Remarks at a Democratic Campaign Reception in Portland, Maine
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you all for that wonderful welcome, and thank you, Senator Mitchell, for your introduction.
You know, I came here today—having left Washington, which is very hot in the summertime, and I flew to Miami, which is much hotter in the summertime—and I thought I would feel out of place when I got up here in the northern climate of Maine. But you kindly put these lights up and made us all feel right at home. [Laughter] Of course, I may be the only person up here who is still standing when this event is over—[laughter]—but I like the warm welcome you have given.
I want to say, too, how glad I am to be here with your State chair, Victoria Murphy. She's providing great leadership. She's got a lot of energy. I like that. We've got a real ethnic blend up here tonight on this ticket: Senator Baldacci—I would do more for him if he'd brought me a little pasta tonight so I could eat—[laughter]—Senator Dutremble. I want you to send them to Congress because it matters whether they're there. You know, if a President doesn't want to do anything, it doesn't make much difference who's in Congress. If you get elected to do things to move the country forward, you can't do it unless there are people in Congress who will help. I need them there. More importantly, you need them there, and I want you to send them there.
I love hearing Joe Brennan remind you that, when we were much younger, we served as both attorney general and Governor together. And he said he had notes—you know, I've gotten to the point where I can't remember anything. Joe, I'd like to have those notes back. [Laughter] I will say this: I loved serving with Joe Brennan. And I got to know him pretty well. And there's a kind of nice and unusual camaraderie that often develops among the people who serve in the Governors group. I've been for him every time he's been on the ballot up here, and I'm glad to see that you're going to send him back to the Governor's office where he belongs.
I'd like to say something about Tom Andrews and this Senate seat in connection with George Mitchell. Most of you know from my last trip to Maine what I think of Senator Mitchell and how much I feel indebted to him and how much I think the country is indebted to him. On the night that he called to tell me that he was going to announce the next day that he would not seek reelection, first of all, I accused him of dealing with it on the telephone because he couldn't stand to see a grown man cry. [Laughter] And secondly, I talked to him a second time and a third time, and finally he said, "Look," he said, "Tom Andrews will run, and he'll win, and he'll be just great."
But I want to try to put into some sharp relief what Senator Mitchell said about the voting patterns of the parties. You know, I ran for President as the Governor of my State because I was worried about our country. I was worried about what our future would be like. I was worried about what my daughter would grow up to live in. I thought the economy was going in the wrong direction, the people were coming apart when they ought to be pulling together, and that Government was not working for ordinary people. And I believed that in order for us to go into the 21st century at this moment of enormous opportunity—the end of the cold war, the emergence of a real global village on this planet of ours—in order for us to go into that century strong and healthy and robust, giving every boy and girl the chance to live up to the fullest of their God-given capacities, in a world that was more peaceful, more prosperous, more sane, we had to get the economy turned around, we had to pull the American people together, we had to get this Government to work for ordinary folks again—straightforward, simple, direct objectives.
And the first thing we had to do was to get our economic house in order. It was amazing to me the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of the politics of the last dozen years. When the other crowd was in, they always talked about how much they hated Government and they hated tax-and-spend, they hated this, that, and the other thing, and how evil the deficits were, and how they were trying to be tough. I looked at the facts and I realized that whatever you want to say about Congress, they actually appropriated slightly less money than the previous two Presidents asked them to spend but not enough to overcome the recommendations they made, which cut taxes on the wealthy, raised them on the middle class, exploded the deficit, and drove the economy downhill.
And so I asked the Congress to do something hard, not something easy; not where we would talk one way and do another but where we'd actually do what we said we were going to do: make the tax system fair and bring the deficit down. And the Congress voted by the narrowest of margins—literally by one vote in both Houses—for a plan that had $255 billion in spending cuts; provided tax cuts for 15 million American working families, including almost 61,000 families in Maine; asked the wealthiest 1 1/2 percent of our population, including about 3,700 families in Maine, to pay a tax increase; provided a tax reduction for 90 percent of the small businesses in this country that would invest more in their businesses—90 percent of them—and basically brought about the biggest deficit reduction package in history.
Then this year, we followed up with a budget that eliminates 100 Government programs outright, cuts over 200 others, continues to reduce by attrition the size of the Federal work force, so that by 1999 it will be the smallest it has been since John Kennedy was President of the United States. These are things that the Democrats did. And at the same time we increased our spending on Head Start; we increased our spending on education and training of the work force; we increased our spending on defense conversion like the project that the Bath Iron Works got here to develop commercial shipping; we increased our spending on new technologies for the future; we reformed the student loan laws and made 20 million American students eligible for lower interest rates and better repayment terms.
