Remarks at a Democratic Business Council Dinner
Thank you. I wonder if you were just clapping because you were surprised I could stand up. [Laughter] Let me say I'm delighted to see all of you here tonight. I want to say a special word of thanks to Carol Pensky for her willingness to lead this group and for her leadership ability, and to my good friend Alan Solomont for agreeing to come on as the finance director of the Democratic Party when he knew it would be such an easy job just now, to Roy Romer for what he said and for what he's been and for the friendship we've enjoyed over so many years. And I'd also like to say a word of thanks to Steve Grossman, who is not here tonight because they've had 24 inches of snow in Boston. Now, Solomont didn't use that for an excuse, and I haven't quite figured out how. But anyway, I thank them all.
I'd like to thank Secretary and Mrs. Pen˜ a and Secretary and Mrs. Slater and Frank Raines for coming tonight, as well as the people from our staff in the White House and the Vice President's staff. We're glad to have this opportunity to visit with you and to talk tonight.
You know, this was an interesting day for me at the White House for more reasons than one. But you may have seen reported in the news that today we had an event in which the secretary of public instruction for the State of California—which has over 10 percent of the schoolchildren in the country—and the heads of 240 different high-tech companies jointly endorsed the national standards movement in education that I have been advancing and that I talked about in the State of the Union and agreed that the children of California would participate in 1999 in the examination of fourth grade students in reading and eighth grade students in math to see if they had met those standards. And that meant that within a period of only 2 months since the State of the Union, we now have 20 percent of all the schoolchildren in the country already committed to be a part of that.
And we had—the most moving thing to me was we had a teacher of 30 years and a parent who was the vice president of her local PTA, both of them from different California communities, both of them, as it happened, Hispanic-Americans, who said that they strongly believe that all of our children should be held to high standards. And the teacher said, "If there's one thing I've learned about kids, it's if you have high expectations, they rise to meet them, and if you don't have high expectations of them, they don't. And we owe it to them to have high expectations." And then the parent said that she had been educated at a time when everyone just assumed that, and she didn't know how we lost our way, and that she wanted to see the country come back.
Then Jim Barksdale, the CEO of Netscape, talked about how everything that was done in the high-tech community had to meet high international standards, and it was amazing that America had escaped applying those kinds of standards to our system of education for as long as possible. Then the head of the California School Board Association came up to me. And I thought, well, this is interesting because the reason America has never had national standards in schools is that we have local control of our schools and every time we try to do something like this—and Governor Romer and I have been working at this for a very long time now—they would say, "Well, this ends local control." So the head of the California School Board Association, who is herself a member of the local school board, said, "I finally figured out that we couldn't have local control without national standards." She said, "What kind of control is it if—what are you controlling for? The only reason I wanted to be on the school board is to improve the education of the children in the school district, and how could I do this unless I knew what the measure was, unless I could tell whether I was succeeding or not?" And I thought to myself, we are doing something really important here. This is going to change America. This is going to give people opportunities that they would not have otherwise had. And it has ramifications in other ways.
I want to talk a little more about this in a moment, but you know we've got this new welfare reform law that I signed, which requires us to move 40 percent of the eligible people on welfare from welfare to work over the next 4 years, which is about another million people. And we moved about a million people from welfare to work in the last 4 years, but the economy produced 11 1/2 million jobs, and that had never happened in a 4-year period before. This time, under the law, we have to move that many people whether the economy produces 11 1/2 million jobs or not.
And this was the anomaly: Last year in St. Louis, there were nine job applications for every entry-level job opening. In Chicago, there were six. The 240 companies, however, represented in this press conference today have created, just themselves, 130,000 jobs in the last 4 years and today have thousands and thousands of job openings. So there is a mismatch between the people we're trying to move into the work force and the skills required to get there. This is a huge deal.
I say that to make this point. I see what we are all doing as part of the seamless web of moving America into the 21st century, and I want you to know that I'm proud that you have decided to help support us, support these policies. If the election did not come out the way it did last November, that meeting would not have been held in the White House today. We would not be doing this. This would not be America's great national priority now. And you helped to make it possible, and you ought to be proud of it. You ought to be proud of it. So I thank you for that.
Now let me give you just a quick rundown on where we are. Number one, on the budget, I have submitted my budget by the—the budget resolution requires the congressional majority to submit at least the outline of a budget by April 15th. That may or may not happen. But for whatever it's worth, I really believe we'll get a bipartisan balanced budget agreement this year. I think it is the right thing to do for the country. And because it's the right thing to do for the country, it is by definition good for the Democratic Party to do. But it is clearly the right thing to do for the country.
