Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Fast-Track Trade Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters

November 05, 1997

The President. Thank you very much. Mr. Vice President, Senator, Members of the Congress, thank you so much for being here. And to the members of the administration, thank you for your efforts on fast track.

The choice Congress confronts this week will profoundly affect our growth, prosperity, and leadership well into the new century, for Congress must decide whether to extend the President's fast-track authority to negotiate agreements that tear down unfair trade barriers to our exports and create high-wage jobs in our economy.

Yesterday a bipartisan majority in the Senate voted overwhelmingly to move forward on extending fast-track authority. On Friday, the House of Representatives will vote on fast track, and I strongly encourage the House to take the same bold stand for America's future. A Member of Congress who votes for fast track is doing the right thing for America.

If we turn our backs now on trade and fail to seize the opportunities of the global economy, our competitors will eagerly take our place. That is an "America last" strategy. It's unacceptable; it won't work.

The rejection of fast track won't create any new jobs or raise any American incomes. It won't advance environmental or labor standards abroad. It would reduce our ability to do both. And I think that is very important. By freezing the status quo, we would simply be saying that we are going to freeze ourselves out of getting a fair deal in other markets; we are going to sit by while other countries get a better deal in other markets; and at the same time, we are going to reduce our influence on the labor and environmental standards in other countries and undermine our ability to continue to grow the American economy and create good, new jobs here.

Still, there are things that we have to do to try to continue to push the elevation of labor and environmental standards around the world as we press for open markets, and I believe we owe it to ourselves and our future to leave no one behind who is willing to work and learn in order to compete and win in the global economy.

Our social compact ever since I came here has always been opportunity for everyone who is responsible and a community in which all Americans have a chance. That's why we've worked hard with Congress to create a package of initiatives which I will include in my next budget to equip all people to reap the rewards of change. We know that the technological and trade changes going on today favor people with higher skills. We know that they are accelerating the pace of change in our economy and indeed in every economy throughout the world. It is, therefore, imperative that we do more to make sure all our people have a chance to benefit from these changes.

First, we must greatly expand our efforts to help workers who lose their jobs because of technology or trade or other economic changes. At the suggestion of Congressman Bentsen, I'm going to establish a commission on workers and economic change in the new economy. Right now, we're going to commit to provide $750 million in additional funding to retrain dislocated workers. We want to create a special fund to guarantee that there will always be adequate resources to help workers hurt by trade. We want to target funds to help so-called secondary workers; that is, not only workers from a textile factory, for example, that might close but those in a nearby button factory who supply the textile factory.

This is very important. Changes in the economy do bring job dislocation. Most of them come because of technology. Some of them come because of trade. Our efforts here, combined with what we have already done, will mean that while we were cutting spending and balancing the budget during my term of office, we tripled funding for dislocated workers continuing training, to move people back into the economy with the skills they need.

Second, we have to step up our efforts to help communities adjust to this new economy. We should provide more rapid, more comprehensive, more coordinated assistance from all the Federal agencies in a way that is modeled on what we now do in our military base closure efforts, when we're trying to convert the bases to other uses. We should double the funds to help areas that have experienced major plant closings, and we should expand the development bank serving trade-affected areas.

Third, we must develop the untapped potential of our inner cities and rural areas, for too many of these places have not been touched by growth or dislocation. They need more investment. Our budget agreement doubles the number of empowerment zones, with tax incentives to invest in these rural and urban areas. But we must do more. We should increase loans for people who live in distressed rural and urban communities. We should make $100 million in flexible grants available every year in the new empowerment zones to attract new jobs and new small businesses, and we should provide for more skills training for young people in high poverty areas.

By giving a helping hand to workers at home and a strengthened hand to our negotiators as they open markets abroad, we can bring more Americans into the winner's circle of the new economy. We can grow the economy and let more people participate in that growth. There's no reason why our Nation cannot see to it that every American has the tools and conditions to succeed in this new economy. Our prosperity enables it; our understanding of the social contract demands it.

Now, the House faces a crucial vote on Friday. For me, the options are clear: We can rise to the challenges of the future, write the trade rules, continue our remarkable growth; or we can turn our back on the world and fail to compete for new markets, new contracts, and new jobs. I believe that the evidence is clear. We have produced over 13 million new jobs in less than 5 years because we have expanded the ability of Americans to sell their products and services around the world. It would be a great mistake not to continue that.