And we got, as George Mitchell said, 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President of the United States of America. And what are the results: 3.8 million new jobs; in Maine, 17,000 private sector jobs in a year and a half, after 4 years in which you lost 30,000 jobs; last year the largest number of new business starts in America since the end of World War II. That is the record. And the record was established by one vote in both Houses, because the rhetoric, the forces against change, hanging on—so they're coming back one more time talking about tax and spend. When you hear it in a Senate race, you just remember this: When the chips were down, Tom Andrews didn't blink.
When he went up there and cast that vote, he didn't do it for me; he didn't do it for the Congress; he didn't do it for the Democratic Party. He did it for you. He did it for you. And believe it or not, a higher percentage of citizens in the other congressional district in Maine got a tax cut than the ones in his own. But he said yes, and his opponent said no because the other party gave marching orders that no one who wanted to stay in good graces could vote for this plan—no one. They were told no, no, no. Well, we said yes to America. We got 3.8 million new jobs, a point and a half off the unemployment rate, a growing economy, a declining deficit because of that one vote. You need to swell those numbers. Send these men to the Congress. Send him to the Senate, and send a message to America.
Now, we got the same thing all over again on issue after issue after issue. Now we're trying to get a crime bill out of the Congress. It will have bipartisan support if we can just get it to a vote because no one will vote against crime now. This is a big deal. This administration and our allies in Congress are going to provide a 20-percent increase in the number of police officers on the street, not just to catch criminals but to deter crime.
Violent crime has increased by 300 percent in the last 30 years. The number of police officers on the street have increased by 10 percent. It's not hard to figure out what's going on here. We're also going to provide billions of dollars in Maine and all across the country for prevention programs, so that young people will have something to say yes to, not just something to say no to—never been done before in a crime bill, ever in the history.
We are trying to do things. And now, in the last great battle of his career in the Senate, Senator Mitchell's trying to help me pass health care reform. And I want to tell you exactly what we're up against. You know, 500 years ago the Italian political philosopher Machiavelli said, "There is nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things," because the people who will lose what they have will fight you tooth and nail. That's Arkansas, not Machiavelli. [Laughter] But that's what he said. They'll fight you tooth and nail, and the people who will benefit will always be a little hesitant, being unsure of the benefit of change.
Now, what have we achieved already? For the first time ever in the history of the Congress, we have three congressional committees that have voted out plans to provide health care for all Americans. That's never happened before. We never even got a bill out of committee in 60 years of trying.
But again, in this issue, just like on the budget, there's been this huge disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. All those television ads they ran against our plan, they said, "They're going to take your choice of doctor away." Folks, you're losing your choices of doctors now. We're going to give it back to you. They said we're going to ration health care. There are 39 million Americans without health insurance today. They're being rationed right now.
They said that we were going to totally mess up this system with bureaucracy and regulation. Well, let me tell you what we've done. We've made our plan less bureaucratic and less regulatory. We've given small business the option to join big buyers cooperatives. But most of them will do it so they can buy health insurance cheaper instead of more expensive now. Under the present system, small business pays 30 to 40 percent more than big business and government. We provided more help to small business so they can afford to cover their employees more. We have met every criticism that's been leveled against us, except we haven't walked away from trying to provide full coverage to all Americans and trying to constrain the cost of health care and trying to help working families and the elderly with prescription drug benefits and long-term care. We haven't walked away from that. We're still trying to do the things that America needs.
Now, our opponents say this is bad for small business. But let's look at the facts. Most small businesses insure their employees today and they're paying an enormous price for it. Why? Because they pay for everybody that doesn't cover their employees; because, keep in mind, if you get real sick, you show up at the emergency room, you get health care, the rest of us pay the bill; and because small businesses don't have the bargaining power that big business and Government does.
Now, what has happened? We're the only country in the world that this has happened to. In the last 10 years—10 years ago 88 percent of the American people had health coverage; today only 83 percent do. We're going in reverse. That's more than one in six Americans. You think, well, I'm not one of the one in six. Well, let me tell you, if you're very wealthy or you're very poor or you're a politician or you're in jail, you'll always have health care. Otherwise, you might lose it. So just because you're not one of the one in six now doesn't mean you won't be.
