Remarks to the National League of Cities
Thank you very much, Carolyn, for that warm introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the wonderful welcome you have given me. I'm glad to be here on this podium with all your officers, including Mayor Lashutka of Columbus. Did I pronounce that right? Close? Lashutka.
I just had the Nebraska football team over at the White House, and so I had a lot of practice pronouncing names this morning. [Laughter] The Nebraska football team are so big, that's the only group of people in America I could stand with and look like the resident ballet dancer. [Laughter]
Mayor James, it's good to see you here, and all the other mayors who are here and all of the other representatives of the cities and towns of our country.
I like to come here and meet with you because you deal with people at the level where you can have the greater contact with them. When I was Governor, nothing was more important to me than actually being able to spend a lot of time with the citizens at the grassroots community level who were interested in solving the problems of people. And I've always said that one of the things I like most about the job I used to have and one of the things I like least about the job I have now is that the closer you get to the people, the less political the work is, and the closer you get to Washington, the more political it becomes.
The most frustrating thing about being President is that I don't get enough time to speak with ordinary Americans in terms that they can understand about what we're trying to do up here. Although I must say, when I was driving up here today, I thought, these local officials may be out of touch, too. This is the most beautiful day we've had in Washington in 6 months, and here you are listening to a politician inside. [Laughter] I don't know.
You have the opportunity to see people struggling to keep the American dream alive every day. And when you think of these issues, it must stun you at times what you hear in the news about what's going on up here, when it seems too rhetorical. Because I know when you think of these issues, you know a name, you see a face, you know a life story. That gives meanings to the problems that we are dealing with. And I think Washington has suffered grievously from losing that connection, losing that touch with the people who sent us here, and trying to communicate with people from such a long way away over the mass media, through so many millions of conflicting messages with high levels of rhetoric.
I want to try to move back from that today and just to speak frankly about the choices that we face here and the choices that you face in doing your job and how we both can make the right decisions. As we stand on the edge of a new century and a new millennium, I think there are two great tasks facing America and our generation.
The first is to make sure that we enter the next century with the American dream alive and well for all of our people, for the middle class whose interests are so often forgotten, for those who are struggling to make it in the global economy, for all the poor people in this country who are working hard to play by the rules and to live up to their God-given capacity.
The second thing we have to do is to make sure we enter the next century making sure that America is still the strongest country on Earth, still the greatest force in the world for freedom and democracy and opportunity.
There are two great threats to this endeavor. One is the stagnation of middle class economics. The other is the erosion of mainstream values.
And the third thing that I want to talk to you about is the fact that the Government has often made these problems worse, not better, in the last several years. So we have to ask ourselves, what can we do to restore middle class economics, the opportunity part of the American dream? And what can we do to restore mainstream values, the responsibility part of the American dream? And what kind of Government changes do we need here to make sure we're good partners with the American people where you live and work?
For the last 20 years, most people have worked the same hours or even longer hours for the same or even lower wages. There is a new class of permanently poor people, mostly young women and their small children, and they're growing. And the anxieties of people are pronounced, economically. Even in this time of economic recovery, people worry about downsizing everywhere and whether they really count in the workplace anymore. And there is a huge inequality growing among our workers, where those with good education and those capable of learning new skills tend to get good jobs with growing incomes and those without tend to be stuck in a rut forever.
We have all this good news. We had in 1993—we haven't gotten the '94 figures yet— in '93 we had the largest number of new businesses started in the United States of America in any year in our history, and that's something to be proud of. But we also see people struggling just to hold on and to maintain their lifestyle, even though in many families both the husband and the wife are working and having less and less time to spend with their children.
On the social front, the values we all cherish, work and family and community, are threatened as crime and violence and drug use rises all across America. And even when it falls, it's still too high. The rate of children that are born out of wedlock continues to go up. Our social problems, in many ways, seem more profound today than they have in a long time.
And you see the traditions of breakdown in family, community, rooted in a loss of allegiance to these mainstream values and a lack of opportunity. This is a dangerous erosion of the things that made America great and kept us strong for over 200 years.
We are now in the midst of a great debate here in Washington about what we ought to do about this. How can we make the good things more present, and how can we reduce the bad things in America? How can we do the things we need to do to keep the American dream alive and keep our country strong? How we answer these questions will say an awful lot about what kind of people we're going to be and what kind of country we're going to pass on to our children in the 21st century.
