Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Community in Cleveland, Ohio

May 10, 1993

Thank you very much. Thank you, Congressman Stokes, Senator Metzenbaum. I want to thank Lou Stokes and Howard Metzenbaum for the support that they have given to this administration to making a new beginning for America, to putting the American people back to work, and to giving Washington back to you.

I also want to say a special word of thanks to my friend Eric Fingerhut for coming here, the leader of the freshmen in Congress and a great Representative, someone who believes in the cause of reform. I want to thank your fine Mayor, Mike White, who labored mightily to try to get some more money for jobs here in Cleveland.

I wish people all over America who think that our cities aren't working would come to Cleveland and see houses being built, the stadium going up, new malls being built, and things happening. I think it is very, very impressive what is happening here under the leadership of Mike White. And I appreciate him very much.

I also want to thank Congressman Hoke for coming here. I'm glad to see a bipartisan Representative. I'm trying to govern in a bipartisan way, and some of those fellows in the Senate don't want me to. But if we get together on America's problems as America, we'd do a lot better than pointing partisan fingers.

Finally, I want to thank attorney general Lee Fisher and your State treasurer, Mary Ellen Withrow. And I want to say a special word of thanks to Lee for his leadership in our campaign last year. I haven't been to Cleveland since the day before the election—that's right, that's what Lou said. I have been to Ohio once since I've been President. I look forward to coming back.

I want to talk to you a little today about why I came to the middle of the country in the middle of the day to reiterate what is at stake in Washington. I just walked through the Galleria here. I want to thank the people who opened it up to me and Mr. Cleary and Mr. Masters. I want to thank all the store owners who came out to see me. Some of them gave me some things and some of them sold me some things, which is, after all, the most important thing. They did a good job.

I wanted to come back here to remind you that the reason I did all that work last year and came here and asked the people of Ohio and Cleveland to vote for me was not so I could live in the White House but so I could give the Government back to you.

The struggles in which we are engaged now are very important ones. It may seem strange to you, but there are really people in Washington who believe the most important thing we can do is to avoid change at all costs. It may seem strange to you after years of living with a Government where the debt of this country went from $1 trillion to $4 trillion between 1980 and 1992, where unemployment went up and wages went down and we began to lose our competitive position, where we cut defense but had no plan to put our defense workers to work building the domestic economy, with all the troubles we've got, where we've got 37 million Americans with no health insurance and others in small businesses terrified they're going to lose it and people who can't change jobs because they've had somebody in their family sick and they know they can't get health insurance in a new place, it may seem strange to you, but there really are people in the Nation's Capital who say no more change. Well, I think most of you want us to do something, and I think you want us to be bold. I think you want us to try to turn this country around, and I think you would rather see us err on the side of effort than on the side of just preserving the status quo.

You look at these children here, these schoolchildren, or those fine schoolchildren back there or these young naval cadets. This whole deal is about whether they are going to have the American dream, about whether people who work hard and play by the rules are going to wind up better off or worse off.

We've got a lot of complicated problems. I knew when I got there it wasn't going to happen overnight. I tried to make it happen overnight. I've been criticized for doing more than one thing at once. I've always felt—can you do one thing at once? Wouldn't it be nice if all you had to do was go to work and not take care of your family? Wouldn't it be nice if you could pay your bills and not earn any money to pay them? I don't understand this whole—you can't do one thing at once. But anyway, that's what they say.

We are trying to do a lot of things, but they all relate to restoring the economic vitality of this country and restoring the middle class and the values of the middle class to a central part in American life. That is what this whole economic program is about and what I came to talk to you about again today.

No one said it would be easy, but it has been immensely rewarding. In about 110 days, after two vetoes, I can look back and say we signed the Family and Medical Leave Act to guarantee you don't lose your job if you've got somebody sick in your family. We have put forward comprehensive plans to use technology to generate new jobs, comprehensive plans to help move people from defense jobs into domestic jobs and to make sure that our young people who come out of the service after serving this country are not just left out in the cold because of the cutbacks. And we got a record approval of the outline of a budget that cuts the deficit of this country over $500 billion in the next 5 years with over 200 specific budget cuts and, yes, with some tax increases. Seventy percent of them fall on the upper 5 percent of the American people whose taxes went down and whose incomes went up in the 1980's. I think it's a good plan, and it will restore health to the American economy.

