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Interview With Mark Riley and Laura Blackburne of WLIB Radio, New York City

October 18, 1994

Mr. Riley. Mr. President, good morning.

Mr. Riley. Fine, thank you.

The President. Good morning. How are you?

Ms. Blackburne. Good morning, Mr. President.

Mr. Riley. Thank you so much for being with us.

The President. I'm glad to do it. It's nice to hear your voice.

President's Visit to New York City

Mr. Riley. Mr. President, you're coming here to New York tomorrow to speak to issues pertaining directly to the economy at a session that was called by Governor Mario Cuomo. Tell us a bit about this particular event.

The President. Well, I was invited by the Governor to speak there on the Governor's Leadership Conference on the Future of the Economy, and I wanted to come and talk about what we have done so far in the first 2 years of our administration to try to help bring back the national economy and the New York economy.

The unemployment rate in New York has dropped 2 percentage points since I've been President. New businesses are up; the business failure rate is down about 20 percent. We're moving forward. But there are still some significant challenges for the New York economy. There are still people who want jobs who don't have them. There are people who are stuck in jobs who aren't getting raises. There are still large numbers of people without health insurance. There are still some barriers to investment in inner cities and in some of your rural areas, too.

So what I want to do is talk about the partnership that I see unfolding in the next couple of years, how New York can make the most of the enterprise zone concept that I'm pushing, how New York can make the most of the community development banks that we just created to make loans to low income people in inner cities to start their own businesses and to get investment flowing. I just want to talk about how we can bring this economy back even more and how the people who haven't been touched by the recovery can be helped.

Community Development and Job Creation

Ms. Blackburne. Mr. President, I wanted to ask you, many of the people that are in the WLIB listening area are very much affected by the fact that jobs are not available to them. We have people involved in their own entrepreneurial efforts who are being frustrated. Part of it is seen as an unwillingness on the part of the Republican administration to target jobs to people in the African-American community. How would your partnership address that?

The President. It would do that in several ways. First of all, we're trying to make the African-American community more accessible to capital to start jobs. One real problem we have in America is that once areas get high unemployment rates and people leave it, don't invest there, it's almost impossible to get loans to start businesses and to begin them. Floyd Flake, a Congressman from Queens, has been particularly active in working to help to set up a new network of development banks around the country so that we can get money, capital, into these areas to start businesses.

If you look at the opportunities for economic growth within America, inner-city areas and rural areas, especially those that are heavily minority populated are a great opportunity for economic growth, because unemployment is high and the potential for consumer demand to grow is enormous. So the first thing we've got to do is to get some money in there.

The second thing we have to do is to try to increase direct investment in the form of infrastructure projects, community development projects. And one of the things that came out of the crime bill, for example, was a real commitment to try to put people to work at the grassroots level in neighborhoods, solving the problems of the neighborhoods there. And that will become a short-term boost in a lot of our cities throughout the country.

Over the long run, what we've got to do is get investment there. And the last thing I want to point out is that we really worked hard to increase the capacity of people in the inner cities to get the training they need to take the jobs that are opening up. Like New York, for example, has gained about 102,000 jobs in the private sector since I've been President. In the previous 4 years, New York lost 500,000 jobs. So there will still be a lot of people who once had jobs who don't now—that's 300,000 different—but it shows you we're coming back. What we've got to do is keep the jobs coming back and also make sure people who are unemployed can get those jobs.

Welfare Reform

Mr. Riley. Mr. President, I wanted to ask you about one initiative that you put forward this year, and that's specifically welfare reform.

There are a number of poor people and single mothers in our listening audience who feel demonized when the subject of welfare reform comes up, because it appears as though they are being stereotyped in terms of not wanting to work, not wanting to find a job, et cetera, when it has been the experience of many people in our community that this is not the case, that many people on public assistance want desperately to find jobs. Tell us how your welfare reform program would speak to this seeming demonization of single mothers and the poor.

The President. Well, first of all, let me say I agree with what you just said. One of the things that I try to say every time I mention this issue is that the people who most want relief from welfare dependency are the people who are on welfare. I have spent probably more time with people who are actually on public assistance rolls—who are mostly, as you know, young women and their children—than any President ever has, because I served several years as a Governor and I did a lot of work on welfare reform.

What our program would do is to, first of all, try to do more to empower people to move from welfare to work through adequate education and training and health care and child care for the children of welfare recipients, so they can facilitate their move into the workplace.

We also have lowered taxes on workers with children who work full-time for very modest wages so they won't be falling back into poverty, there won't be an incentive to go back on welfare if they get a job.

Now, the trick is going to be how to create enough jobs for people to get them. That is, once you train people for work and once you say that after 2 years they have to go to work if they're not, then there have to be jobs there available. And there are only two options: You either have to have some sort of incentive for the private sector to hire more people, or people have to go to work in public jobs, community service jobs. And we're working on both. I just approved—I've approved 18 experiments in 18 separate States to try things to put people from welfare to work. And the State of Oregon has just gotten permission from our administration to actually give welfare checks to private employers as a supplement, and then the employer puts in some pay over and above that. And the idea is that the private work force will grow a lot more because of this extra incentive, and the welfare recipient will get more money than would have been the case just drawing the welfare check by going to work.

So we're doing a lot of things in an experimental way right now to try to make sure we have the jobs there, because I am convinced that almost all people on welfare, given the proper training and knowing that their children won't lose their health care coverage, will gladly choose work over welfare.