There is on one side of the debate, on the extreme, the old and now discredited Washington view that a big, bureaucratic, one-sizefits-all Government can provide big solutions to all America's big problems and maybe to some of America's not so big problems.
The other extreme is the view of the Republican contract, that Government is the source of all the problems, and if we could just get rid of it completely or at least reduce the Federal Government's spending role, every problem in America would miraculously solve itself.
I have a different view, and it's probably rooted in the fact that I didn't live and work here until 2 years ago. My view is rooted in the fact that my experiences as a Governor of a small State are much more like yours than they are like most of the people who make most of the decisions in this community. I think we have to chart a course between and beyond the old way of big Government and the new rage of no Government.
No great country can survive without a National Government that in the information age is more limited but is still strong and effective. We do have, after all, common problems as a people. We have common opportunities. And these require a common response. We need the Government, in short, to be a partner with people in their private lives as citizens, a partner with State and local government, a partner with all of us.
I believe in a Government that promotes opportunity and demands responsibility, that deals with middle class economics and mainstream values, a Government that is different radically from the one we have known here over the last 30 to 40 years but that still understands it has a role to play in order for us to build strong communities that are the bedrock of this Nation. That's what the New Covenant I talk about all the time is really all about, more opportunity and more responsibility.
Our job is to work together to grow the middle class, to shrink the under class, to expand opportunity and to shrink bureaucracy, to empower people to make the most of their own lives. We can't give any guarantees in this rapidly changing world, but we can give people the capacity to do for themselves. And we must do that; all of us must do it.
And finally, we have to work to enhance our security on our own streets and around the world. I believe, in short, that the role of this Government is to be a partner in the fight for the future, not a savior—it can't be that—but not a spectator on the sidelines either. We've tried that, and it didn't work out very well.
We must face the fact that we live in a certain historical period in which the economy is global. The information age means that the basis of most wealth in the future will be knowledge and that we can be far more decentralized and flexible than we ever have been before. No one will ever again have to rely on a distant bureaucracy to solve every problem in today's rapidly changing environment.
We have to focus more on equipping people with the resources they need to tackle their own problems and to give people the responsibility to determine how best to do that. We have to send more and more decisions back not only to State and local government but to citizens themselves.
We must cut spending. We must cut Government. But I believe we must also invest more in jobs, incomes, technology, education, and training. That's what will make us wealthy.
I ran for President because I felt these challenges were not being met, because I felt that there was no economic strategy for putting our people first. We had 12 years of trickle-down economics in which the deficit quadrupled and our future was mortgaged. But we didn't invest in our people or our economy. We had both less opportunity and less responsibility. In Washington all I ever heard was the blame game. And it often reminded me of—I felt often when I was out there in the country like you, like people must feel in a jury box, you know, when two lawyers get in an argument with a judge over what they can say or not. All the jury wants to know is who did it. [Laughter]
And the American people, what they want to know is, what are we going to do? And are we going to do? And so I ran for this job because I was tired of a system in which both middle class economics and mainstream values were suffering. And the Government was doing well by special interests but not the public interest. I felt very strongly that we had to do something to stop the conditions in which most Americans were living, where people were working harder and harder and harder for less and less and less security. And I still believe that's what we ought to be about.
Now we have begun to change all that. We have begun to change all that. And it required some pretty tough decisions. Some of them were unpopular. Some of the people who made those unpopular decisions lost their seats in Congress last year, because people were told for years and years and years they could have a free lunch, that there were no tough decisions to be made.
Everything here operated at the level of rhetoric. We got down to business. They talked about cutting the deficit. We did, by $600 billion. And we did it with over a quarter of a trillion dollars in spending cuts, with income tax increases on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of our people, with discipline—not by the way, because I think that's a good thing to do but because they were the ones best able to pay. And those were the people who were benefiting most economically from the economy.
And at the same time, we were cutting 300 domestic programs. We were also providing tax relief for 15 million working families who were working at or near the poverty line to make sure that nobody who works 40 hours a week with children in their home should ever live in poverty. It's the biggest incentive to stay off welfare to know that if you work hard and you raise your kids, you're going to be able to make a living wage. These are the things that we worked on.
