Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge

May 30, 1996

Thank you very much. I always enjoy coming to Louisiana and coming to this capitol building. I keep thinking I will somehow capture the secret of how you do it here. I thank you for that warm welcome. Governor Foster, thank you for your introduction. Mrs. Foster, Mr. Speaker, Senator Ewing, to your statewide elected officials, Senator Breaux and Congressman Jefferson, Congressman Fields, members of the Supreme Court, members of the State House and Senate, and all the guests who are here: I am very honored to be invited to speak to the Louisiana Legislature.

I thank the Governor for coming up here with me. It's nice to see Republicans and Democrats standing together on the same little piece of ground here. [Laughter] I hope somebody got a picture of this. We're going to show it in Washington, DC.

Somebody asked me if this was a good idea. I said, "I don't know if it's a good idea for him, but anybody that comes to work in a camouflage hunting outfit is my kind of guy." I like it. [Laughter]

I do want you to know that I have not been in Baton Rouge all day; I started the morning in New Orleans. And we all went to lunch there, and I paid some good sales tax in Louisiana— [laughter]—had a wonderful meal, ate too much food. And what I ate was Louisiana crawfish, not Chinese crawfish.

I'm happy to be here in a State I've spent a lot of time in, my neighboring State, a State that has shared so many of the challenges that we faced in the dozen years I was Governor of Arkansas and in the last 20 years that I've been in public life. Indeed, you could argue that we've made a conscious effort, ever since the end of World War II, in our States and in other States throughout the South to catch up to the rest of America in providing opportunity in terms of jobs and education and working together to get beyond the divisions of race, to go to a time when we could ask everybody to be more responsible and everybody to work together more and put their divisions aside.

And it's very interesting that now I think you can make a serious case that the whole country has to be on the mission that those of us in Southern States have been on for the last 50 years, because we know we've moved from the cold war to the global village; we know we've moved from an information age to one dominated by—I mean from an industrial age to one in which industry, agriculture, and all forms of human endeavor are dominated by information and technology. We know that the world is changing economically as much as it has in 100 years. And Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, in his recent book says that in terms of how we communicate with one another and share information, we're going through the biggest period of change in 500 years, since Gutenberg printed the first Bible in Europe.

And that means that if we want to preserve the American dream for our children and our grandchildren, that the whole country now has to work on the mission that arguably has been the mission of those who have been in the South for the last 50 years. We've got to have a system of education that is second to none in the world if we want our people to be able to compete and win in the global economy. And we have to find ways to create jobs in a competitive way. And we have to find ways for everyone to assume more responsibility for our common future and to do it together. We can't afford to be divided by race or gender or income or party or anything else anymore if it undermines the fundamental American mission of preserving the American dream for all of our people in a new world.

And I see that so clearly as I travel around the world. I see that Americans are still looked up to by people around the world who think that we don't want to control their lives and we want to use our power to help everybody live in peace, who think that we are struggling to find ways for all of our folks to live together instead of defining our lives by who we're against and who we're not.

In the South, you know, we see it in pretty stark racial terms, but it's gotten a lot more complicated than that. Our largest county in America, Los Angeles County, now has over 150 different racial and ethnic groups represented in one county in the United States. And the only way we're going to do well is if we all tack the same Constitution up on the wall, the same Bill of Rights on the wall, and say that's what we're going to live by; and if you will stand up and work hard and obey the law and share the same constitutional values and say we're all going to be responsible and do our best and work together, this country is going to do fine. We're going to do fine, but we have to do that.

I do believe that the most important thing we can be doing today as a nation to create opportunity for our people is to give them the tools they need to succeed. In a global economy, the Government cannot give anybody a guaranteed success story, but you can give people the tools to make the most of their own lives. And education is the most important of all those tools.

I'd like to talk just a few minutes about how education fits into building a structure of opportunity for the 21st century and what I believe the Nation's role is to the National Government, what I believe we should be doing through State and local government instead, and what we ought to leave to the private sector, both to groups like business and labor and just to individual citizens on their own. Because I think we need—in addition to a commitment to education, about which I want to say a little more in a minute—we need a system which will produce a growing economy, safe streets, a clean environment, and a Government in Washington that talks a lot more about what we need to do and a lot less about how we need to do it, that is leaner and more effective and focuses on those things which only we can do at the national level, and then does everything we can do to make it possible for people to do what should be done properly at the State level or the local level or in the private sector.

