Remarks at the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Recognition Program
Jaime, I think I can speak for every adult in this audience today and say that there's not a person here who wouldn't be proud to be your parent when you graduate from high school tomorrow. Thank you, and God bless you for everything you've done and said. Thank you, Marilyn, for being here. Thank you, Director Brown, and thank you, Secretary Riley.
Ladies and gentlemen, the statement you just heard from this fine young woman, about to begin her life after high school, is as clear an example as I could ever think of of what I think we ought to be doing as a country. You hear all these debates up here in Washington about whether the Government should do this, that, or the other thing, whether our problems are fundamentally to be addressed by political action, or whether all of our problems are just cultural and if people would just simply take responsibility for themselves and do the right thing we wouldn't have any problems, and therefore we should just ignore any spending call— nothing is really worth investing in, let's just make everybody do the right thing.
The truth is, in the real world we need to do both things. Parents have to set better examples; they have to teach their children. We need to tell young people at the earliest possible age, "There comes a time in life when you cannot blame other people for your own problems, and whatever your difficulties are, you have to behave and you have to take control of your own lives." But it's also true that, in the meanwhile, somebody has to pay to protect these children if they need protection to be safe in school, and somebody has to make provision to bring people into the schools who can do the kinds of things that Jaime talked about, who can be the role models, who can talk about how to diffuse conflict, who can talk about how to avoid violence, who can talk about the imperative of staying off of drugs, which is still, I would remind you, at the root of more than half of the problems that we're dealing with in this country today.
So this is one more time a phony, overly politicized debate here. It's not either/or; it is both. And we have responsibilities here, those of us who work here, to make sure that every single child in America has a chance to get out of school safe and educated and be the kind of person that was reflected in what Jaime said here today. We have a partnership obligation to do that for America.
That is at the heart of a lot of arguments we're having here in Washington. Last night I received Congress's rescission bill. The rescission bill cuts spending from this year's budget. I believe we ought to do that and make another downpayment on balancing our budget. I've done everything I could to cut this deficit. In 1993, unfortunately with only Democrats voting for it, we voted for a deficit-reduction program and passed it and I signed it, which reduced the deficit over the 7-year period now popularly discussed by $1 trillion. I believe in cutting the deficit.
We froze discretionary spending completely, which means every time we gave more money to education, we had to cut something else. And we did it gladly. We cut waste and duplication and bureaucracy and committed to reduce the size of the Federal Government by 270,000 people. But we increased investment in Head Start. We made college loans more available, more affordable. We supported schools with the Goals 2000 programs, which were not mandates from the Federal Government but were programs like the safe and drug-free school program, where we give money to local school districts and they decide how you can make the school safest, how you can make the schools the most drugfree, just the approach the leadership of this new Congress says they favor, let people at the local level make more of their decisions. But we thought we ought to be partners because not every local school district had the money to guarantee safety and the best possible efforts to make children safe, to make them learn how to avoid violence and to stay drug-free.
Now, after all this, I can tell you that the budget today would be in balance, today, but for the interest we'll have to pay this year on the debt that was run up in the 12 years before I became President. That is the problem. We took leave of our collective financial senses about a dozen years ago and began to put this country in the ditch. And we've got to take it out. But we cannot do it overnight. And we must recognize that the only deficit in this country is not the budget deficit, there's a deficit in this country in the number of drug-free children. There's a deficit in this country in the number of safe schools. There's an education deficit in this country. And we dare not ignore those problems. We can do both. That's the right way to approach this problem.
I worked in good faith with Members of the Congress to craft a rescission bill that would cut spending by a set amount and do it in the right way. I actually agreed with the spending cuts passed by the United States Senate with a bipartisan majority, an overwhelming bipartisan majority, because it protected programs like the drug-free school program, the national service program, the education programs that we're working so hard on. Unfortunately, what happened is after the Senate passed the bill, they went into a closed-door conference with Members of the House who had passed a bill that did cut all these things, and instead of cutting more spending, they took out a lot of education investment. They took out half the drug-free school money and substituted courthouses, highways, and city streets in selected States and congressional districts. In other words, they decided to cut school safety to increase pork.
The bill cuts, as Secretary Riley says, half of the safe and drug-free schools money this year in anticipation of eliminating it altogether next year. Now, I'm sure that all the people that voted to do it will tell you, "We favor these efforts; we just think people ought to do the right thing." Well, I think people ought to do the right thing, too. But if Jaime knows what she's talking about—and the chances are she knows a lot more about this than most people who live in Washington, DC, and work for the Federal Government in the Congress or the executive branch—in order to do that, we need a partnership. We need public action and personal responsibility.
I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that cuts education to save pet congressional projects. That is old politics; it is wrong. It wasn't a good policy when we were increasing spending on everything. It is a terrible policy if you're going to cut education to put pork back in. If we're going to cut spending to balance the budget, we must be even more careful about how we spend the money we do have. And we have to put education and our children and their future first.