Now, we eliminated or consolidated or cut about 300 programs. And in this new budget that I've got—we'll talk more about that in a minute—we propose to eliminate or consolidate 400 more. We reduced the size of the Federal work force in 2 years by over 100,000. And if no new laws pass—[applause]—thank you. If no new laws pass, the work force will be reduced over a 6-year period to its smallest size since John Kennedy was President. It will be 272,000 fewer people working here than on the day I was inaugurated President. I'm proud of that.
We have shifted power away from Washington to more responsibility for States and counties and cities and towns. The Vice President has lead our reinventing Government initiative, which has already saved the taxpayers $63 billion and will save more. We've already cut regulations in banking and intrastate trucking and many other areas that make it now easier for businesses to create jobs and create opportunities. And we must do more, and we will. We've worked hard to try to make it easier for you to do your jobs and to improve the lives of the people that we both serve.
Now, we've done a lot of other things as well that often get lost in the smoke around here. We passed the family leave law after 6 years of arguing about it. We passed the crime bill after 6 years of arguing about it. We expanded Head Start and provided for the immunization of all children under 2 by 1996. And we made lower cost, better repayment college loans available to 20 million young Americans so more people could go to college. We were busy around here in the last 2 years.
And along the way we were able to pass two major trade agreements, resolve major trade disputes with China and other countries, and expand trade by more than at any time in a generation—very important when you consider the fact that low-cost goods from other countries come into our open markets if we have no trade agreements, but the trade agreements open markets for high value-added American goods and American services and American jobs all around the world. I say this to point out how much different it is where you live than where we live. If you had done that, your voters would know it, right? [Laughter]
And all the nay-sayers said, "Oh, if they put this economic plan in, it'll be the worst thing that ever happened to the country. The economy will collapse immediately. Everything will be terrible." Now they're all going to New Hampshire and giving the same speech all over again. I heard it for 2 years. You know, since no country has permanent growth, if they keep predicting a recession, eventually we'll get around to it. [Laughter] They said, "Oh, this is a terrible thing, if they pass this program. Oh, it's terrible. The economy will just—it'll be terrible."
Well, what's happened in the last 2 years? We've got the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation in 25 years because we took it on. Over 6.1 million Americans have new jobs in the last 2 years. That is a good beginning.
Now, having said all that, let's face the facts. You live with these folks, and you know as well as I do, there are still profound problems out there. Most people still have not gotten a raise. Every year more and more people lose their health insurance even though they're in the work force. This is the only advanced country in the world that has a smaller percentage of people in the work force covered by health insurance in 1995 than had it in 1985. No other country can say that.
And we know these other problems are still with us. Half of all Americans are living on less money than they had 15 years ago. So we now have to focus not only on creating jobs but raising incomes and improving the security of working life and family life when people do the right thing. If we're going to strengthen the middle class and shrink the under class, we have got to do those things which will enable people to really feel the American dream. We've got to begin by equipping people with the skills they need to compete in today's economy. Even as we cut yesterday's Government, we must invest more in the education and training of our people. We must. We must.
We have tried to approach that work as the partner of people at the local level. Most folks around here think last year was the best year for education legislation passing through Congress in 30 years as we expanded Head Start and provided more funds for apprenticeships for young people who don't go onto college and made those college loans more affordable and wrote into Federal law the Goals 2000, the world-class standards for our schools.
But we changed the way we were making education law in Washington pretty dramatically. We didn't neglect our responsibilities to help create educational opportunity, but we didn't presume to tell the people at the grassroots level how to meet the standards as the Government had done so much in the past. Instead, we gave to local educators and to parents the power to decide how to meet global standards of excellence.
We said, "Here are some things that have to be done to improve our children's education. Here are things we'd like to do to help you do it. But you decide how to do it." In many ways, in dealing more directly with city government, our empowerment zones and enterprise communities are the embodiment of that kind of approach: to create opportunity, to shrink bureaucracy, to demand more responsibility, and then let you decide what you want to do with it and how you can best create jobs and opportunities.
We said to distressed communities, "Give us a comprehensive plan to create jobs, to revitalize neighborhoods, to bring the community together, to involve the private sector. Find the solutions together. The opportunity you get will be some cash money and tax incentives to encourage investment and resources to deal with other problems, like transportation or safety. And we'll cut the redtape so you can apply those resources as you see fit." This is a partnership between government, the private sector, and communities to encourage investment, to create jobs in places where too many people have been left completely behind.