You know, we're trying to do something no generation of Americans has ever had to do. I came into office with a record debt. And then after the election I was told the deficit was really about $50 billion higher in 3 of the next 4 years than we'd been told before. And yet, we looked around, and we saw we'd reduced our investment in education and training, reduced our investment in new technologies, had no plan to deal with people who lose their jobs because of defense cutbacks. And so we had to do something nobody had ever done. We had to try to find out how to bring the debt down and invest in our people, their jobs, and their future. I think we have got to do that. If we don't do both, we're going to be in big trouble.

Now look at the result. Since the election, since it became absolutely clear that this administration was dead serious about bringing this deficit down. Interest rates in many areas have hit an all-time low, home mortgages are at a 20-year low. I know there are people in this audience who have refinanced a home mortgage in the last 5 months. I know there are people here who have lower credit card rates, lower business loan rates, lower other rates because of interest rates going down. That's going to put $100 billion back into this economy to spur investment and growth and jobs and income if we bring the deficit down.

Now, we're going to go into a fight where everybody's going to say cut more spending and raise fewer taxes. And you know, what that really says is cut somebody else's spending and raise somebody else's taxes. I wish it were possible for us all to hide behind a tree and point at somebody else. But let's face it, in the last 12 years we got into this mess not overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight. We also, whether we like it or not, got into it together. We're all in it together, and we'd better get out of it together. We're going to have to climb out of it together, march out of it together, and walk out of it together.

But this plan is fair. This plan has a big increase in the earned-income tax credit to try to relieve families with income of under $30,000 of the burden of the energy tax I proposed, which will raise money and help to clean up the environment. This plan has an increase in this earned-income tax credit so much that if you work 40 hours a week and you've got a child in the home, if you will apply for the tax credit, you will be lifted out of poverty. That is an elemental principle and a fundamental departure in America. We're going to reward work and not welfare for a change. If you work and you've got kids, we're going to lift you out of poverty. This will work. It will bring the deficit down. It will be fairer to working families. It will help us to keep interest rates down. It will help us to grow the economy. And over the next 5 years, we'll have some money to invest in education and training and new technologies and jobs and trying to help all those people in those high-tech jobs that are losing them, because of defense cutbacks—they can make us strong here at home if we do it fight. But we've got to do it as a package.

If everybody goes around saying, "What's in it for me?" instead of what's in it for us, the thing will come apart. That's what paralyzes America. Every time we've got to make a tough decision, somebody says, "Let somebody else do it." There's nobody else to do it but us. We're going to have to lift our country up, and we're going to have to do it together.

One of the things that I do want to do is to repeal the tax breaks that lobbyists get. There are 80,000 lobbyists in Washington making sure that I can't take care of your interests.

One of the things that we also have to do, I think, is to reform the political system. I told you if you would elect me President, I'd do my best to reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups to increase your influence, to make it possible for all of the Members of Congress, without regard to party, at least to feel freer to follow their conscience and their constituents and to listen to them with an open ear and an open heart.

Well, there are two bills moving through the Congress now that will do just that. When I took office the first thing I did was to sign an Executive order saying that people that had top jobs for me couldn't go back into lobbying for 5 years and could never lobby for a foreign government. Then a bill was introduced into the Congress that just passed the United States Senate which, for the first time, requires all the lobbyists to register and requires them to report all the gifts they give to Members of Congress over a small amount, so you'll know.

And at the end of last week we announced a new campaign finance reform bill, which will do this: It will reduce the influence of big money; it will reduce the influence of political action committees; it will reduce the influence of lobbyists; it will give political campaigns back to you. It does it by limiting the amount of money that Members of Congress can take from political action committees by reducing the maximum contribution in many areas. It does it by saying that lobbyists cannot give money or raise money for Members of Congress that they personally lobby. And by repealing the tax exemption that lobbyists get, we're going to take that money and give it to Members of Congress as communication vouchers so we can open the airwaves to honest debate, and nobody is denied the opportunity to be on the television or the radio just because they're not an incumbent or just because they're not wired to the lobbyists. It is a good plan. It will give the Government back to you, the middle class of this country, and we ought to pass it.

There are some other things that I think you need to know about that we're trying to do. We've introduced our plans for national service and to make college available to all Americans, and here's how it works. But I need your help to pass it, because there are interest groups that are against it. There are interest groups against everything.

This plan would say to every American family: You can borrow the money to go to college without fear of going bankrupt because you will not have to pay it back until you go to work. And when you go to work, you can pay it back as a percentage of your income. So that no matter how much you borrow, you can't be required to pay more than a certain percentage of your income; you can't be bankrupted to secure your future.

