Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the National Council of La Raza in Miami

July 18, 1994

Thank you so much, Secretary Cisneros, for that stirring set of remarks, for your kind and generous introduction, but more importantly, for your creative, vigorous, and effective leadership in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a department that is now known as a source of innovation, well run, efficiently run, but also a place where values count, where ideas count, on the cutting edge of change. Henry Cisneros, whether he is trying to integrate a housing development in Vidor, Texas, or trying to give safety and security back to the children in the public housing in Chicago or donning a hard hat to try to take some buildings down and make public housing more humane all across the country, he's the model of what we all ought to be in public service today. Let me also say, only half jokingly, he also has just demonstrated Clinton's third law of politics, which is whenever possible be introduced by someone you've appointed to high office; they will brag on you every time. [Laughter]

To President Raul Yzaguirre—we were just reminiscing that he has been a leader of La Raza now for 20 years. I'm very glad you don't have term limits. [Laughter] He's been a good thing for your organization. To your board chair, Audrey Alvarado; to all the Members of Congress who are here, Congressman Pastor and Congressman Esteban Torres, who came from Washington with me and represents California and all the Members of the Florida delegation who are here, Representatives Meek and Brown and Deutsch, Diaz-Balart, and Shaw; and to my good friend Senator Bob Graham and Lieutenant Governor MacKay—and I think Governor Chiles is here; I know he was here: I am delighted to be here in Florida and most especially with La Raza.

I want to say that when Henry and I were discussing what I should say today, he said I should say—let's see if I do it—Si, se puede, Yes, we can. That has been the model of my Presidency, and in some ways it was the model I was raised with by my wonderful mother who never spoke a word of Spanish but understood that message. I want to especially recognize, too, the honored guests you have here for Seniors Day. They know the meaning of those words, and they have done so much for us.

As we gather here today, looking into a future that will begin a new century and a new millennium, I think it is important that we view all the specifics that we discussed, those that you have already discussed and the things I am about to say, in the larger context of the challenges of this time. I asked the American people for this office because I believed that we had to do much more to restore our economy, to restore the American dream, to help to create a world of peace and prosperity in which Americans could live up to their full potential, because I believed that we could not do that unless we made a great strength of our diversity, unless we were a country coming together, not coming apart, and because I believed we could not do that unless the Government of the United States worked for ordinary citizens again.

The future of the 21st century, the America that I want to see us build together, will be an America where Hispanic leadership anchors its place in boardrooms, schoolrooms, and all the halls of power, in which Hispanic-Americans will be sought out as leaders among opinion shapers and policymakers. In the America that's not just around the corner, in all our futures, Hispanics running for mayor, Governor, Congress, and yes, for President won't be running against the tide but with it. They will be leading the rebuilding of America and a renaissance of community, family, and work from the grassroots up.

Of course, much of this is happening already. More than 5,000 Hispanics hold elective office in America today, a world away from the numbers of a generation ago. The Hispanic Congressional Caucus has grown to 18 members and will surely grow more.

Up and down the Americas, as we nurture democracy and expand trade, Hispanics are the bridges between our different countries and our cultures, bridges that will lead us to tomorrow.

There is no doubt that in the unity of Hispanic-Americans there is great strength and that in the diversity of America there is great strength if we will but develop it and nourish it.

In the last 18 months since I took office, we have followed that course, a course set in a long campaign and before that in a long public life, a course of change that you deserved. One of the things I have tried to do, and Secretary Cisneros referred to that, is to try to make this administration look more like America.

Henry Cisneros and Federico Pena have become household names. But there are 288 other Hispanic-American appointees, 2.5 times as many as in the previous administration, many at the senior level. Eleven percent of the judicial appointments are Latinos, compared to just two appointments in each of the last two administrations. They are people who may or may not be well known, but they are making a difference every day, people like Aida Alvarez and Nelson Diaz at HUD; Norma Cantu and Mario Moreno at Education; Fernando Torres-Gil at HHS and Jack Otero and Maria Echaveste at Labor; Joe Valasquez, Suzanna Valdez, Carolyn Curiel, and many others in the White House. I have recently nominated Gill Casellas to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We've been joined by Polly Baca as Director of Consumer Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services and by General Ed Baca as head of the National Guard, the first Hispanic ever to head the National Guard in the history of the United States.

