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Remarks on the Middle Class Bill of Rights and North Korea

December 19, 1994

The President. Last week, I outlined my proposal for a middle class bill of rights to help the American people restore the American dream. The GI bill after World War II gave a generation of Americans a chance to build their own lives and their own dreams. Now we can help a new generation of hardworking people get the right education and skills, raise their children, and keep their families strong so that they can get ahead in the new American economy.

I want to take just a moment to remind you of the four features in that bill of rights. First, for a family making less than $120,000, the tuition they pay for postsecondary education, training, and retraining would be fully deductible from a taxable income, phased up to $10,000 a year; second, for a family with an income of $75,000 a year or less, a tax cut phased up to $500 a year for every child under the age of 13; third, for families with incomes under $100,000 a year, the ability to put away $2,000 tax-free into an IRA and then withdraw that money tax-free for costs of education, health care, first-time home, or the care of an elderly parent. Finally, we will make billions of dollars available that the Government normally spends itself, through separate job-training programs, directly to workers who can decide on how best to use the money to learn new skills.

There's only one reason we can afford to do this at this time. We have worked very hard to cut Government spending and to bring the deficit under control. The Government debt increased by 4 times during the 12 years before I took office. I want to remind you what that burden means. It means that this April when people make out their checks to the Government, 28 cents of every dollar of Federal income tax will be necessary to pay interest on the debt accumulated between 1981 and the day I was inaugurated. It is our responsibility to turn that around, and we have been working to fulfill it. We have already passed budgets that cut the deficit by $700 billion, eliminate 100 Government programs, and cut over 300 others.

A major part of this endeavor has been the reinventing Government initiative led by the Vice President. I have worked hard to reduce and to redirect governments for many years, since my early days as Governor of my State, when we were one of the first States in the country to adopt a statewide total quality management program, which resulted in cutting regulation and paperwork, eliminating agencies and departments and programs that were unnecessary. Now we are cutting things that can be cut. We propose to stop doing things that Government doesn't do very well and that don't need to be done by Government. And we believe we should increase our efforts where Government can make a real, positive difference in the lives of ordinary Americans. We have to change yesterday's Government and make it work for the America of today and tomorrow.

In the last 2 years, we have made a good beginning. We have begun to shrink the Federal Government's bureaucracy to its smallest size in 30 years. The work force of the Federal Government is already almost 100,000 below where it was on the day we were inaugurated. We are on the way to a reduction of 272,000 positions, cuts that are freeing up money to invest in our people. For example, every dollar that goes to fund the crime bill, which is a direct transfer of investment to our local communities at the grassroots level, comes from the cuts we are making.

Later today at the Justice Department, I will announce new efforts under the crime bill to finish our commitment of putting 100,000 more police officers on the street and stop the crime that punishes so many American families.

We have to continue to meet our responsibilities to the next generation. We must pay, therefore, for the middle class bill of rights with new reductions in Government spending, dollar for dollar, spending cuts to pay for tax cuts, with no new cuts in Medicare and Social Security. I call on Congress to meet that same responsibility in their deliberations.

Our administration has just completed a review in which we have identified $24 billion in cuts in bureaucracy, redtape, and outmoded programs to help to do this. And we are committed to continuing the freeze on discretionary spending, which will save another $52 billion in the next 5-year budget cycle.

We will do even more to shrink yesterday's Government. I have called on the Vice President to review every single Government program and department for further possible reductions. He's also going to review the Federal regulatory process, and we have spent a good deal of time on that already, so that we can get better results for the public with less interference in their lives.

Vice President Gore is here to discuss the details of our next round of proposals in reinventing Government, along with Director Alice Rivlin and the heads or representatives of five agencies in which we are proposing reductions now, including Secretary Cisneros, Secretary Pena, Deputy Secretary White, General Services Administration Director Roger Johnson, and Office of Personnel Management Director Jim King. I want to thank them and our entire economic team for their hard work in the last few weeks.

I also want to say a special word of thanks to people who often get overlooked in this, and that is the employees of the United States Government. The work they have done in the last 2 years to help us to reduce the size of the Federal work force by 100,000 already, to implement plans to take it down to a total of 272,000, and even more with the announcements we are making today, that work is truly exemplary. It would be envied by many of our biggest corporations in this country. They have rolled up their sleeves; they have been creative; they have found ways for us to save taxpayer money and redirect that into the middle class bill of rights and to investing in our future.

This has been—I want to emphasize—a very disciplined, well-organized process. We have not let rhetoric and recklessness dominate it. This has been about reality. And again, as we go into the New Year, that ought to be our motto, as I said the other night: Country first, politicsas-usual dead last; focus on reality, not rhetoric and not recklessness.

It is not enough to cut Government just for the sake of cutting it. Government is not inherently good or bad. In a new time, with a new economy, with new demands on ordinary American families, we need a leaner but not a meaner Government. We need to put Government back on the side of hardworking Americans. That means I will oppose certain cuts if they undermine our economic recovery, undermine middle class living standards, undermine our attempts to support poor people who are doing their best to raise their children and want to work their way into the middle class, undermine our attempts to improve education, protect our environment, and move us into the future with a high-wage, high-growth economy.

As I said last Thursday night, what we really need is a new American Government for this new American economy in the 21st century, one that is creative and flexible, that's a high-quality, low-cost producer of services that the American people need and that can best be provided at the national level. The best thing we can do in this process is to follow the model that smart companies have done, which is to develop a good plan, put good people in charge, and pursue the goal with vigor.

I am confident that I chose the right person to lead the reinventing Government effort. I want to thank the Vice President and all of his team. They have done wonderful work. And I'd like now to turn the podium over to Vice President Gore.

[At this point, the Vice President outlined the reinventing Government plan and introduced the agency officials who presented the new proposals.]

North Korea

Q. Can we ask the President a question?

The President. Let me just—let me make a brief statement. I want to say just two things about the North Korean situation. First of all, I called the families of the two soldiers involved today to express my concern, and in the case of the gentleman who was killed, my condolences, to the family. And I told them what I can tell you. I've worked on this all weekend. I'm going to keep working on it, and we're working on an early resolution of it. We're doing the very best we can. I don't have any details to tell you now.

As you know, I think, Congressman Richardson is in North Korea, and he is working with us and also doing a very fine job. I have nothing else to say at this time, except it's a high priority, we're working on it, and we're going to do our best to resolve it.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:13 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Middle Class Bill of Rights and North Korea Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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