Now, I think it's clear that we're moving in that direction. If you look at where we are now compared to 3 1/2 years ago, the country was mired in a recession, the slowest job growth since the Great Depression; we had quadrupled the national debt in 12 years; the deficit was projected to be about $300 billion a year. Now it is less than half of what it was when I took office. And I know you all see us fighting all the time over the balanced budget, but let me tell you something: We've now had 4 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President. We're going to balance the budget.

We have these big differences about how we should do it, and we might still get an agreement this year. We can still do that. But whatever happens, with or without an agreement, that deficit is going to keep coming down. And we're going to take the burden of debt off of you and off of our children. And we're going to stop taking so much money out of the capital accounts of the country, so interest rates will stay down, and we can grow this economy. It is terribly important.

The second thing we've been committed to doing is expanding our exports. And I know the Chinese crawfish story is a sore story, and I can tell you, I'll do what I can to address it. I wasn't just whistling "Dixie" when I said that. But if you look at the big picture, our exports have gone up more than a third in the last 3 years. They're at an all-time high. The jobs we have tied to exports on balance tend to pay more.

If you go down to the Port of New Orleans and just look at what's happened there, just in the last couple of years, it is obvious that our ability to trade with other countries is critical to our future. We've had more than 200 separate trade agreements, 21 with Japan alone. We're selling everything from United States rice in Japan to telecommunications equipment and cars, and in the 21 areas where we've made deals with them, our exports are up 85 percent in 3 years.

So America can compete with anybody anywhere in the world if we get not only freer trade but fair trade. That has to be our goal. That ought to be our goal with China. That's our goal with Japan. That's our goal with our neighbors in Latin America. That's our goal with everybody. We ask for no special treatment, but we do want fair rules that everybody follows. And we want to keep expanding America's ability to sell its products and services around the world.

The third thing I believe we have to do is to continue to invest in the technologies of the future. You read a lot about the partisan squabbling in Washington, but I'd like to give the Congress credit for doing something almost unanimously in a completely bipartisan way in passing the telecommunications bill that we worked on for 3 years just a couple of months ago. That bill will literally create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States, good jobs, over the next few years, by making sure that we stay ahead of the curve in the technologies of the future. And we have to continue to do that.

In Washington, one of our particular responsibilities, I believe, is in the whole area of biotechnology and how that relates to the whole communications and information revolution. We have to continue to invest in medical research, for example. We know that the 21st century, in large measure, will be the age of biology. We have people seriously telling us that we can raise the average life expectancy of people within a matter of a few decades to 100 years or more if we do it in the proper way. And we know that a lot of private enterprise cannot afford to do that unless we lead the way.

So we have to keep doing that, looking to the future, expanding frontiers. Just as we went into space, we can't stop before we have explored the full frontiers of our ability to heal people and restore life and the capacity of people to do well and live out the fullest measure of their days. So we have to keep doing these things. And if we do, they'll have good results.

We've got 8 1/2 million more jobs than we had 3 1/2 years ago, and we need more. But I say to you, this proves that we can move forward and do it together. And that's a responsibility in Washington, to keep interest rates low, to keep the deficit coming down, to balance the budget, and then to target the money we do have in the best possible way.

The other thing we've got to do, as I said, is to kind of reform the way the Government works. One of the things that all of the Governors wanted us to do, and the State legislators, was to pass the unfunded mandates law, which I signed a year or so ago, which says that we can't pass laws anymore in Washington and tell you what to do and, by the way, we want you to pay for it. Now, I hope that you will feel that in the—I hope you're feeling it now; I hope you'll feel it in the years ahead. I think it's a very important bill. I do not believe, having served 12 years as a Governor, longer than I can legally serve as President, I will never forget what it was like to put my budget together every year and have to start with the bill I was getting from Washington, first.

So we say if Washington wants to ask the States to do something, we need to help you pay for it. We need to pay for our own mandates and not ask you to pick up the tab. I think that's important.