If you think about it, our country has had major initiatives in the last several years to invest in Latin America, to invest in the Caribbean, to invest in all different kinds of places. They're fine. But this is the first major initiative we've had to get people to invest in America, to create jobs and markets and our best opportunities.
And by the way, I hope that before this session is over we will see an expansion of that program, not a contraction of it, one that is paid for, one that is funded, but we ought to work to expand it, to involve more communities. We had hundreds of communities wanting to be involved in it who had good proposals that could not be funded. We have to recognize that if we want people to live by the work ethic, there must be work for them to do.
That also is something we should remember as we deal with the next issue that is coming in this session of Congress that affects some of you more than others, depending on how the system operates in your State, but all of you in some ways, and that is, how are we going to fix the welfare system? I believe we should offer more opportunity in the form of education and work to people on welfare and then insist on more responsibility, requiring work after 2 years, tougher child support enforcement, responsible parenting. I've been working on this issue for 15 years now, and I know that Washington doesn't have all the answers and neither does anybody else, or we'd have solved it by now.
But we have done our best here to give more and more and more authority to conduct sweeping welfare reform efforts to the States. We have given 25 States waivers from the Federal rules and regulations to pursue welfare reform. Today we will give a waiver to Oklahoma, the 26th State to pursue a welfare reform proposal. That is more combined shift of power from the Federal Government to the States than occurred under my two predecessors, combined. I believe in this. I believe in this.
I know that the Government shouldn't dictate all the rules from Washington. On the other hand, I don't think we should give States welfare money without any standards at all. We do have a national interest in promoting work and responsible parenting, the reduction of out of wedlock births. We have a national interest in doing this.
Last year, I sent to Congress the most sweeping welfare reform plan ever proposed by an administration. It included the toughest possible child support enforcement. Let me just mention child support for a minute. Do you know, if we collected all the money owed in this country by deadbeat parents, we could move 800,000 mothers and children off the welfare rolls immediately, 800,000.
Now, one of the things that we have reached agreement with the Congress on is that in this area there has to be some national standard setting, because 30 percent of these cases cross States lines. So even though we want to move decisions back to the States, when the Governors came to town, they said, "Look, we know we've got to have some national action on child support enforcement, otherwise we can't ever collect on these orders that cross State lines." Justice should not depend solely on geography.
Reforming welfare is now a top priority for both parties, and that's good news. And we've worked together to find common solutions, and that's good news. We still have our differences. My plan and the one our administration has been behind for over a year now sends a clear message to young people. It says, "Take responsibility to turn your life around." Teen fathers must pay child support. Teen mothers should stay at home or in other appropriate settings, and they have to stay in school if they want to get a check.
But the Republican plan sends a different message at some points. It says, for example, "If you make a mistake before you're 18, and you have a baby, you're on your own"—no benefits for teenagers and their children who have babies before they're 18, until they turn 18, and then if the States want to keep them out of benefits forever, that's okay. I think that's a mistake. I think what we ought to be saying to people is, "You should not have done that. You made a mistake. We don't want anybody else to do it. But we're going to help you succeed as a student and a parent and a worker, and you have to help yourself by playing by these rules." I think that is a better approach.
And I think it's in your interest. Look, when people get—if we just cut people off without putting them to work or keeping them in school, without making sure they have child care, if we just end all this, well, the Federal Government will save a little money. And you know what will happen, don't you? They'll be on your doorstep. They won't be part of some Federal statistic, and people will say, "Oh, we're not spending money on that up here like we used to. We'll just give you the problem, and you figure out what to do with it."
Well, my own view is that just shifting the problem is not enough. Like many of the cuts currently being debated, I think it will ultimately be counterproductive. It will cost us more than we will save. The Federal Government, the cities, the States, the taxpayers all will pay more down the road if we do something that fundamentally undermines the health of our children, the future of our children, and our commitment to getting more Americans to live with the opportunities of middle class economics and the responsibilities of mainstream values. That's what I believe.
Now, yes, yes, we do have to continue to cut the deficit. We do have to continue to save money. My new budget cuts the deficit another $81 billion and has over $140 billion in spending cuts. And I want to work with the Republicans to do more. We have already reduced the rate of health care cost increases in the Federal budget over the next 5 years by $100 billion. We have to keep working on the deficit.