If you ask me do we need to do more and better, I would say yes. But we are doing better than people have done before. You just keep urging and working, and we'll keep doing better, broadening the base of America's Government.

The whole purpose and strategy of everything that I have tried to do as your President is to make the American dream a real possibility for all of our citizens in a dramatic, even breathtakingly, changing world.

The first thing we had to do was to get our economic house in order, to end the drift of the economy. Last year, Congress voted by the narrowest of margins for the economic plan that I proposed that included $255 billion in spending cuts, tax breaks for 15 million working American families, making 90 percent of our small businesses eligible for tax reductions, increasing income taxes on the wealthiest 1.5 percent of our people.

When that budget, combined with this budget, which eliminates over 100 Government programs, cuts 200 others, and reduces the Federal work force by over a quarter of a million, giving us the smallest Federal Government in 1999 that we've had since Kennedy was President, when these two budgets are put together, we will have reduced the Federal deficit for 3 years in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President of the United States.

The Federal debt we will pass along to our children and grandchildren will be $700 billion less than it was estimated to be when I took office as President. We're also trying to grow this economy through expanding exports, through trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT, bringing down foreign barriers to our products and services, eliminating our own barriers to the exports of a lot of our high-tech products.

Already because of NAFTA, we're exporting autos to Mexico at more than 5 times the rate of a year ago. And overall exports to Mexico are growing faster than to any other country with which we trade. Mexico's exports to the United States are also up, too. Both of us are winning, because we did the right thing on NAFTA last year.

And I have just come from a meeting of distinguished citizens of south Florida who are working to make the Summit of the Americas, near the end of this year, a success. You know, this meeting that we're going to have will include the Democratic leaders of this entire hemisphere, the Caribbean and Central and South America as well as in North America. We are going to talk about what we can do to strengthen democracy, what we can do to continue to integrate all of the Americas economically, and what we are going to do to help to build a system of sustainable development so that we can preserve our precious natural resources and grow our economies at the same times. It will be an historic meeting, and we are having it right here in Miami.

I told the folks who were there that I had the opportunity last night to talk to the coach of the Brazilian soccer team and the head of the Brazilian Federation of Soccer, once again reminding me of some of the things we have to do as Americans, because he spoke very good English, and I didn't speak his language. But he said an interesting thing to me. He said, "You know, when we all came here we wondered about this World Cup because we knew soccer was not your game. And yet, we've had wonderful attendance. We've had an open door to all of our people coming from other countries to see your games. The American people have made this the best World Cup ever." Well, it put me to thinking, soccer may not be our game, but democracy is; enterprise is; diversity as a strength is. We can make the Summit of the Americas a truly historic event for all of you in this room and all you represent. Twenty years from now we'll look back on what is happening in Miami at the end of this year as one of the most important events, paving the way to the right kind of future in the 21st century.

Let me say this strategy is working, bringing the deficit down, investing more in education and training, investing more in new technologies, opening new trade opportunities, it's working. In the last 18 months, our economy has generated more than 3.8 million jobs, the unemployment rate has dropped 1.7 percent. Last year we had the largest number of new businesses started in the United States than any year since the end of World War II. We are going in the right direction.

But we know we need to do more. We know we have to give our citizens the confidence they need to grow. We know that among Latinos there has been stronger support for the idea of education and hard work through education as the way out of poverty and the way to the American dream than perhaps any other community in the United States. But we also know that we have not yet provided our people with the kind of lifetime learning opportunities that we now know are necessary to succeed and win in the global economy. The average person, after all, will change jobs seven times in a lifetime. So we need a world-class system that starts from the day someone enrolls in kindergarten or preschool to the day they finish high school, to the day they go to college or go into a jobtraining program or go into work for the first time, until the day they retire. And we are working on that.