We cannot afford to return to a mindset that pretends that we can protect what we have now and never grow in the future. We must seize the opportunities of the future and take care of the people who have difficulties with change. We must do both, but—we must do both.

Thank you very much.

Republican Electoral Victories

Q. Mr. President, you asked voters yesterday to send a message to Washington in the elections. What do you thing the message was on the Republican victories?

The President. Well, they won in places that they had before, and we won the places we had before—in the urban areas where we had elections. And I think the lesson of this year is that when the economy is up and crime is down, people believe the country and their States and their communities are moving in the right directions, and they tend to stay with incumbent candidates and parties.

I will say this—I was surprised and terribly impressed by the remarkable campaign of Mr. McGreevey in New Jersey. And I was profoundly grateful for a vote which may well have some national significance in Houston, when the people of Houston voted to retain their affirmative action program in city contracting. I say that because that's a second version of the debate that was held in California, and I expect that debate will be held in other communities throughout the country. So that may or may not have national significance, but it might.

But the others, I think—economy is up, crime is down; people think the country and the States and the communities are going in the right direction, and the incumbents all benefited.

Possible Impeachment Proceedings

Q. Could we ask your reaction to the announcement by Congressman Bob Barr this morning that he will ask for a resolution for a preliminary inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee into possible impeachment proceedings against you for, among other things, possible abuse of Presidential power. What would your reaction to such a move be?

The President. Well, Congressman Barr, as I remember, was the man who carried the NRA's water to try to beat the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban. He's always had a rather extreme view of these things. I don't really have any comment on that.

Q. Mr. President, going back to fast track——


Q. Mr. President, on Iraq, sir, what do you think the signals should be—what signals should Saddam Hussein take—I'm sorry—from the U.N. decision to postpone these U-2 flights over his territory?

The President. Well, as I said yesterday, that was a decision for Mr. Butler to make. But if I were in his position, I wouldn't draw too much of a conclusion from it. They want the United Nations group to be able to talk to Saddam Hussein and to be able to speak directly and frankly. But Mr. Butler has, in his tenure, has done a good job of doing the inspections, and he made it clear that the U-2 flights would be resumed. I personally felt that it was important.

So I think that you've got to say that Mr. Butler's got a good record of doing these inspections, that he's aggressively determined to stop the development of a weapons of mass destruction program, and he did say the flights would be resumed. So if I were Saddam Hussein I wouldn't draw too much inference from it except to say they'd like to have a talk in the most open circumstances possible.

National Standardized Testing

Q. Mr. President, Congressman Goodling says you have an agreement on national testing. What is it, and is it going to turn into a signable bill?

The President. Well, I met with Congressman Goodling this morning, and I do want to thank him, because we have been working for weeks and weeks and weeks to try to work out his concerns and mine. He did not—he told me months ago, when we started talking about it, he did not want to see an inordinate duplication of the efforts already undertaken at the State level and by some large school districts where they're already doing some kind of standardized test.

I said my concern was not to have—was to have some sort of clearly accepted standard of excellence that all our children would be expected to meet in reading and math. And we believe, based on our conversation today, that we at least have an agreement in principle about how our students can master the basics and achieve higher academic standards and be measured for doing that, to hold children's educational performance to a uniform standard without undermining the efforts that are now going on in States, if they actually do measure whether the children know what they need to know.

So the agreement was reached in principle, but there's some complexity in terms of just turning it into language, in terms of how this test would be evaluated compared with one another and what we propose to do in terms of research over the next couple of years. But the bottom line for the American people is I think we have opened the door to giving people in every State, every school district, and every school the assurance that their children's performance in reading and math can actually be measured and be made meaningful in terms of what every child in America should know, so they will know how they're doing.

And if that—if it can be done, I will be a very happy person, indeed. And I'm hopeful that we have done that. I say that just to give Mr. Goodling a little protection, and the President as well, just because we've reached an agreement in principle; we've got to turn it into the language. I'm very hopeful. This will be a huge thing, long-term, for American education if we have, in fact, worked this out.

Q. Mr. President——


Q. On Iraq, we get the impression that if you had your druthers, you'd rather have not had a break in these U-2 flights, that you understand why it's happened, but you don't think it's necessarily a great idea.