And I want to say a special word of thanks to Frank Raines, who came into OMB at a difficult time and has helped us to produce a fine budget, and we're going to get there. And I hope that you will encourage your Members of Congress and your friends in the Congress, whether they represent you directly or not, to support this. If it's the right thing for the country it, by definition, is the right thing for our party. And we need to keep this economic expansion going, and we need to get an agreement for a balanced budget that protects our investments in the future and in our people. And ours does, and we can get that kind of agreement through Congress if we all work on it.
The second thing I want to say is we need to continue to expand trade. I'm going to Latin America later this year. I have to go—because of my injury now, I have to go in two legs. I'm going to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean; then I'm going to go back to South America later in the year. There's some controversy, I know, still, about whether we did the right thing in NAFTA or not. All I can tell you is our exports are at an all-time high as a percentage of our economy. And export jobs, on the whole, pay better. And for whatever our difficulties with Mexico are, if you look back at the last time the Mexican economy collapsed before NAFTA 10 years previously, they were 2 or 3 times as rough then. We have been in much better shape because we have created a trading bloc with Canada and Mexico. And we have to do more trade with our neighbors in Central and South America. We have to do it.
Last year for the first time, while we're still debating what we want to do, the MERCOSUR countries in South America did more trade with Europe than the United States. And it is time— we've got to take a serious look at this. And again I would say, from the time of Franklin Roosevelt the Democratic Party has been on the side of free and fair trade, and we can achieve both. And I think any of you who've worked with Mickey Kantor, when he was our trade ambassador, or Charlene Barshefsky know that we have worked hard and we have fought hard for fair trade for the American workers and the American businesses. And we will continue to do that.
But in a world growing ever more interdependent, when uncertainties abound, we need to be tied as closely as we can to our democratic neighbors who are willing to work with us and build a common future with us. So especially with regard to the important countries in South America and Latin America, I think we have to do more, and that will be a big issue in this year.
On the social front, let me say one of the things I'm proudest of is that we've proved to ourselves as Americans in the last 4 years that we don't have to put up with social conditions we know are unconscionable. People now know they don't have to put up with a crime rate that's unconscionable. We have the crime rate now going down every year, and we have before the Congress a juvenile justice proposal that I believe will find strong bipartisan support and will enable us to keep lowering the crime rate.
But I would just say again—and I hope we'll have your support in this—while the crime rate is going down, the juvenile crime rate is still too high. While drug use is going down, drug use among juveniles is still going up. Still too many kids out there who are disconnected, don't feel connected to the future, don't feel connected to their neighborhood, their families, their schools, or anything else. And while we need a juvenile crime bill that is tough, we also need one that is compassionate, intelligent, and gives these young people something to say yes to. And that's one of the reasons that I'm proud to be a member of this party, that we believe in the human potential of everybody. And I am determined that before I leave this job, we will have put a stake in the ground that proves that we do not have to lose the thousands and thousands and thousands of our young people we continue to lose every year. And if we do the right thing, we won't lose them.
Let me just mention two other things. We've taken a lot of steps to strengthen family life and work life for families in this country in the last 4 years, whether it was in the family and medical leave law or raising the minimum wage or passing the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill or the V-chip bill, the television rating standards, the anti-teen-smoking initiative. But one of the biggest problems we still have is that there are still 10 million of our children who don't have health insurance. And a lot of them don't have health insurance because their parents lose jobs or change jobs. We have a proposal before the Congress that we believe would provide insurance to half of those children in the next 4 years. There are bipartisan proposals on that. I am very, very hopeful that we will do something in this Congress which will take a long step toward providing health insurance for all the children in this country. And that's important.
We have also proved that we could lower the welfare rolls quite a bit and far more than the economy alone can account for. The welfare rolls have gone down by about 2 1/2 million now in the 4 years and 2 months that I've been in office. And we know from the patterns of the past that about half this decline would have occurred just because the economy got better. But we also know that about half the decline occurred because people were working at it, States, communities, people believing in welfare reform, people believing that able-bodied people who wanted to go to work ought to have the chance to go to work.
Now, this welfare reform law, as I said, requires us to do more. And I will have more to say about this later. But I've asked every State in the country to take the welfare check and make it available to employers as a wage and training subsidy, if that will help. I'm trying to get the Congress to pass a very tightly targeted tax credit that's worth up to half of the wage of a welfare recipient who goes into a new job for an employer at a pay of up to $10,000 a year. But we are going to have to have help from the private sector and every community in this country to meet these goals. We cannot let welfare reform become an excuse for hurting children. It's got to be an excuse— or the pretext or the lever by which we liberate families from dependency. And we can do this. It is clear that we can do it. But we're going to have to work at it with great discipline. And I hope all of you will be willing to help. There are some people in this audience tonight who've already hired people from welfare to work and I want to—you know who you are, and I thank you for doing that. But that will be a big part of what we're up against.
