improving their education; to pay off the national debt for the first time since 1835 and give a generation lower interest rates for businesses, for home mortgages, for car, credit card, and college loan payments—that means more jobs and higher incomes; to bring economic opportunity through investment to our poorest areas that are left behind; to have an affordable tax cut for child care, long-term care, retirement savings, and other things Americans need; and to give our families the securities they deserve by keeping the crime rate coming down.
We can do all these things and have an affordable tax cut, or we can squander our hardwon progress on short-term thinking.
Just remember a few years ago—many people never thought we could balance the budget, but we did, and now we actually have a chance to pay off the national debt. Many never thought we could bring down crime rates, but we did, dramatically. Now we have a chance to achieve something that not too long ago would have seemed pure fantasy. In the early years of the new century, we can make America the safest big nation on Earth. We can do this, but only if we act now in the long-term interest of our Nation.
So, again, I call on the Congress and all Americans to make this a season of progress. Let's keep thinking about tomorrow.
Thanks for listening.