The bill also will give tens of thousands of young Americans the opportunity to pay their college loan, or a portion of it, off through service to our country as teachers, as police officers, working with kids in trouble. They can earn it before they go to college, while they're in college, or after they get out. But I think people ought to be able to work to make Cleveland and Ohio a better place and pay their college loans off.

And believe it or not, if we just have the courage to change the way we're financing the college loan program, we can pay for most of this, particularly in the early years. Why? Because the way the college loan programs work now, we are losing billions of dollars a year in huge transaction fees to banks and in loan defaults, because the Government guarantees 90 percent of every one of these loans. So what happens? If somebody wants to default on the loan, what incentive does the bank have to go collect it? It would cost you 10 percent to pay the lawyer. So the taxpayers pay. I say let's make the loans direct. Let's cut out all the fat fees. Let's make people pay them back at tax time so they can't beat the bill, more responsibility and more opportunity for everybody.

Let me just make two other points. First of all, while I have proposed over 200 specific budget cuts to take the lead in reducing this deficit by over $500 billion, I want you to know that nothing we can do will reduce this deficit over the long run to zero, which is what we want, until we finally face the fact that the biggest culprit in Government spending today is the exploding cost of health care. If we don't have the courage to try to provide a basic system of health coverage to all Americans, to try to give security to small businesses and working families who have health insurance but are terrified that they're going to lose it—if we don't do that, then you will never get this deficit down to zero because the cost of Government health care is going up by 12 percent a year. And 100,000 Americans a month are losing their health insurance.

Now there is no easy answer to this. If it were easy, somebody else would have done it already. It's hard. Why? Because we're spending too much money on health care, but it's in all the wrong places. And the question is: How are you going to move the money from where it shouldn't be, in administrative costs and extra procedures and duplicated technologies and a lot of other things, to where it should be, covering people who don't have health insurance without bankrupting small business, without imposing undue Financial burdens, without imposing new taxes on people that are already paying too much.

Can it be done? You bet it can, but it won't be easy, and it will require people who have been making a killing out of the present system to accept some change. But I'm telling you, the worst thing we can do is to do nothing. When we come out with this plan everybody will say—well, whatever we say to get the money to people who don't have health insurance now or to provide health security to those who can't change jobs now, they'll call that a tax. But when we lower by millions and millions and millions of dollars a year the health insurance premiums of people who are paying too much or the paperwork burdens of the doctors and hospitals who are spending too much money filling out paper, they don't want to count that-the defenders of the status quotas an offset.

We are going to have to change, folks, but most of what we have to do is to move the money from where it shouldn't be to where it should. We're already spending plenty of money, but we've got to move it around. And you ought to be able to see that not only will it cost some people some more money to have health insurance, but a lot of people who are paying too much will save. And that is what we have to do. If we don't have the courage to change, we will not get the Government budget under control. But most important, working-class families in this country and small business people will never have the health security without which it is virtually impossible to have a good life over the long run. We have got to do this. And I am determined to see that we do.

Let me just close by saying this: This is a difficult time. I told somebody the other day that I was absolutely convinced after 100 days as President that all the easy decisions had already been made by somebody else. Every day I meet with my staff and I say, send me just one easy one. Let's declare a moratorium. We won't talk about anything hard today. Send me an easy one. I'm still waiting. [Laughter]

But I want you to know that we can turn this country around; we can secure our future. It is in our power. We can bring the deficit down. We can increase our investment in education and jobs. We can meet the competitive challenges ahead of us. We can face the health care challenge. But we have got to have the courage to change. And we will win if we do that. I wish to goodness I could just say to every one of you, you don't have to do any of this. I'll just go to some other State and make them do it. [Laughter] But I can't.

Everybody will always be able to find some fault with every comprehensive proposal like this. There's no such thing as a perfect proposal. I don't like everything about everything that we have presented in the hope of passing and securing change. But the test for this generation, the test for this whole generation is whether we are going to have the courage to make these changes, to rebuild the middle class, and to lift up the economy of this country and to lift up all these children in this audience today. I believe you have that courage, and together we're going to do it.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. at the Galleria Mall. In his remarks, he referred to Martin Cleary, president, Richard and David Jacobs Group, and Keith Masters, general manager, Galleria and Tower Erieview.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in Cleveland, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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