Perhaps more important, we're also reducing the size and the way the Government operates. The Government in Washington is 237,000, to be exact, 237,000 people smaller today than it was the day I took the oath of office. It's now the smallest Federal Government in 30 years. As a percentage of the national work force, the Federal Government is the smallest it's been since 1933, before the New Deal.

The era of big Government has been ended. We are reducing the size of Government. We are eliminating 16,000 of the 80,000 pages of Federal regulations outright, getting rid of them. We are changing a lot of the other regulations in ways that make it easier for people in the private sector to live with. We're cutting by 25 percent the total amount of hours businesses are going to have to spend complying with EPA paperwork requirements without lowering any environmental standards whatever. We have given now about 80 different businesses and State governments permission to throw out the EPA rulebook if they can prove they're meeting the same clean air and clean water standards that the rules require. These are the kinds of things that we need to look at. How can we preserve our environment and grow our economy and be more efficient? And if there are ways to do it, Washington ought to be willing to let people do it.

Let me just give you the agency that I'm proudest of. We know that most new jobs are going to be created by small and middle-sized businesses. We have cut the budget of the Small Business Administration by 25 percent and doubled the loan volume. We have dramatically increased loans to women and minorities with no requirements in advance and without making a single loan to a single unqualified person and without undermining loans available for other people who would get them in the ordinary course of business, just by aggressively reaching out and saying to everybody we have to create more small businesses. That's the way we ought to grow this country: Put the programs where the needs are, let people meet the needs, and do it in a way that is most efficient.

I'm very proud of what the SBA is doing, and I think 10 years from now we're going to have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs because people, like the people who have gotten these loans, had a chance to get their start. That's how Federal Express got started, Intel, and a lot of other places.

Let me give you a few more examples. If you look at the crime bill, we're committed to a national goal of putting 100,000 police on the street, but we don't tell the police—the law enforcement officers how to do it. New Orleans has had a big drop in their crime rate. Jefferson Parish has had a big drop in their crime rate, a huge drop.

I was with Sheriff Lee today; he said that he had gotten, I think, 28 new officers the first go-around and 21 the second. I don't have any idea who they are, how they were trained, or how they were deployed. That's not the business of the Federal Government. We just knew that we tripled violent crime in 30 years and only increased by 10 percent the number of law enforcement officials. So police officers were having to drive around in cars more when what we really needed to do was walk on the streets more, to be in the neighborhoods more, to work with people, to stop crime from happening in the first place, to deal with the community crime watch groups and the children and try to give them good, positive role models.

So we said, "Here's our goal; now you figure out how to meet it and see if it will work." And we've had 3 years in a row now of declining crime rates all across America because we had the right kind of partnership: a national goal of 100,000 more police officers; let the people at the local level decide how to do it. It is working. That is the sort of thing we need more doing. And I can't help but say if we can't provide safe streets in this country, no one will ever trust Government to do anything else. People have to feel secure in their homes and on their streets and in their schools.

So these are the sort of things that I think we need to be doing. I want to make just one remark about the whole issue of welfare reform and how we're going to change the Medicare and the Medicaid programs. Our administration has also given more freedom from Federal rules for States to experiment in the health care area than previous ones have. A lot of States have wanted to go, for example, to managed care programs for all their low-income folks on Medicaid, and we approved a number of those experiments.

I have not been for a block grant program for Medicaid because I believe it is in the national interest to provide health care to seniors who have to go into nursing homes, to families with children with disabilities who might be cut out in hard economic times if we didn't have a national guarantee for them along with the national money, to pregnant women, and to poor children. And if something happens and we can't do that, I think it would be problem. As a person who was Governor of a State with economic challenges not unlike yours, I can tell you that it would give me a headache if I had had to go through the awful economic years of the 1980's with Medicaid as a block grant. I just don't think it's a good idea.

But I do think it is a good idea for us not to micromanage the program to death. And whatever comes out of this, you will see there is an enormous willingness to let the States have much more control over how the program is run but to maintain, from my point of view, a Federal guarantee that the populations should be covered and a guarantee that when times are getting tough you will get the money from Washington you need. Because if we block grant it and a big recession comes along and there's not enough money in the so-called reserve fund, then it will amount to an unfunded mandate, or you will be in a position of having to walk away from some of your folks that need it worse or having a mandated tax increase. And I just don't think it's right, and I don't think we ought to do it.

