Remarks on Anticrime Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. The vote in the House of Representatives tonight is a great victory for all lawabiding Americans. It's also a victory for all Americans who have longed to change the way Government works here in our Nation's Capital, who have wanted us for a long time to go beyond labels and partisan divisions and false choices to commonsense solutions to our most profound national challenges.
For 6 long years, under two previous Presidents, our families were under siege; violence on our streets increased. Washington talked a lot about crime during these years but did not act.
Well, tonight Democrats and Republicans joined together, and they acted. They reached across party lines to pass the toughest and smartest crime bill in the history of the United States. The House moved beyond politics as usual to assume responsibility for protecting our citizens and for punishing those who prey on them and for giving our children a better future.
I am very grateful for the cooperation in this effort of several Members of the House in the Republican Party who worked hard with the Democrats in the House and with our administration to make improvements in this bill over the last few days. This is the way Washington ought to work, and I hope it will work this way in the future.
Let me remind you: This crime bill will put 100,000 police officers on our streets. It will keep repeat violent criminals off our streets with longer sentences and with the "three strikes and you're out" law and with funds to build prisons to hold those criminals. It will prohibit juveniles from owning handguns and ban deadly assault weapons and provide prevention funds to our local communities to give our children something to say yes to and to give people the opportunity to teach our children who need it right from wrong.
And the entire crime bill was fully paid for— and I want to emphasize this again—this major attack on crime is fully paid for not with new taxes, not by taking money away from current expenditures but by reducing the Federal Government to its lowest level in 30 years, by over 270,000, a major focus of our reinventing Government efforts. And all that money will be taken from the Federal budget and given to local communities to empower them to keep the American people safer.
Still, in spite of the great strengths of this bill, many of the same forces that prevented a crime bill from passing for 6 years were also present here, especially over the assault weapons issue. We received great pressure after the crime bill stalled in the House to simply remove the assault weapons ban. But we held firm, though the opposition was intense and the outcome was uncertain. We held firm because we owed it to the brave men and women in police uniforms who go out and risk their lives for the rest of us every day, and we owed it to the law-abiding citizens of this country. We must never walk away from our fundamental responsibilities in this area.
Let me remind you now that this fight is far from over. We now move to the Senate, which must pass the bill this week. But I hope that the Senators watched this debate, and I hope they watched the events of the last few days. And I hope they watched the Republicans and the Democrats working together for the safety of the people of the United States. After all, as I said the other day, this must not be a Democratic crime bill or a Republican crime bill; this crime bill must belong to the American people. And I urge the Senate to pass it without delay.
Q. Mr. President, as you know, there are many opponents in the Senate who are already threatening a filibuster. Do you believe there are 60 Senators who will vote in favor of this package?
The President. Well, I would remind you that there were over 90 Senators who voted for a crime bill that was about this expensive, cost about this amount of money. I have given them a way to pay for it without new taxes and without taking away from other Government expenditures. The crime bill the Senate passed the first time had the assault weapons ban in it. It had prevention funds in it. It had tougher punishment in it. So, since this bill is essentially what they passed before—because the Senate also passed 100,000 police officers—those who change their vote will have to explain it and will bear the burden of doing so.
We've seen enough politics on this crime bill. The time has come to pass it. And yes, I believe that when the time comes there will be 60 votes to pass a crime bill.
Q. Mr. President, you said you hope this vote changes the way Washington works. Will you change the way you work and tone down your partisan rhetoric and reach more quickly out to the Republicans?
The President. Well, Mr. Fournier [Ron Fournier, Associated Press], I disagree with you. I have always sought first on every major bill to reach out to the Republicans. And the minute it became obvious that we had a chance to do so here, I did it.
I do want to say that that group which worked so closely with the administration and with some of the Democrats who were working on this bill proceeded in good faith. I appreciate what they did. I know they, too, were under partisan pressure on their side not to do it.
But as long as we can have a working bipartisan majority to get something good done for America, I'm going to be there leading the charge. And I'm hopeful that this represents a change in attitudes across the board. It's what I had hoped to bring to Washington when I came here. And I think it's what the American people want us to do.
Health Care Reform
Q. What lessons have you learned from this exchange on the crime bill that you think might be useful in going forward with health care reform?
The President. That's hard to say——
Q. Specifically on the matter of the mainstream version now in the Senate, is that something you would support?
The President. The issue—but the issue in every case is, are the people involved willing to look at what actually will work?
What happened to us here in this crime bill in the last couple of days is that we even had people meeting with us who voted against the assault weapons ban. We had people meeting with us who thought that the bill was too costly but that there did need to be some money put into prevention to give these kids a better future. And the discussion was unfailingly about what was reasonable, what was practical, and what would work. What gets Washington all jammed up is when ideology and labels overtake what is the clear reality of a circumstance.
And I think that that would be possible in the health care debate. But everybody would have to be willing to sort of leave their preconceived positions at the door, at least be prepared to moderate them some in order to achieve the goal that we all say we want. Everybody says we want two things, to keep the health care system we have but (a) achieve coverage for all Americans and (b) do it in ways that control costs in the years to come. The issue is, will we really look at that? And I hope we will. I am very hopeful.
All I can tell you is, I'm going to bend over backwards, even though I am not a Member of the Congress; I do not control the procedures in the Congress. I think the fact that this procedure worked well should auger well for the future. And I hope people in both parties will at least seek this opportunity on major pieces of legislation.
Q. Sounds like you support the mainstream proposal in the Senate.
The President. That's not what I said. I don't know what it is. I haven't had a chance to study it.
Q. Will you get your birthday wish and go on vacation?
The President. I hope so. I don't know yet. I missed my other one by one stroke yesterday. [Laughter]
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:16 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on Anticrime Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/218261