But we have to do it in the right way. One of the things that the Republican leadership and I agree on is the line-item veto. We're about to take up debate on the line-item veto in the Senate. I hope it will pass quickly because it will give the President the opportunity and the responsibility to look at every single line item in the budget for waste. It will give us the chance to cut pork without hurting people. And that is an important distinction.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Everybody knows we have to shrink the Department of Agriculture. Ross Perot had the best line of any of the candidates in the 1992 election. It grieves me to say that, but he did. [Laughter] Ross Perot had this great line where he said, "Did you hear about the employee at the Department of Agriculture that had to go see a psychiatrist because he lost his farmer?" [Laughter] And what he meant by that was, of course, that the number of farmers was shrinking and that technology and the modern world had reduced the need for some of the size and scope of organization of the Agriculture Department. So we all wanted to do that. Everybody knows we've got to save money.
One of the reasons I fought so hard for that GATT world trade agreement is so we could cut agricultural subsidies here without hurting our farmers in the global market. So my budget cuts agricultural subsidies, but now our competitors have to cut theirs more to give our people a fair break.
I'll give you another example. We wanted to cut the Agriculture Department, so we just closed 1,200 offices, 1,200. That's a lot of money. I do not think the way to cut the Agriculture Department is to freeze the School Lunch Program and send it to you, which means we're going to cut school lunches as the price of food goes up and the number of kids goes up. I don't agree with that.
And you cannot make me believe with all the poor kids in this world today and in this country who show up hungry to school every day, whose only decent meal occurs in school, you cannot make me believe that we cannot find a way to eliminate unnecessary spending from the Government budget without cutting the School Lunch Program. We can, and we will. We will.
I'll give you another example that affects a lot of you here. Some in Congress want to eliminate our community development bank initiative. Most of you probably have never heard of that, but let me tell you what it does. It's an initiative that would spend $500 million to either establish or support banks that are set up in economically distressed areas, whose primary purpose is to get lower income people in high unemployment areas into the free enterprise system.
Now, I found out about this a few years ago when I was in Chicago, when I had a friend working for the South Shore Development Corporation. And we set up a community development bank in Arkansas when I was Governor that operated in a rural area, and it did amazing things. People got credit who could never get credit from any bank before, and they set up businesses, and they started working, and they started hiring people. And it changed lives for a lot of people in these communities.
So when I ran for President, I said here's a good idea that came out of grassroots America. We could put a little money in it and make a lot of difference. It is estimated that the $500 million that we could spend on the community development bank initiative in your communities all over the country will generate $22 billion in activity in the free enterprise system in places that have no enterprise today. So I think it would be a mistake to eliminate it. That's what I believe.
Believe you me, there's a lot of Government programs that don't have that kind of return. And keep in mind, what is the purpose of the Government? It's to empower people to make the most of their own lives, to enhance their security, and to help create opportunity as a partner. That's what this does.
I'll give you another example of the things that I don't think should be cut. Our national service project, AmeriCorps, is all about opportunity and responsibility. A lot of you have AmeriCorps projects in your communities. Young people get a helping hand with their college in exchange for helping people solve their problems at the local community. Thousands of young people now are participants, as partners, as nurses, as teachers, working with pastors, working with police officers at the grassroots level. They walk police beats in Brooklyn. They build homes in Georgia. They fight fires in Idaho.
But some people in the House want to cut this effort, to deny 15,000 young people the chance to participate in it. Now, I've offered spending cuts, and I'll find some more. But I think it is a mistake to cut AmeriCorps because it's a good deal. It gives us better citizens, stronger communities, more education for limited money. And it enables a lot of people to do things in their communities that simply would not get done any other way.
Ironically, one other area where we're having a big difference of opinion is in college loans. There's some in the Congress who want to severely limit the reach of the so-called direct loan program that we started which, believe it or not, lowers the cost of the loans to the students, cuts the time of paperwork and bureaucracy to the colleges, and saves money for the taxpayers because we get around the middleman. So here's one area where we can do more to send people to school for lower cost and actually save money. We've offered millions and millions of young people the opportunity to take these loans out and then pay them back as a percentage of their income.
But I want to emphasize that we've also been more responsible than Government was before. When I took office it was costing you as taxpayers, $2.8 billion a year to pay tax money for defaulted loans. We have cut that $2.8 billion down to $1 billion. We've cut it by nearly two-thirds and made more loans available so people can go to college. That's the approach we ought to be taking. That is the way to save money on the program.