With regard to the work that the Vice President and I have been doing on reinventing Government and changing the way the Government works, you should know now that the Government has 285,000 fewer people than it did on the day I became President in 1993—dramatic downsizing. And yet I'm confident that we are providing better service to more people in different ways, because we've worked at it very hard. We will continue to do that.
We passed lobby reform legislation. We passed legislation to require Congress to live under the laws it imposes on others. The next thing we have to do is to pass a campaign finance reform. I believe that the McCain-Feingold bill should pass. I am strongly supporting it. But there are some other things that I think ought to be done as well, and I would like to ask all of you to think about this. You've been involved in this deeply. You know as well as I do that the exponential rise in the costs of communicating with the voters is what has led the exponential rise in the costs of the campaign.
There is a coalition in America today working to get free television time for candidates. And if we could get that free television time for candidates, only those candidates who agree to observe certain spending restraints, that would do more to change the incentives and to change the framework in which we all operate and to give everybody a fair chance to get their message across than anything else.
I have just seen an interesting analysis of the unprecedented amount of time—free television time that was given to Senator Dole and to me in the last election. And while it shows that only about 22 percent of the American people saw our spots that we did—your know, we did spots for—several of the networks gave us time to talk—1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes—on various issues. Sometimes we were both asked the same questions, and our answers were run back to back on successive nights. Sometimes we were given the opportunity just to talk about certain subjects. But the analysis showed that, on the whole, there was more policy information in these free timeslots than either in our paid ads or in the news coverage of the campaign— more policy information—that they tended to be less negative, less personal, but they tended to draw out the legitimate issue differences between the candidates. I believe that would happen in the races for Congress as well.
And so what I think we need to be thinking about is, how are we going to improve the way this thing works? I also would urge all of you to think about what we could do to make voting more accessible, to change the—to think about this campaign reform as a way of giving the country more and more to the people who have to live with the decisions that are made in the elections. But there are a lot of exciting opportunities out there that I hope you will help us to pursue.
Finally, let me say that I think this will be a very big year in our country for charting our role in the world ahead. We had a very good summit with President Yeltsin in Helsinki. We have agreed to try to reach agreement within a short period of time to lower our respective nuclear arsenals to 2,000 to 2,500 warheads, which would be an 80 percent reduction from the cold war high of just 5 years ago, by 10 years from now. That's a very important thing, an 80 percent reduction.
I am going to have this week a bipartisan event to try to highlight the importance of our passing the Chemical Weapons Convention this year, which is absolutely imperative. The United States cannot afford not to be in the forefront of banishing chemical weapons from the Earth. We are trying to do something to restrict severely and eventually ban landmines. We are working hard on that. We hope to have some progress to report on that this year.
You know what we've been doing on the Middle East peace. The only thing I can tell you is, the one thing I've learned about those folks is don't give up. Don't give up on it. No matter how bad the headlines are, don't give up. And we've got some very good ideas; we're working on that.
I believe the Vice President had an extremely successful trip to China. He was able to spend some high-level time that we had not spent— our country had not been able to spend since our differences over Tiananmen Square—just making sure they understood how we looked at the world and we understood how they looked at the world and charting the areas where we could work together, particularly in the areas of nuclear proliferation where the Chinese supported us with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty last year and dealing with the problems on the Korean Peninsula, in trying to resolve some of our economic disputes. And he also gave a very powerful human rights speech while he was there, of which I was very proud. I think it was a very good trip.
And I believe that by the end of the year, you will see with that, the expansion of NATO, the other things that are going on, we will be a lot closer to a world which has more democracy, more free market economics, more cooperation, and where we're making progress in trying to beat back the new security threats of our time.
In short, this really is an age of great possibility, and it requires us to work together. But in the kind of country we have where the public sector is limited and the private sector is large, which I like, you have to play a role in public decisions, and it's good citizenship. And that's what you're doing. And again, let me say I'm proud of you. I appreciate what you've done, and I hope that you will continue to make your voices heard on the things that we are doing.
We have a lot of other decisions I haven't even gone into tonight. Secretary Slater's here; we're going to redo the transportation bill this year. Secretary Pen˜ a has got a lot of our most important research going on in the Department of Energy. We've got a lot going on. We want you to be a part of it. But we want you to be proud of the fact that what you have done has made America a better place. In 4 more years, it'll be a much better place, indeed.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:28 p.m. at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Carol Pensky, treasurer, Alan Solomont, national finance chair, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, general chair, and Steve Grossman, national chair, Democratic National Committee; Secretary of Energy Federico Pen˜ a's wife, Ellen Hart Pen˜ a; and Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater's wife, Cassandra Wilkins Slater.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Business Council Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223605