In the area of welfare reform I do think we can, and I hope we will, get a Federal bill through that will give States much more flexibility in the area of how to move people from welfare to work. We all know what we believe in: We think there ought to be strict time limits, stiffer child support enforcement, requirements to work, and help to give parents the child care and health care they need so they can leave welfare behind without worrying that they're leaving their kids in a tight spot.

You want people on welfare to do what you want the rest of society to do, to succeed as parents and as workers. And if you talk to any group of working people today, you find that that's what they're often worried about. If they're working hard and doing well but they're working longer hours at work, are they spending enough time with their kids, are their kids going to be okay?

And that's what we want in America, I think, is for everybody to be able to succeed at home and at work, because if we have to choose one over the other we're in a terrible fix. If we don't succeed at work, we won't be competing and winning and keeping the American dream alive. But if we blow it at home, it's all for nothing anyway.

I often say, you know, if we're lucky enough to know when we lay our head on the pillow for the last time before we leave this Earth, most of us won't say, "Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office." But we might say, "I wish I had spent more time with my children; I wish there had been just a little more time to try to do this, that, or the other thing right. I could have been a better father. I could have been a better mother. I could have done this better."

So when you think about this welfare reform issue, I ask you only to think about this: What we want for every American family is success at work and success at home, and our policies ought to be designed to promote responsibility, work, and good parenting. If we do that, we're going to do the right things, and we'll get a better country out of it.

I want to compliment Senator Breaux for the plan that he and the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, John Chafee, have introduced. If Congress would send me a bill like that, that is tough on work and fair to our children, then I'd be happy to sign it. And if we get a welfare reform bill, it will probably be because John Breaux has stayed after it and has been determined to get the Republicans and Democrats together when it seems so often that there's a determination to fight. And I thank him for that and you should be grateful for that, as well.

Meanwhile, we'll just keep on telling States that they can have permission to get around cumbersome Federal rules to fashion their own welfare reform. Since I've been President we've given 38 States a total of 62 separate waivers from the Federal rules. Louisiana got permission to impose a 2-year time limit and to require minor welfare mothers to stay in school and to have their children immunized, two good requirements that I hope every State in the country will follow, because that means success at home and success at work. That's good for America.

These 62 waivers—let me just give you an idea of what that means—that compares with a total of 24 in the previous two administrations, and there's more on the way. We have—75 percent of the families in America today are living under welfare reform experiments. And that's one reason, along with the improving economy, that there are 1.3 million fewer people on welfare today than there were in 1993 and one million people fewer on food stamps today. The poverty rolls are down. And that is because of welfare reform and the improving economy. So I urge you to continue to work on welfare reform and to continue to do it in a bipartisan fashion.

Now, let me again say that we don't always do things in a partisan fashion in Washington. We passed the bipartisan budget for this year that brings down the deficit, continues to invest in education, in the environment, in Medicare and Medicaid. We passed a tough antiterrorism bill. We passed that unfunded mandates bill. We passed the line item veto, thank goodness, after talking about it for 15 years.

So we are doing some things up there in a bipartisan fashion, and I will continue to try that, and I hope welfare reform is one of them. But meanwhile, you keep after it, because it is the symbol in America of what is wrong with Government but also what could be right about Government. And I think you can make a real difference at the State level. We'll do all we can to help you.

Let me just say a couple of words about education. The magic of education obviously is what occurs in the classroom between the teacher and the child, supported by the family. You need, for it to work, a good principal; you need, for it to work, a good school district; you need, for it to work, a strong State system that has not only adequate funding but high standards, high expectations.

And then I believe that the National Government has a responsibility to help States deal with the populations that are especially troublesome, which we do through programs like the Chapter 1 program to help you if you have a disproportionate number of poor children, for example; through the Head Start program to get more of our kids in preschool programs; through the college loan programs, the college scholarship programs which we've expanded to make college more readily available; and through the Department of Education's efforts to promote reform.