Now, one last thing in this area that I'm very concerned about, in the education area, and that is that one of the things in the House list of rescissions to cut is all the money for safe and drug-free schools that would go to 94 percent of the schools in this country. And that's very important to me, personally. I invested a lot of time in fighting the problem of drugs when I was a Governor. We have worked hard to get more investment to fight drugs in every area in which we fight it here, since I've been President. And we see disturbing signs that in parts of our population, among young people, drug use is going up again, more casual drug use, young people thinking, after a decade of it going down, that somehow it's maybe not dangerous anymore, forgetting that it's illegal. And a lot of our schools are still not safe because of the root problems of drugs and violence. Now this money gives schools the ability to hire police officers, to put up metal detectors, but also to have drug education programs, the programs like the D.A.R.E. program that so many of you have had in your schools and others that try and help these kids stay off drugs. I think it would be a mistake to cut this money out.
Let me remind you that this money got into the crime bill, which you worked so hard for, because I gave the Congress, for the first time, a plan to cut the size of the Federal Government by 270,000. So we didn't raise any taxes. We didn't take any money away from anybody.
We shrunk the Government and gave the money to the communities of this country to fight crime, including the safe and drug-free schools money. We should not eliminate that. We should fight for it, not fight to cut it out.
As we are trying, you and I, to make responsibility a way of life in this country again, to teach young people the value of work, I think that all of us are going to have to say, first of all, without regard to our party, we agree with that.
Now that brings me to one other point I want to make beyond education. When I was a child, my mother used to say, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." You're going to have a whole lot more idle hands this summer if we cut out those 600,000 summer jobs for our young people. And is it worth it to deny 1,000 young people in Louisville or 1,600 young people in Boston—I met with a young—the Mayor's Youth Council up there not very long ago, 2,000 in the San Jose area. Is it worth it to deny them the chance to work, to be around responsible adults, to learn what it's like to sort of show up on time, put a day's work in, how you relate to other people at work? I mean, this goes way beyond the little amount of money you get out of this.
Now, I have proposed, I will say again, to consolidate 60 programs and eliminate 4,000 bureaucrats to save money in the Housing and Urban Development Department, for example. I have proposed to do a lot of things like that.
I told you about the Agriculture Department. We're coming with more. Hold on; every week, there will be more. I am not here to defend the way Government has operated in the past in Washington. But we have to make judgments here. We get hired to make judgments and the right decisions and not to throw out the baby with the bath water.
Take the HUD Department, for example, I'm all for—I'm consolidating 60 programs. We're getting rid of 4,000 people. We're phasing the Department down. But I don't believe in the proposed cut to housing assistance that helps 63,000 families—women with small children, low-income senior citizens.
What we ought to do is to look at the right kind of cuts. This whole rescission package does some interesting things. We're supposed to be passing responsibility back to you, but not undermining your ability to do your job. I think it's smarter to streamline programs and cut bureaucrats than to put families on the street or to leave you to deal with the problem.
Many of the people willing to pass you the buck are talking about ending unfair burdens on local government. I do want to say this: I think—and the Speaker probably said this earlier today—it looks like we may have an agreement now among all of the conferees and the administration and everybody on this unfunded mandate bill. I am very strongly in favor of that. It is a good thing to do. It's something we should do.
It is long since past time to stop imposing those mandates on you without paying for them. I spent a decade in the Governor's office in Arkansas, writing checks for decisions other people made. Now, I'm excited about that. That bill just passed the House a few weeks ago. It passed the Senate. It's a good, good thing.
But look at this: The rescission package that's moving through the Congress actually cuts off funds to help you comply with present Federal requirements, including safe drinking water, lead paint, and asbestos removal. So that makes them, I guess, not unfunded, but de-funded mandates. [Laughter] So we eliminate burdens on the one hand and create new ones on the other. I think that is an error.
Let me mention just one final area where we worked closely last year. We passed the crime bill after the people who were here before just talked about it for 6 years, played politics with it, and the rhetoric was so juicy on both sides they could never get around to passing a bill. That's what always happens, you know?
Every one of these issues are tough. If they were easy, somebody would have done them. And you could pick either side and say it in a way that a majority is for you, right? I mean, you can. Are you for a balanced budget? Yes. Do you want to cut Social Security? No. [Laughter] See what I mean? So both sides win, right? Meanwhile, you're like the jurors listening to the lawyers' argument. Well, what's going to happen? Who did it? So we've got to work on this.
