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Remarks on Departure for Houston, Texas, and an Exchange With Reporters

May 07, 1999

The President. Good morning. Tomorrow I will be visiting some of the communities that were so terribly damaged by the tornadoes this week. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas, with the people of Tennessee who also endured terrible storms and destruction.

Before I leave, I'd like to make comments on a couple of other matters. First, on the new economic report issued today: We received more good news for our working families. Unemployment is 4.3 percent, with 234,000 new jobs added last month alone. African-American unemployment is at its lowest level on record. And real wages, after declining 4.3 percent in the 12 years before I took office, have now risen over 6 percent in the last 6 years. The American economy continues to see a remarkable combination of strong growth, job creation, and low inflation. Our economic strategy continues to be the right strategy for prosperity, and it is the one we should follow as we work to strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the 21st century.

It's worth remembering that the move from economic stagnation to sustained prosperity is not the only turnaround our Nation has seen in the last 6 years. We also see the crime rate falling, the welfare rolls falling, the teen pregnancy rate falling, drunk driving going down, a host of other social ills now easing, even though for so long they seemed destined only to worsen.

The American people, in homes and communities all across this country, are working hard at the grassroots level to turn around every one of these social problems, and others are doing their part. That is the kind of national commitment we need to protect our children from violence. I believe, more than anything else, we need a grassroots effort which involves every single American, from the White House down to the smallest community, a national campaign that draws out everyone's commitment, all our resources, and depends upon everyone taking responsibility.

On Monday, as you know, we'll have a White House meeting here, a strategy session to seek out the best ideas for this effort, from people who can really make a difference, parents and young people, teachers and religious leaders, law enforcement, gun manufacturers, representatives of the entertainment industry, and those of us here in Government. Together, we will talk about how we can shield children from gratuitous violence, keep parents involved in their children's lives, reach out to troubled young people early enough, and do more to keep guns out of their reach. We will not ask who takes the blame but how we can all take responsibility, and I will challenge everyone there and everyone in America to do their part.

We know this kind of sustained, organized effort can work. Let me just give you one example. Four years ago, I asked for a national campaign to reduce teen pregnancy. Today, under the leadership of Governor Tom Kean, former Governor of New Jersey and now the president of Drew University, that campaign is finding what works, spreading it to other communities, working with the media to send the right message to our children.

Two years ago, I called for a national effort by businesses to hire people off welfare, to make sure the welfare reform effort would work. Today, under the leadership of Eli Segal, the Welfare to Work partnership has grown to 10,000 companies that have helped us move more than 400,000 people from the welfare rolls to the job rolls.

Time and again, we have seen when citizens, businesses, communities, nonprofits, and government take responsibility to work together, we can overcome any challenge. We are turning the tide on all kinds of social problems. Now we must turn our intense efforts to this issue of violence. We have remarkable Americans who have been working on it for sometime now, with real success in community after community; you will hear from them on Monday. But obviously, in the aftermath of what happened in Colorado and the school shootings of the last 2 years, we have to do more. I'm very much looking forward to this meeting and to getting to work with Americans all over our country to give our children the safe childhoods they deserve.

Thank you very much.

Military Pay Raise

Q. Mr. President, will you accept a military pay raise as part of the emergency supplemental, the Kosovo emergency—supplemental bill?

The President. Well, as you know, we're supporting a military pay raise, and I don't think there's any difference in when the Congress and I think it should take effect. So there may be some—I have to get briefed on this—you know, I've been gone to Europe, but my understanding is, the only difference in the two bills is at what point they fund it and whether they take it out from under the ceilings of next year's budget, not when the military actually gets it.

So I think we're all—my view is, at least when I left to go to Europe, we were all for the same pay raise going into effect at the same time. And I understand why Congress wants to advance fund it, and I'd like to see the bill loaded up with as little extraneous spending as possible. But we are going to give a military pay raise. We're all committed to it, and we just have to work out what the best way to do it is.

Kosovo Peacekeeping Force

Q. Mr. President, do you insist that the American Commander of NATO be in charge of whatever forces wind up as peacekeepers in Kosovo?

The President. Well, I think the best thing for me to say now is what—I think it will work best if we have a system like we had in Bosnia, where there was U.N. approval; NATO was the core of the force, but there was Russian participation, there was Ukrainian participation, there was participation from a lot of other countries; and the command issues were worked out by and large in three different segments of the country, where primary responsibility was taken in one section by the United States working with Russia, in another by Britain, and another by France. There may be some other way to do it in Kosovo; I don't want to prejudge all the details.

The important thing—I don't want neither to add nor subtract from the basic conditions that we have said we believe are necessary to make this work. That is, the refugees go home to safety and autonomy, Serb forces out, and an international security force in, with NATO at the core. Anything I say today, while we're working hard to try to push this and to try to gain more converts and get more people involved in this, would be, I think, a mistake, except to say I think that what we did in Bosnia was functional.

But I think it's important for the United States and for our Allies neither to add nor subtract from the basic conditions that we have said all along are absolutely essential to make this work.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:38 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Departure for Houston, Texas, and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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