The President. I don't think it's fruitful for me to second-guess Mr. Butler now. One of the things that I have seen in his—he hasn't been there very long, but since he's been there he's been quite aggressive. And keep in mind what our goal is here. Our goal is to use these inspections to try to ensure that a weapons of mass destruction program is not developed. And since there is absolutely no reason to believe that Mr. Butler has been anything other than extremely faithful to his task, I think we should let these talks unfold.

I would have been disturbed if the flight had been suspended and there hadn't been a clear statement that they would be resumed shortly. But since he made a clear statement that they would be resumed shortly, I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and let's see if we can work through it.

Q. Do you compare notes with President Bush about your joint nemesis, your shared nemesis, Saddam?

The President. It's interesting, when this whole issue first broke was when I was on my way over to the—it was the night before I went over to the Washington Children's Hospital to be with General Schwarzkopf at the STARBRIGHT Foundation announcement, so we had some interesting conversations about it. And I've seen former Secretary Baker since then, and we're all commiserating, and obviously I asked these people for their advice about it.

But we just—look, this is a frustrating policy, the one we're following, because it requires long-term patience and discipline. It's frustrating for him; it's frustrating for us; it's frustrating for everybody else. But you know, there is a reason these United Nations resolutions were passed. There's a reason this inspection regime was set up. We think it's a bad idea for any more dictators who have shown aggression toward their neighbors to develop the capacity to have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. We think it's a bad idea. And we know of no way to do that—to avoid that in peaceful terms than to have some sort of inspection regime.

And as I said yesterday, the UNSCOM inspection regime has actually led to the destruction of more dangerous weapons than the Desert Storm did, because it's been done with great discipline over a period of years. So I would ask the American people and our allies around the world not to get too frustrated, to be patient, but to be firm, and let's try to hold on to this inspection regime, because that is the most peaceful way of dealing with this and permitting everyone to go on with their lives.

Q. Are there days when you wish President Bush had gone——

Fast-Track Trade Legislation

Q. One last question on fast track. Mr. President—thank you—there is a certain pocket of people who are affected through fast track, we understand—blue-collar, low-income persons— where education failed them from the beginning, and they went into a trade. What do you say to those people who are losing and plan to lose their job or expect to lose their job because of this?

The President. I would say that we will continue to have some economic disruption in this country if we don't adopt fast track. If we don't adopt fast track—our market is still the most open market in the world, the most competitive market in the world, and we have the most technological change, and we know that most job changes are caused by technology, not by trade—the vast majority—so if we don't adopt fast track and we just sit where we are, a lot of those people will still confront the same challenges.

My argument is, adopt fast track, give me the power to create more jobs by opening markets, but also do more for those folks. Our programs were organized for a time when the economy didn't change as quickly as it does now. So Secretary Herman, for example, has worked very hard to radically accelerate our response time and to get all these programs working together the way we worked when a military base was closed. That's what we're trying to do.

So my answer would be, we should invest more money to give you more training more quickly and to give you more support while you're going through it. We should put more money into those communities where no economic benefit or burden has been felt because there has been no new investment one way or the other. But that's not a reason not to continue to expand trade. What we should do is both.

The way to preserve the social compact in America is to create more opportunity and then take more responsibility for preserving families and communities. Our policy is the right one. But we will not create or save jobs in the short run or the long run by refusing to open markets to our products. We will not raise labor and environmental standards abroad; we will lose our ability to do that. We will lose our leverage if we decline to open new markets for American products. This increases our political influence on labor and environmental and other issues, even as it opens up our economics.

But the main thing is, I just ask the American people to give me the benefit of the doubt on this. We have worked for 5 years. We have created over 13 million jobs. We have reduced the deficit by over 90 percent before the balanced budget checks in. In the last 2 years, more than half our new jobs have come in highwage categories and a third of the growth has come because of trade. This is our only strategy. We're only 4 percent of the world's economy; we're trying to hold on to 20 percent of its income. We've got to sell more to other people. There is not an option. And refusing to do it won't save jobs, won't keep incomes up, and won't help us help other people around the world.

Thank you.

Q. Do you worry about the impact on the stock markets if fast track fails—global markets?

The President. Well, let me say if it passes, I think it will have a very positive impact on the stock market here and around the world.

NOTE: The President spoke at noon in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Senator Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho; Richard Butler, Executive Chairman, United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA (Ret.), capital campaign chairman, STARBRIGHT Foundation; and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Fast-Track Trade Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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