But I want to say this about the crime bill. We finally did that. And what we did largely was what was recommended by law enforcement officials and community leaders around the country: money for prevention with a lot of flexibility for people at the local level; tougher punishment, but help for States that would adopt tougher punishment, to build more prisons; and of course, more police, 100,000 more police on the street.
We did that because of two things. First of all, the law enforcement people said, we need more police. They also said they wanted a prevention fund. Secondly, we did it because of the evidence of what happens when community policing is properly instituted in the cities of our country.
From over about the last 30 years, the number of police in our country had grown by only about 10 percent, while the violent crime rate tripled. Clearly, there is a connection between those two statistics. And yet, still we've seen in place after place, where more police are put on the street in community policing modes, the crime rate will drop. That's why every major law enforcement organization supported that.
Now, the congressional bills and the crime bill are different from the House and Senate, but I ask you to look at the system we have now and the work it did, not only to catch criminals but to prevent crime. In New York City, the police commissioner implemented an aggressive community policing program that helped to significantly reduce serious crimes last year: auto thefts down 15 percent, robberies down 16 percent, murder down 19 percent. Not just in big cities: The mayor of Odessa, Texas, wrote to tell me that in 1991 and '92, they had a very high crime rate. Then they implemented community policing, and 3 years later, serious crimes have dropped a total of 43 percent. Union City, Tennessee, calls for help from the police went down by 30 percent and arrests went up by 35 percent with community policing.
That's why this crime bill was a partnership to help communities willing to take the responsibility to invest in their own security be more secure. An opportunity that is buried in redtape can hurt more than it helps. I don't know how many times I've seen little towns in my State have to hire consultants to figure out how to get Federal money, and it cut the margin of benefit dramatically.
What we did was to set this police program up so that cities and counties can apply directly to the Federal Government, using a one-page application with eight questions, awarding police resources directly to you. Now, I think that's a pretty good deal. I know one of those bills wants to add another layer to that. I don't think that's a very good idea, either. I think that we ought to have an opportunity for communities to apply directly and get the funds directly for law enforcement. My fellow Governors may disagree with that, but that's what I think.
Now, in just the last few months since the crime bill took effect last fall, half the police departments in America have already received authority to hire almost 17,000 new police officers. We are ahead of schedule, and we're under budget. Some people who criticize our bill said that local governments wouldn't really want it; it was too much of a burden; it's an imposition; they can't afford to pay any match. All I know is, we have already received almost 11,000 applications representing over 60 percent of the police departments in America. Somebody thinks it's a good idea, and I think we ought to stay with it.
Here's the bottom line: The crime bill now on the books guarantees 100,000 new police officers. The alternative proposal doesn't guarantee a single one. We do give more flexibility and responsibility to you. Some of their proposals add bureaucracy and cut funds at the same time. So I say to you, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
We should never, never close the door to writing new laws that will make us more secure in the fight against crime. And it should never be a partisan issue again. I was sick when I got here 2 years ago and I realized they'd been fooling around with that crime bill for 4 years because each side could figure out how to gain rhetorical advantage. And small differences obscured large agreements. So I want to continue to work on this problem.
But this police initiative is a better deal for you and a better deal for the American people.
And as I have said repeatedly, if necessary, I will veto any effort to repeal or undermine it.
But let me say this, what we need is not more vetoes. What we need is more action. What we need is for people here to behave the way you have to behave or you couldn't survive. Half of you come from places so small that if you made people declare their party every time they walked through the door to see if they got anything done or not, you'd be run out on a rail within a week. [Laughter]
So, the veto is a useful device and an important thing on occasion. But what the country really needs is action. We need action. We need to remember these problems have faces, names, and life histories. We need to pull together. We're doing it on the unfunded mandates. We can do it on the line-item veto. We can do it on all these other areas if we will exercise simple common sense and recognize what our mission is. We've got to keep the American dream alive: middle class economics, mainstream values, jobs, incomes, work, and family. We've got to make sure this country stays strong.
And I'm telling you, it takes action, not just words. You live where the action is. If you don't do anything else while you're here, give us your energy and tell us you want action.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:02 p.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Carolyn Long Banks, president, National League of Cities; Mayor Greg Lashutka of Columbus, OH; and Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, NJ. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to the National League of Cities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221255