President's Vision

Ms. Blackburne. I agree with that, Mr. President. I wanted to ask another question, a little broader, moving away directly from the economy for a moment. You've been pretty much beat up and brutalized as the President. And many of the great things that you have done and wanted to do have been sort of made to appear frivolous and silly. What is it that you do personally—[inaudible]—your vision of how you see your Presidency going? How do you keep your dream alive?

The President. That's one of the best questions anybody's ever asked me. Well, first of all, I work on it a lot personally. I mean, I begin each day and I end each day talking with my wife about where we are and where we're going. I pray a lot. And I try to remember every day I'm here that there are real people out there I'm trying to help and that there may be times when a lot of Americans don't even know what I've done or tried to do because of the incredible contentious atmosphere in which public life is conducted today.

But I just try to keep my eyes on my vision for this country. I want to keep the American dream alive for every American. I want us to go into the next century with everybody being able to compete and win in this global economy. I want it to be a more peaceful world.

And I know that the economy is in better shape, that we're doing things for ordinary Americans, like family leave and immunizing children and trying to get investments into poor areas. I know that this country is a safer and more secure place because Russian missiles aren't pointed at us, and we're making peace in Haiti, the Middle East, Northern Ireland.

I know that we're moving in the right direction, and I just have to keep that flame alive inside me. I tell our staff all the time, when things get really rough around here because of the politics, that it's not important every day what ordinary Americans think about us, but it is important what we think about ordinary Americans every day and that we just keep our vision alive, and I work on it.

But you asked a good question, and it's harder some days than others, but I find that if I really follow a disciplined effort to just work at the task every day and to remember the people, the real Americans that are out there I'm trying to help, every day is still a joy to go to work.

Ms. Blackburne. That's great.

Democratic Congressional Support

Mr. Riley. Mr. President, there seems to be a perception afoot among many in the country that the Republican Party seems to be more organized around its agenda than the Democrats are around theirs. Many of your initiatives, including a jobs bill that would have brought some money to New York, were scuttled in some measure or to some extent by members of your own party. Why is that? Why does it appear to most Americans that the Republicans are organized, they know what they want, but the Democrats don't?

The President. Well, part of it is what they want to do. Sam Rayburn said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one." [Laughter] So it's a lot easier to kick down the barn, you know. They all voted against my economic program, for example, which brought the deficit down and brought the economy back and provided college loans to 20 million people and Head Start positions to 200,000 more kids and immunizations to all the children in this country under the age of 2. I mean, they all voted against it. They just lined up like robots and said no.

So they, at the end of this session of Congress, they killed campaign finance reform and political lobby reform and some important environmental measures to clean up toxic waste dumps, for example. They just killed them all because they didn't want anybody to be able to say that they'd done these things. So it's easier to say no than to say yes. You can always find a reason to say no, particularly if you think it's politically advantageous.

Now, the Democrats, on the other hand, if you go back 50 years, the Democratic Party has always been, particularly in the Congress, much more diverse. You know, we have very liberal Democrats; we have very conservative Democrats. We have Democrats that come from very rural areas; we have Democrats that come from the inner city. And when you're trying to put together a program to actually do things, it's harder to do.

Now having said that, let me just say one thing in defense of the Democrats in the Congress. We haven't gotten the figures for this year, but last year, according to the Congressional Quarterly, which is a nonpartisan research service, the Democrats in the Congress supported me more strongly than any President since Roosevelt, except for one brief period when President Johnson was passing the civil rights legislation. And we had a higher rate of success in passing bills through Congress last year, even though the stimulus didn't pass, than any President except for President Eisenhower in '53 and President Johnson in '65.

So I think that the Congress has gotten a little bit of a bum rap. If they fail to do something, it's news for weeks. If they do something, it's news for 30 minutes. So, we actually—if you look at what we did, we passed an economic program that reversed trickle-down economics; we've passed major expansions in global trade; we've done an awful lot. I've mentioned a few things, family leave, the motor voter bill, tax cuts for low income working families. We passed the Brady bill, and we passed the crime bill with its ban on assault weapons and juvenile handgun ownership and prevention programs and 100,000 more police for our cities, in the face of bitter, bitter Republican opposition.

So, if you look at the overall record, we've been able to do quite a bit. Do I wish we'd done more? Yes, I do. Do I hope we'll do more next year? I wish—you know, we had another million Americans lose their health insurance this year. I want to pass health care reform. But we've done quite a lot, and I think it's important to defend the Democrats for hanging together as much as they have, because they've had to do it in the face of this blistering criticism and people distorting all out of proportion their positions and what they've done. So, I'd say, like Mr. Rayburn said, it's easier to kick down a barn than build one. And we're the barn builders, and we're going to keep trying to do it.


Mr. Riley. Mr. President, thank you so much for being with us on WLIB this morning. On behalf of our very large Haitian listening audience, I have to say, on a personal note, thank you for what you did in Haiti.

The President. Well, I am elated so far. President Aristide has done a fine job. And our young men and women in uniform, some of whom by the way are Haitian-Americans, have performed superbly down there. I'm very, very proud of them.

Looking forward to being with Governor Cuomo tomorrow and talking about New York's future.

Mr. Riley. Okay.

Ms. Blackburne. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. Goodbye.

Mr. Riley. Thank you. I hope that you can come by our studio one day.

The President. Thanks.

Mr. Riley. You take care.

The President. Goodbye.

NOTE: The interview began at 9:50 a.m. The President spoke by telephone from the Oval Office at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Interview With Mark Riley and Laura Blackburne of WLIB Radio, New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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