Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Mayors and County Officials and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Good morning. We're about to start a meeting with a bipartisan group of mayors and county officials who represent a much larger number of their counterparts all across America and who are quite concerned about the consequences of the proposed budget and the budget cuts to the people they represent.
They have declared September 7th a national day for budget awareness, and they're going back to the people they represent to explain to them exactly what the consequences will be in terms of either human harm or lost services or higher taxes at the local level. They will be joining to educate their citizens about the potential damage that could be done to our country's future if the particulars of the budgets now being debated in the House and Senate are adopted pretty much as they have passed, especially in the House.
Later today I will meet with a group of CEO's who are concerned about what these cuts will mean to our educational improvement programs and especially to Goals 2000, which has helped us to help States and local school districts throughout the country to improve the quality of education, to bring more technology into the classroom, to get smaller class sizes, to promote education reforms.
Business executives all across America, especially in a bipartisan way, both Republicans and Democrats, have supported Goals 2000 very strongly, and so they'll be coming in to discuss this. This is back-to-school time in our country, and it seems to me that we need to focus on the values of education and the values of our community and on what we really mean by America's family values.
It seems to me that we are departing from what has been the experience of our country now for many years in terms of having a bipartisan commitment to a lot of the things that now some in Congress seem more than willing to abandon, including our commitment to education. As I said yesterday in California, there is an alternative, a way to balance this budget. It's not that we shouldn't balance the budget; we should balance the budget. I strongly support it. We ought to do that, I believe we're going to do that, but we don't have to do it in a Draconian way that hurts the American people.
If you just take the education issue, for example, the proposed budget in Congress by the Republican majority would cut education by $36 billion. It means more overcrowded classrooms. It means fewer teachers. It means fewer computers for the students. It means 45,000 kids cut off of Head Start by 1996. It means the elimination of the Goals 2000 program. It means cutting over a million of our poorest children off from extra educational help. It means cutting 23 million students out of the safe and drugfree schools program, something that clearly ought to be at the forefront of any family values agenda in our country. It means taking 50,000 young Americans out of national service, out of the AmeriCorps program and other service programs that help them to pay their way to college. It means denying millions of students access to college educations because of weakening of the Pell grant program and the elimination of the direct loan program or the severe limitation of it.
So I would say that what we need to do now at back-to-school time is to get educated; all Americans need to be educated about the details of the budget debate. The question is not whether we're going to balance the budget. I have a plan to balance the budget, but it doesn't cut education by $36 billion. There are ways to balance the budget and still permit these local officials to do the work that they have to do and maintain a partnership. And the ways are fairly clear, and we can achieve it.
I know there are those who say that we ought to just shut the Government down and that there is a mandate essentially to dismantle the partnership that has existed between our National Government and local government and the citizens of this country. I don't agree with that. I think we need common sense, common ground. I think we need to appeal to our better instincts. And I think it would be a great mistake for the people of our country to miss this backto-school opportunity to become educated about what's really at stake here and to be involved in it. And I thank these mayors and county officials for showing up here today and for the work they're about to do in this next week.
Q. Mr. President, what are you going to do about Senator Dole saying that this is going to be the autumn of discontent, of no compromises?
The President. Well, I am going to stick with my position. Now, it's been several months since I offered an——
Come on in, Mayor Rendell. Sit down. [Laughter]
Mayor Edward Rendell. Sorry. Blame it on Amtrak, although Amtrak usually does a great job. [Laughter] And we shouldn't be cutting its funding. But they were late today.
The Vice President. We know a cameo entrance when we—[Laughter]
The President. That's right. Actually he arrived at 6:30 this morning and was—[Laughter].
There will be a lot of things said and a lot of maneuvers made, I suppose, in the next 90 days. I think the important thing is that we balance the budget without destroying our commitment to education, without wrecking Medicare and Medicaid and undermining the security and stability that our elderly people are entitled to have, and without undermining the fabric of the country and the strength of the economy.
I mean, you know, we even have one economic study claiming that the congressional majority's budget would provoke a long-term recession. I mean, presumably, we are balancing the budget to help the American economy, to take the burden of debt off of our children and our grandchildren. That's why I want to do it. I want to do it because I think it'll help the economy, not to give the American people a lowgrade infection for 7 years. And so I believe that we need to look at the facts. And I'm going to do my best to avoid a lot of this political rhetoric and a lot of these charges back and forth.
And the thing that has impressed me about the mayors and the county officials that are here is that they really are going to spend a week looking at the facts, trying to make sure that their citizens look at the facts. That's what I want the American people to do. But I'm going to bend over backwards not to get into a lot of political word wars and just keep looking at the facts. And we can——
Q. Lots of luck. [Laughter]
The President. Yeah? Thank you. Thank you. [Laughter] Let me just say this. I will—I like that so much I will never again criticize editorializing by news—[laughter]—that was a wonderful comment. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, will you be able to avoid this train wreck, however, that you've been talking about, and how can you do that?
The President. Well, I hope so. But I mean, I think, frankly, that's up to Congress. I have been—it's up to the leaders of Congress whether we have a train wreck. I have now had my position out there clear and crystal clear and in great detail for months. That's what they said they wanted me to do, and I did it. I offered them an alternative balanced budget. I offered the opportunity of negotiations. I said what I thought we had to do, that we shouldn't wreck the fabric of health care for seniors. We shouldn't wreck the educational commitments of our country. We shouldn't totally overlook the impact of these budget cuts on the people who actually had to do the work of America, the mayors, the county officials, the Governors of our country, and that we could do this. And I committed to a balanced budget, and I offered it.
So I have done all I can do now. The rest of it is largely up to them, but we should not have a train wreck. There's no reason for a train wreck. You know, we've already done a lot of their work for them. When I became President, we had a $290 billion deficit. Now it's down to $160 billion. We've cut it nearly in half in 3 years, and we did it without any train wrecks. We did it in a more rapid way in the last Congress than had been the case for the previous 10 or 12 years, so we can get a lot of this work done if we'll just do it. There just needs to be a little less talk and a little more action, a little more common sense, a little more working together.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:15 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Edward Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia, PA.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Prior to a Meeting With Mayors and County Officials and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221709