Who have we guaranteed health care to in America? Our elderly on Medicare. If you tried to repeal Medicare today there would be a riot, wouldn't there? There would be a riot in America, and there ought to be. Don't working class, middle class Americans deserve the same thing? I think they do.
Now, we have people that say, "Well, let's just tinker around, do a little here, a little there." The problem is that in good conscience I'm not against doing a little, but I want it to be a good little, not a bad little. The truth is there's a lot of evidence that if you just tinker around with some of these recommendations that our opponents have put out, you might actually raise insurance rates more, not help working people at all, and have more people lose their insurance.
Now, this is amazing. We spend 14 percent of our income on health care. Canada spends 10 percent, Germany spends 8 1/2 percent. Nobody's even close to us. Yet everybody else covers 96, 97, 98 percent of the people, and we cover 83 percent. And we're supposed to defend this.
Yes, our doctors are great; our nurses are great; our medical schools are great. We can pay for all that. We can even pay for all the terrible tragedies of increased violence, high rates of AIDS and things like that, and have money left over if we have the courage to reorganize the way health care is financed. This is about finance. This is not about anything else.
So I say to you, we need to complete a battle that was begun by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman that has never been completed. And to show you how far our friends in the other party have gone, in 1972—'71—President Richard Nixon recommended that all Americans be covered by health care and that employers and employees split the bill. They now think that is a radical, liberal idea. [Laughter] Every time George Mitchell has reached out to compromise, they have moved further away. This must not be about politics. It must not be about rhetoric. It must not be about party. It should be about health care, the human beings of the United States of America.
I just want to tell you one thing. You know, my wife and I have gotten about a million letters from Americans. And when I go places, normally we'll call some of the letter writers and ask them if they'll come meet us, just so the press and the public in communities can see these people. I was in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the other day, a little town in western Pennsylvania, and I was introduced by two women. One of them's name was Louise. She's not the one on the ad. [Laughter] The other one's name was Lynn. One woman was a 62-year-old dairy farmer.
And you know, I grew up in a farming State, once lived on a farm, and that's why I got into politics, I didn't want to work that hard. [Laughter] There is nothing more difficult than being a dairy farmer. You've got to do it 7 days a week. You can't tell the cows to stop growing milk. [Laughter] It's a very tough thing. At the age of 62 this woman and her husband lost their health insurance. They just simply couldn't afford it anymore. They just kept exploding the price over and over and over again. What are we to say to her, "Here's a country that believes in work, family, and community; it's tough luck for you"? The other woman, the mother of five children, had her husband stand up, we looked at him. We thought they were fine people. They had five kids. She had cancer and is recovering, but you know he lost one job, changed it, lost their insurance. What do we say to them? What I want you to know is it's not just one in six; it can happen to nearly anybody.
I'm trying to get all these people to leave welfare and go to work. They leave welfare, go to work, start paying taxes, lose their health care, and pay taxes for somebody else's health care. What do we say to them? You know, a lot of these people that demonstrate against me at these health care meetings say I'm trying to have socialized medicine and all this bull. It's not true. It's private insurance we're advocating. They think they ought to put Harry Truman on Mount Rushmore. But, now folks, I come from one of those families that was for Harry Truman when he was living. [Laughter] And I am telling you, the same crowd used the same arguments against Harry Truman. And they bad-mouthed him, and they said he was a rube, and he didn't deserve to be President, even though he had finished the Second World War and led the world in organizing the institutions of the post-cold-war era. They talked about how he was incompetent and in over his head and didn't know what he was doing. And they demeaned him with the same arguments they're using today.
It has always been difficult to change. But we turned this economy around. We're opening up the global economy. We're laying the foundations for peace and security in the 21st century. But if you want us to have money that you pay to the Federal Government to invest in education and training and new technology and hope for the future, we've got to do something to restrain health care costs and to provide health security to all Americans. We have got to do it.
Now, there is one thing you can do to get it done. You can make your voices heard and you can elect these two fine men to the House of Representatives. You can elect Tom Andrews to the Senate. You can elect Joe Brennan to the Governor's office. You can send a message to America that you are on the side of change.
Thank you. And God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. in the Eastland Ballroom at the Sonesta Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to John E. Baldacci, Maine State senator, and Dennis L. Dutremble, Maine Senate president.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Campaign Reception in Portland, Maine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219313