I appointed a Governor to head the Department of Education, Dick Riley, the former Governor of South Carolina. And he has designed an approach that I think is the proper one, where we try to encourage and facilitate school reforms, but we don't mandate them. The Goals 2000 program, for example, only requires that States have a plan to meet high national standards, and that they decide how they're going to do it and how they're going to implement it. And in return for that, they get some help and freedom from a lot of hassle that used to be in Federal rules and regulations.

The school-to-work program, about which I want to say just a little more in a moment, is in some ways the most important thing you can be focused on in the short run of your economy, because it recognizes that we are one of the few advanced countries in the world that has no system in every State in America to move people who don't go to 4-year colleges into the work force with enough skills to get jobs where the incomes will grow instead of going down. And every State has got to figure out how to do that.

The school-to-work program is just a device in which you can get people together who represent the technical schools, the community colleges, the private sector, people who are interested in this, to find a way to deal with it. But let me say, as I told the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate earlier this afternoon, if you just look at the 1990 census you will see this issue screaming at you from the 1990 census, because it shows you that in the 10 years between 1980 and 1990 the people with a high school degree or less who were younger workers got jobs where their incomes went down. The people with 4 years of college or more get jobs where their incomes went up.

But you didn't have to have a 4-year degree. What you had to have was the equivalent of 2 years further training after high school. So people who went to a vo-tech school, a community college, into the United States military, or got training on the job that amounted to adding to the skill levels by 2 years got jobs that were more solid, more predictable, where they had a better path to the future and rising incomes.

So our school-to-work program doesn't tell you to do anything, it just provides a framework in which you can bring all the people in Louisiana to the table and a little bit of money so that you can increase the number of young people who don't just get out of high school and drop through the cracks.

One of the things we have got to do is to show these young people who are dropping out of the system, who aren't voting, who feel cynical about it, that they can have a positive future if they won't give up on themselves after high school and they'll put themselves in a position where they can get skills and they can continue to learn for a lifetime.

The last thing I'd like to say about that is that I believe that we at the national level should do more to increase access to education after high school, not to shrink it. That's why I think the most important tax cut we could give the American people is a tax deduction for the cost of all education after high school, whether it's by the parent or the child, whether it's in a 2-year program or a 1-year program or a 4-year program, because we need to set up a system where people can keep learning for a lifetime. That is a way that we don't make any decisions; the people make all the decisions.

The second thing I propose is, we take all these Federal training programs, 70 or 80 of them, and collapse them all and put them in a big pot of money, and when somebody loses their job, just send them a voucher and let them do what they want to with it—go to the local technical college; go to the local community college; get in whatever program is certified and approved—and then send some money to the States for the people that aren't in driving distance of a high-class program where you can make a decision on how to deal with those people if they're isolated in rural areas or whatever.

But these are the kind of things, it seems to me, that we can do together. Meanwhile, I just want to commend you for what you're trying to do on teacher salaries; I want to commend you for what you're trying to do on the whole issue of higher education. I know some people say—I was proud to hear the Governor say what he said about the regional average— some people say, you know, this education is not a money problem, and to some extent it's not. But one of Clinton's laws of politics is, I'll bet you anything when somebody tells you it's not a money problem, they're talking about somebody else's problem, not theirs. Money is not a sufficient condition to improve education, but it is necessary. It is nowhere near enough, but it's important, and I applaud you for what you're trying to do.

I also will say again, I think this whole issue of high expectations is important. And if I might just return for one moment to my Governor's days, I spent I don't know how many hours in hundreds of schools as a Governor, most of them in my own State but some of them in States all over the country. I got to where I could get the feel of a school within 10 minutes after walking in. I've talked and listened to principals and teachers and students and parents, and we did something yesterday that I just wanted to mention, because Louisiana ought to be really proud. We honored the Blue Ribbon Schools of 1996 yesterday, and there were eight Louisiana schools on that list—which is higher than your population—eight. They were from Gretna, Metairie, Shreveport, Abbeville, New Orleans, St. Joseph's Academy right here in Baton Rouge. What I was going to say about these schools is, they all have some things in common. They all have high standards, and they all have high expectations. They have systems of accountability and they reward people, and they deserve credit for that.

