Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Reception in New York City
Thank you very much. Boy, he was hot to-Thank you, Chairman Wilhelm, for your outnight, wasn't he? [Laughter] I think he's great. standing leadership and for your extraordinary work on behalf of our candidates around the country. And thank you, Senator Bradley, for being here with us tonight and for your work on this event and for your steadfast effort to get a health care bill out of the Senate Finance Committee that actually protects the American people's health care. Thank you, Senator Lautenberg, for your friendship, your support, and your leadership. And I want to ask all of you here to help him be reelected to the Senate in New Jersey this year. We need him back there.
In addition to all the dignitaries from New York, I understand that we have two Democratic congressional candidates from New Jersey, and maybe you could raise your hands. They're up front—Frank Herbert. Here you are, Frank. Shine a light on that man; he's running for office. [Laughter] And Lou Magazzu, are you here? There you are, Lou, it's good to see you.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I was nominated for President by Governor Cuomo, I thought he gave one of the best speeches I ever heard. And about halfway through it, I looked at Hillary and I said, "Who's he talking about anyway?" [Laughter] By the time he got through that speech, I felt like a real President. [Laughter] And tonight I am also in his debt for his wonderful words, for his profound way of telling the truth, for his leadership in New York, and for his love for New York.
People ask me sometimes—kind of cynics, who don't know what it's like to really love where you're from—how Mario Cuomo could be doing this again. And I said, I may be the only person in America that understands this, but if I hadn't been just absolutely obsessed with the direction the country was taking in 1992 and convinced it was wrong, I'd still be Governor of my State. It's the best job in the world if you're lucky enough to be in a place where you love. And he loves this State. He loves you, and you ought to keep him doing what he's doing.
I also want to say, I'm glad to see all the musicians here with all their talent. I hope I get to hear a little music before I have to go tonight. But there's really nothing for me to say; Mario said it all. [Laughter] Ditto, I could say.
Let me say the stakes this year are very high because they will determine the extent to which and the shape of our continued forward progress. When I was elected President, we'd had 12 years of exploding deficits. And I knew we had to bring the deficit down, we had to bring interest rates down, we had to get investment up in our people, we had to put the American people first again. And we came up with a plan, with the help of a lot of people from New York, including my National Economic Adviser, Bob Rubin, that would do those things.
And when I say—well, maybe it sounds good but it's not human sometimes to say, we had the biggest deficit reduction in history; we're going to have 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President of the United States; we've had two budgets passed on time for the first time in 17 years; last year we had the first year without a Presidential veto in 60 years. And you say, well, what does all that mean? I'll tell you what it means: 3.4 million of your fellow Americans have jobs that they didn't have. That's what it means.
Sixteen million American taxpayers with children, who work for a living, are going to get an income tax cut out of our economic plan, so they'll be encouraged to stay working and not go on welfare—16 million of them. Twenty million students are eligible, 20 million students are eligible for low-interest-rate loans and better repayment terms under the student loan program because we changed that, so no one will ever have an excuse that "The cost is too much, and I can't go to college" again. Ninety percent of the small businesses in this country, under that economic program, were eligible for a tax cut. All they had to do was invest more money in their business, hire more people, and make this economy grow. Five and a half million Americans refinanced their homes because the interest rates went down. And the automobile industry is now booming. I just came back from St. Louis; in the previous 4 years they lost 2,000 jobs. In the first year of our administration, they gained 28,000 as automobiles in America came back. That's what it means. It's a human deal.
How many million people, we'll never know, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, are now able to take a little time off when their baby's born or when their parents are sick? We'll never know. We know that thousands of lives will be saved because of the Brady bill. We know that; we have evidence of that. We know that because of that assault weapons ban, police will be able to go out on the street with a little more confidence that they won't be outgunned by the people they're supposed to protect the rest of us from. We know that. These are real things that affect the real lives of real people.
Is it easy? No. It's not easy to break habits of gridlock that, frankly, are the province not just of the other party, which says no a lot of the time, but of the cumbersome procedures which grip Washington. But we've been working on it. The world trade agreement, GATT, hung around for 7 years. We're going to ratify it this year. The family leave law hung around for 7 years and got vetoed twice. It's now the law. The Brady bill took 7 years, but it passed. The assault weapons ban—to give you an idea of how difficult change is, we had for the assault weapons ban, all the living former Presidents, every police organization in the United States of America, and this President working as hard as he could, and we beat the NRA by two votes. It is not easy to change.
But we're doing it. We're breaking gridlock. We're making changes. It's affecting people's lives in ways that are profound and important. And a lot of it involves not just the Government doing something for somebody but empowering people to do something for themselves. That's what a better student loan program is. That's what our national service program is.
Governor Cuomo's son, Andrew, now a leader and Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has been a leader in empowering people, starting with the homeless to the people in public housing, to live safe, constructive lives. We're trying to change the rules. No more Government handouts but Government handups, real partnerships, real community building, really trying to help people take control of their own lives.
These things matter to real people. And the American people are beginning to sense this. And the more they sense it, the more we'll be able to cut through the fog and let the clear sky show and the more we'll be able to run on what we have done for the American people to help them help themselves. It's going to make a real difference in the life of this country.
Oh, there are all kinds of problems. Americans have a well-known cynicism for Government. My senior Senator back home used to say that half the American people are convinced the Government would mess up a one-car parade. [Laughter] And that's true. But you know something? We do some things pretty well.