This year the Congress has provided, largely on a completely bipartisan basis, perhaps the most important education reforms we have had in a generation, a total reform of the Head Start system serving more children at a younger age; expansion of childhood immunization; the Goals 2000 bill, which sets international educational goals for all of our schools and encourages grassroots reforms to meet them; the school-to-work transition bill, which trains young people who don't go on to college but who do need at least 2 years of further training to get good jobs with a growing income. We must do that for every one of our non-college-bound young people. And we are now considering a way to change the unemployment system into a reemployment system so that when people lose their jobs they can immediately begin to retrain for the jobs of tomorrow.

Now, when you put all that with what the Congress did last year in the economic program, which was to reform the college loans so that— listen to this, we made 20 million Americans eligible for lower interest rates, better repayment on their college loans, so that no one should ever not go to college again because of the cost of a college education. We are on the right track to the future.

We are trying to do things that honor your values: opportunity, responsibility, community, and the soul of the Hispanic culture, our families. Last year we enacted the family medical leave law, and we cut taxes on 15 million working families to encourage people to stay in the work force, not to slip back into welfare. We established a White House commission on Hispanic educational excellence, chaired by Raul. And I am confident that he will find even more ways for us to help the people who need help.

Our program of national service, AmeriCorps, has benefited from the guidance of La Raza. This year we will have 20,000 young Americans all across the country working in their communities to deal with problems and earning money to continue their education. Year after next we can have 100,000 young Americans rebuilding America from the grassroots up. In Texas alone, the community service program helped to immunize 100,000 extra children in the first year it was in place.

To give you an idea of the dimensions of what national service can do for America, in your communities, in the largest year of participation of the Peace Corps, the largest number we ever had participating was 16,000. We'll have 20,000 this year in national service, 100,000 the year after next. It can help to rebuild America. And the spirit of La Raza should be there in project after project after project after project.

There are two issues I want to speak with you about in closing today, without which we cannot make America what it ought to be. The first is crime. It is tearing our country apart, costing us too much in money and in humanity. And we have to take control of our streets and our neighborhoods again. Right now we are very close to winning passage of an historic crime bill that would put 100,000 more police officers on the street, a 20 percent increase in the number of police officers on the street. It would ban assault weapons that too often make gangs better armed than the police who are supposed to be protecting the American people. And I might add, for those of you who come from rural sporting constituencies like mine, it would identify over 600 sporting and hunting weapons that could not be banned or restricted in any way. It is a law enforcement measure.

It would provide tougher penalties for repeat offenders, more money for local governments to build jail cells but, for the first time ever, $8 billion in prevention, to give our young people something to say yes to as well as something to say no to.

But we've been slowed down in the last few weeks, and we need to speed up to pass the crime bill. If anybody doubts why we need it, notice your morning papers. Yesterday, the Department of Justice released a study that showed that in America children between the ages of 12 and 17 are 5 times more likely to be beaten, raped, and robbed than adults in America. Children are the new victims of crime in America. Our children are the most common victims. And the trends are not good because our children are also more and more likely to be the most common perpetrators. Violent crimes committed against children are up 23 percent since 1987, even in many cities where the overall crime rate is going down. We are allowing our children to be terrorized, a generation of children to be lost in place after place in America, and we must stop it.

And this problem is infecting people without regard to their race. I'll never forget meeting the parents of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from her bedroom in Petaluma, California, and subsequently killed. And then there was the letter I got in late April or early May, which a lot of you remember, from 9-year-old James Darby of New Orleans. He wrote me this letter and pleaded with me to do something about the crime problem. He said, "I think somebody might kill me, and I'm asking you nicely to do something about it." Nine days later he was gunned down—9 years old, writing the President, pleading for help. Then yesterday we get the statistical horror that our children are 5 times more likely to be victimized than the rest of us.