But the thing that I have been most frustrated about when I was Governor and still as President is that we don't seem to have a system in education that you see in other forms of human endeavor, where people are dying to learn from the folks that are doing it in a way that works. And anything you can do, whether it's setting up charter schools or permitting parents to have more judgment about their schools—we've passed a broad public school choice plan in Arkansas, we're trying to help 3,000 of these charter schools to be set up within public school districts, but groups of teachers can establish it on their own—anything you can do that will help these schools that work get copied by others, I think that's one of the most important things that any State government could do in America, because every problem in public education has been solved by somebody somewhere.

We could all sit here and tell each other stories until 3 a.m. tomorrow morning about it, and some of these stories will bring tears to your eyes. I was in a junior high school in— I'll never forget as long as I live—in Chicago in the highest crime rate area in the city before they started bringing the crime rate down. The principal of the junior high school was from my home State, from the Mississippi Delta. They had a school dress code. They had a mandatory attendance policy. They had an absolute zero tolerance for weapons. They had 150 mothers and 75 fathers volunteering in that school every week. They had attendance rates, graduation rates, and test scores above the State average, and they had no violence in the toughest neighborhood in the whole city.

We could all tell stories about that. Why can't—if that can be done in one place or 2 places or 100 places or in these 8 schools in Louisiana or in all the Blue Ribbon Schools, why can't we do that everywhere? That cannot be done by the Federal Government. But if you wanted to do something that would revolutionize Louisiana forever, if you can figure out how to take what those eight schools we awarded yesterday those blue ribbons are doing, and get it done everywhere, you will do something that no State has figured out how to do that I think would make a difference that is profound in the future of the children of this State.

Finally, let me say I think that there is one other thing that we ought to help do, and that is to add to the basics for the 21st century computer literacy and access to the information superhighway. I have asked the Congress to give me a small amount of money, $2 billion, to help us work with the private sector in school districts all across America to make sure that by the year 2000, every classroom and every library in every school in America is connected to the information superhighway, and I think that is very, very important.

If you just think about what that would mean, and if we do it in a way that guarantees the good software and properly trained teachers— the State of West Virginia has been hooking up a grade a year, for 6 years now. They're going into junior high school; they just got out of grade school. But one-third of all the money they've spent on computers and wiring and connections, one-third of all the money they spent on teacher training. So it's important that whatever we do to help put the rest of this together, the teachers are properly trained.

That could also do more for our poor States and our poor school districts than anything else. Think about it. If you've got good equipment, good software, trained teachers in the remotest, most rural school district in the mountains of the Arkansas Ozarks or in the backwaters of Louisiana, you could have children doing research papers out of libraries in Australia on volcanoes anywhere in the world. You could have the quality of instruction coming to people that they could never get any other way, that today may be available only to people who go to the fanciest, most rigorous private and public schools in America.

So I think that—I want you to all think about that. We ought not to start this new century without every classroom and every library hooked up to the Internet, without adequate software for these kids, without adequate computers for these kids, and without enough teachers being trained to make sure they can do it. We can leapfrog a whole generation of economic advancements in our public schools if we do this right. And there's no excuse for us in the South—we have waited too long for this—there is no excuse for us to walk away from this, especially in the Southern States.

So I ask you to think about those things. And again, I say in closing, I saw my job when I became President to create a structure of opportunity for the 21st century, so that every American would be able to make the most of their own lives, and to find a way for us to work together with responsibility and a united community, instead of being divided.

The results, I think, have not always satisfied me in Washington. But we are in better shape than we were 3 1/2 years ago. And even in Washington—you look at it—every time we work together, we produce something that's good for America. When we work together, we do something that is good for America. When you work together, you will do something that is good for Louisiana.

And I will say again, I believe that having a world-class education system that is available to all of our children is now the single most important thing we can do, not just for the South to catch up to America but for America to remain the strongest, most prosperous country in the world in the next century. And we owe that to our children.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:15 p.m. at the State Capitol. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Mike Foster and his wife, Alice; H.B. Downer, Jr., speaker, Louisiana House of Delegates; and Randy Ewing, president, Louisiana State Senate.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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