The Republicans talked about bringing down the deficit. We did it. They talked about generating economic growth. We contributed to that. They talked about having less Government. You know, they always complained about that. But when our budgets are implemented, we will reduce over 5 years the National Government by a quarter of a million people, not by firing people but by attrition. We'll use all the savings to pay for that crime bill to put another 100,000 police officers on the streets of New York and the other cities of this country.
We'll have the smallest Federal Government since John Kennedy was President. It'll be producing more work, and the American people will be safer on their streets. That is the kind of thing that we ought to do. We can make Government work for ordinary people in ways that make sense and change lives.
But let me say, everything I have tried to do to empower people to get the economy going, to make Government work for ordinary people again, all of those things are embodied in this struggle to provide health care to all Americans. And it isn't easy. People have been trying to do it for 60 years. Roosevelt wanted to do it; Truman wanted to do it. President Nixon—President Nixon proposed requiring employers and employees to buy health insurance. President Carter tried to do it. I believe we can get it done.
And so we worked. We have worked for months and months and months. We worked for 9 months and involved thousands and thousands of people to put together a proposal. And then I said, okay, here's my proposal; where's yours? It won't be right for everybody. Surely, there's some things that can be improved about it. I went out and listened to the American people. They said, do a little more for small business and make sure you're going to protect small business, and make it a little less regulatory. And trust the American people to take more voluntary actions at work, but make sure you cover everybody. So we made some changes, and we did that.
And there are now bills on the floor of the House and the Senate for the first time ever in the whole history of the Republic that would cover all Americans with health care. There never even was a bill on the floor of the Congress before, ever. And it's there.
But the forces of opposition are very strong. We were talking at dinner how the great Italian political theorist, Machiavelli, said 500 years ago there was nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things. Why? Because the people that lose know it, and they fight you like crazy. And the people that are going to win are never quite sure you can deliver the goods. And so they're often not there in the trenches.
Today we had over 100 distinguished doctors and medical personnel from all over America, including many from New York City, representing the academic health centers of America. And a brilliant doctor stood up and said, you know, people say they wish to protect what's best about American health care and fix what's wrong, but they're afraid they will mess it up if they try to fix it. He said you can no longer protect what's best unless you fix what's wrong. Unless we finally join the ranks of all other advanced countries and provide health care to everybody, we're not going to be able to afford to keep our finest medical centers going, training the finest doctors and nurses and medical professionals. He said they run ads against the President's program, saying that if you cover everybody you will ration health care. Tell that to the 39 million Americans that don't have any health care. They are rationed.
I say that to make this point. We can pass health care reform this year, but it's going to require everything that all these other things did: breaking gridlock, defeating special interests, arguing for a future, and asking people to work toward that future and making Government work for ordinary people, not to give them anything but to permit them to access a system that will enable people to take care of themselves and their families.
I spend a lot of time talking to laboring groups of people, saying, I'm trying to make change your friend and not your enemy; support my trade policies. Yes, it'll change the economy more and you'll have to change jobs more often, but we'll be more prosperous and we'll provide lifetime training policies for you. And here are all these things I'm trying to do to change our education and training policies to make change your friend.
But I just want to tell you folks, I met two kids today when I came to New York. Whenever I go to a city, I try to let the Make-A-Wish Foundation or some other group bring some children to see me who are sick and who have health problems. And one of these children had a condition that may be fatal, but it's been in remission for a couple years—12-year-old boy, just graduated at the top of his class in elementary school here in New York City. He may have a good, long, healthy life, but I'm telling you, if his parents lost their jobs, what would he do for health care? And if they tried to get another job, could they get health coverage for a child like that? I met a 17-year-old boy— Mayor Dinkins, you can be proud of this—who was wheelchair-bound, has been all his life, has a severe muscular disorder from childhood— very bright young man, computer expert, wanted to write me on the White House E-mail, and I told him I was too dumb to use it, but I'd read it if he sent it. [Laughter] And he gave me a letter he prepared about obstacles for handicapped children and what his life was going to be like. And he said, "You know, this wheelchair of mine cost," I think he said, "$15,000." And he said his parents were immigrants, both of them were immigrants. And he said, "Because my mother works for the city of New York, our family has been able to maintain a middle class lifestyle because our health policy pays for 80 percent of my bills. But it's been hard even for us. I had expensive surgery. I have this expensive wheelchair; I'll have to replace it soon." But he said, "So many of my young friends are almost destitute who are physically handicapped because of the conditions that exist."
And if we were getting a good deal, the rest of us, that would be fine, but your country's spending 40 percent more on health care than any other country in the world. And it is only because we have refused to discipline ourselves to provide health care to everybody, like all our competitors do, that these stories are out there. We can do better. But we have to believe. We have to fight those who say we cannot do it. We can turn this economy around. If we can bring this deficit down, when nobody thought we could do it, if we can break gridlock, we can do this too.
I just ask you to look at these people on this stage and remember this, this is the only thing that really counts: I ran for this job because I wanted to do what I could with the power vested by the framers of our Constitution in the Presidency to change the lives of ordinary Americans for the better. There is no other purpose. And anything, anything that diverts, divides, distracts, or destroys the spirit and the purpose of the American people, when we have so much on our plate here at home and around the world, is not good. And anything that unifies and makes us believe in ourselves and makes us better and gives our children a chance to have a better future is good. That is what we represent. That is why your contributions are well invested tonight. That is why I ask for your help to do everything you can to help us pass health care this year, help us keep reform going, and help the voters reward the forces of change and progress and humanity and unity in the elections this fall.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9:37 p.m. in the Imperial Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to David Wilhelm, chairman, Democratic National Committee, and Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Reception in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219917