The names of Polly Klaas and James Darby and all the others we're going to lose if we don't act—it's time, it's time to put all of our differences aside, to work out the problems we have to work out and pass that crime bill. Every day, every week, every month that goes by is another period of time when the police aren't on the street, when the assault weapons ban is not in place, when the tougher penalties on repeat offenders are not in place, when we don't have the prevention programs on the streets in every neighborhood in the United States. This is the best and biggest and most significant fight on crime in the history of the United States, and we ought to act on it and do it now.

The other problem I need your help on and I have to thank you for is health care. I want to thank first La Raza for issuing its statement in favor of universal coverage and shared responsibility. But I also want to talk frankly about this. You know, for 60 years our country has tried under Presidents of both parties to reform our health care system, to provide health security for all Americans. And we have never been able to do it.

There are reasons for that. But first, let me ask you to look at the system we have now. What is good about it? The doctors, the nurses, the technology, the medical research: If you can get it, it is the finest in the world. And there are a lot of selfless people. I have been to a public health clinic here in Miami that I will never forget, treating people without regard to their means and giving the best health care they possibly could.

But if you look at our system and compare it to others and if you want America to compete and win in the global economy, we must be willing to rigorously compare ourselves to others, both our strengths and our weaknesses. Here are the facts: We spend a bigger percentage of our income, 14.5 percent, on health care, than any other country. Nobody is over 10. Canada spends 10 percent; Germany and Japan spend about 8.5 percent. But we are the only nation that simply cannot figure out how to cover everybody; in fact, we're going in reverse. Ten years ago, 88 percent of our people were covered with health insurance or covered by Government programs. Today we're back to 83 and dropping.

States have struggled with reforms. Forty States have enacted various kinds of insurance reforms. Of the States which have acted, 30 of those States have still had an increase in the number of people without insurance. You say, "Well, 83 percent, that means only one in six Americans don't have health insurance. That's not too bad. Even though nobody else would tolerate it, it's not too bad." But it is bad. Why? Because nearly everybody can lose your health insurance. Who can't lose their insurance? If you're rich, you can always buy it. If you're poor, the Government will give it to you. If you're in jail, you'll get it. If you work for the Government, you'll get it. Anybody else can lose it, even if you've got it. And we simply have to find a way to deal with this.

The second big problem we have is—I saw all of you nodding your heads when I was talking about education and training out there, identifying with what I said. Most Americans without regard to their party would say the United States today should be spending more investing in our future, more on education and training, more on airports, more on roads, more on technology, more to build a powerful economy. You ought to look at your Federal Government budget.

Now, I am proud of the fact that we're eliminating 100 programs and cutting over 200 others. Proud of the fact that I gave the Congress the first budget in 25 years, if it passes this way, that will actually reduce domestic spending, excluding health care and the other things we've called entitlements. But if you look at what we're doing, we are cutting defense, and I don't believe we can cut it much more. We are right at the edge, below which we shouldn't go. We've cut it dramatically.

We're holding all other domestic spending constant, and health care is exploding. We're exploding health care costs at 2 and 3 times the rate of inflation, paying more for the same health care. You're going to be listening to Presidential campaigns from now til kingdom come if we don't do something about health care where the people running will be standing up and telling you something that's not so because they won't be able to spend a nickel to see the cow jump over the Moon. They will have to spend all the money, pay more every year for the same health care.

Small businesses in America are paying 30 percent more on average than big business and Government. And more and more people are going without health care coverage. Now, this is the biggest issue, a bigger issue to Hispanic-Americans than any other group. Why? Because more working Hispanics are uninsured than any other group of Americans. More than 32 percent of the Hispanic population is uninsured, compared to 13 percent for Anglo-Americans and 20 percent for African-Americans.

Why is that? Is that because more of you are on welfare? No. If you were on welfare, you'd have health insurance. It's because you are working for small business people or parttime for jobs that do not have health benefits, often for employers that honestly cannot afford health benefits in the current environment.

Now, one of the real problems we have with this debate is that the people who want to stop us from fixing it say they're sticking up for small business. They say that small business can't afford one percent of payroll or 2 percent of payroll to provide for health care. The problem is that most small businesses today are trying to provide health care, and they're paying too much for two reasons: number one, because they're having to carry the burden for those who won't do anything for their employees and, number two, because they're small, they can't get the same good rates that people who work for Government and big business can. And it's not right.

We have always believed that the States were the laboratories of democracy. I'm supporting the State of Florida now in a very innovative thing they want to do with health care. But we do have one State, Hawaii, who 20 years ago decided that there ought to be shared responsibility, a 50-50 deal, employers pay half of health insurance and employees pay half of it and everybody gets covered. They have about 98 percent coverage. Their infant mortality rate has dropped by 50 percent. Their average longevity is more than the national average.

You say, "Well, Hawaii is a healthy, happy place. We all go there to play golf, or whatever." The truth is that 20 percent of their health burden are poor native islanders. And the most important thing is that small business premiums there are 30 percent below the national average. Why? Because nobody is refusing to do their part and because the little guys can join together in big pools and get the same costs that bigger employers can.

My fellow Americans, the Hispanic community has always stood for work over welfare, for holding families together against all the odds, and for the notion that the community was important, that we all became more by working together and being loyal to one another than we could just pursuing our individual destinies. And yet we are living in a country that is the only advanced country in the world that cannot figure out how to cover all of its people. We are punishing the small businesses who try to do the right thing. We are spending 40 percent more of our income than anybody else. We are losing ground on coverage every day. And a lot of people say that what we ought to do is put a Band-Aid on the present system.

I say to you, this is one issue where the political rhetoric is divorced from the reality. The right thing to do for small business that will generate more jobs is to ask everybody to be responsible, give small business a break, give small business the voluntary opportunity to join a buying cooperative so they can get better rates, but cover everybody. Cover everybody.

We have experience. We know what works and what doesn't. This is a very tough fight because we are spending so much of our money on health care on things that relate to the financing of health care, not keeping people healthy or treating them when they're sick. And a lot of people don't want to change the status quo. But if you look at the trends, it is truly frightening. Thirty-two percent of Hispanic-Americans, working people—of all the people in America without health insurance today, 85 percent of them get up every day and work for a living. And if they would quit and go on welfare, we'd give them good health care.

Is that the message we want to send to our people? Is that the message we want to send to our children? Do you want health care for sure? Go on welfare, go to jail, get elected to Congress, or get rich. [Laughter] I'm not criticizing the Congress; be a Federal employee, be the President. Be President. I've got it, and I'm not going to lose it. And it's not right. And we know what to do. Do we have the will, do we have the courage, do we have the vision to do it?

I ask you this because it isn't just that one in six Americans don't have health insurance; it isn't just that one in three Hispanics don't have health insurance; it's that the two and three who do have it could lose it. Eighty-one million of us live in families like Henry Cisneros' family, where his young son, who means more to him than anything in the world, has fought a heroic battle against a tragic health problem. And he works for us, so he's got health insurance. What if Henry Cisneros were a traveling salesman? What in God's name would have happened to his son?

There are 81 million of us that live in these families. We owe it to them to be able to work, to grow, to flourish, to take care of their children. Or if their wives get premature breast cancer or a man has a heart attack at 40, we cannot shut them down. And unless you cover everybody, if you try to fix their problem, the only thing you're going to do is raise everybody else's insurance and have more middle class people losing their insurance. We know what to do. Do we have the courage to do it?

La Raza is here after 26 years because you kept pushing people to change, because you did not deny the existence of real problems but instead embraced the exhilaration of dealing with them. Now, I know a lot of the things I do as President aren't always popular, but I'll tell you what, I show up for work every day and I ask people to face real problems. This is a real problem. Crime is a real problem. Welfare is a real problem. Continuing to make this economy go forward is a real problem. They are also enormous opportunities. This is the greatest country in human history. I believe we can deal with this if you'll give us the energy and support we need to do it.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the National Council of La Raza in Miami Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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