So in just a few moments, I'm going to go over there and veto that bill. But I want to say this: I lived and worked here for 2 years with a crowd that had the "just say no" philosophy, and unfortunately it wasn't about drugs: Just say no, and then go out and tell the American people nothing is happening, even when it is. And a lot of people in our party think, "Well, that policy benefited them so much at the polls last November, why don't we do it? Why don't we just say no now? That seems to be what's popular." It may be popular in the short run, but it is wrong for America.
I do not want to just say no. I have not said no to this. I agreed to the spending cuts passed by the Senate by Republicans and Democrats. And so what I'm going to do, when I veto this, is to say yes. I'm going to send this bill right back. And this bill says, "Take out the pork; put back the education; send it on over. Let's cut spending and protect education and protect safe and drug-free schools."
I want to say one other thing, too. In this so-called spending cut bill, at the last moment there was also, I think, a very bad environmental provision added, which says that no environmental laws will apply for the next 3 years to any cutting of so-called salvage timber in our forests, and we'll just have the taxpayers pay for whatever damage occurs to the environment. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're here on education, but the most pro-environment people in America are the children of America. And they know they've got the biggest dog in that hunt, as we say back home, because they're going to be around here longer and their children will be around here longer. Nobody has worked any harder than I have to start logging again in our country's forests in an appropriate way. Suspending all the environmental laws of the country for 3 years is not the appropriate way.
So what I want to do is to say to the Congress, "Look, just put the education back in; take the pork out." I'm for actually slightly more spending cuts than they are—that's their wind blowing, not mine. [Laughter] The nice thing is—now you'll all look at the chart. [Laughter] You can see I'm actually for slightly bigger spending cuts than they are. I just don't think we ought to use this spending bill to do something bad to the environment, and I certainly don't think we ought to use it to cut out half the safe and drug-free schools money to build courthouses and city streets and pet highway projects. That is not good judgment. We need a partnership here. This is the right thing we should be doing.
Let me just say one other thing about this cutting spending. I have now seen two separate news reports in which the majority in Congress, according to some of their members, say that they have decided not to pass the line-item veto after all, after campaigning on it for a dozen years now. This line-item veto is a tool that would permit the President to single out special pork projects, veto them, send them back to Congress, and Congress would be able to override the veto. But they would have to vote on these projects separately instead of burying them in big bills that a President cannot in good conscience veto.
Now, that line-item veto was part of their Contract With America and a part that I embraced. President Reagan was for it. President Bush was for it. The House passed it on President Reagan's birthday. They talked about what an urgent thing it was. Now they say they don't think they ought to give it to me this year because I might use it. [Laughter]
Well, today I am sending a letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, asking them once again to send me the line-item veto. They have said they were for it for a dozen years. They have portrayed it as the salvation of all of our problems. It's not the salvation, but it's an important part of it. And they say they're worried that I might line-item veto special tax breaks instead of special spending increases. It's six of one and half dozen of the other. But I'll make them a deal: If they'll send me the line-item veto this year, I will not line-item any tax cuts they sign. If they pass all these big tax cuts and wreck education and Medicare to cut taxes, I'll veto the whole thing. But I've already said that. But I will not—if they'll send it to me this year, I won't use it on any tax legislation. I will only use it on spending.
So I ask them again: Send me the bill. Send me the bill. Send me the line-item veto, and I will see whether America agrees that what we ought to do is to protect education, to protect things designed to enhance our security like safe and drug-free schools, to protect the welfare and the future of our children, and I will show you once again that there is nobody who wants to reduce the deficit and to balance the budget more than I do. I just want our incomes to go up and our future to be stronger and our kids to be healthier and better educated when we do it. Send it back here, let me sign it, and let's get to work and prove we're serious.
I want to say again that the primary purpose of this event is to honor all of you who have worked to make the safe and drug-free schools program work. I don't think I have had any more moving experiences than going into schools in this country over the last several years—and I began to do it not only when I was Governor in my own State but in other schools—see people succeeding against all the odds because their schools are safe and drugfree. I have been into schools in very high crime areas, where the children come to school every day and there are no weapons in the lockers and there are no drugs in use and children do not fight in the schools. I know this can be done.
I also know that this requires good management, good discipline, but also special skills and sometimes extra resources in the poorer school districts of our country. And I know that we can't afford to be satisfied even with the stories that are here, the wonderful, good stories that we honor today. What we want is, next year, to have every school do as well as you have done. That's what you want, too, isn't it? And that's why we have to support programs like this.
As I said, we let the school districts decide how to spend the money, whether it's on metal detectors and increased security or drug education and gang prevention and violence prevention techniques.
Our children do need a constant drum beat to remind them that drugs are wrong, illegal, not safe, will put you in jail, and can cost you your life. I know that. I have had this scourge in my own family, and I know that no amount of help from anybody else will ever replace people taking responsibility for themselves and saying, "I will not be destroyed by my own behavior." But I also know that very few people make that decision once they're in trouble without a little help and support and discipline from people who understand how to deal with this problem. And I think you know that, as well.
I do not believe that our children are inherently violent, although violence is going up dramatically among young people even as the crime rate drops. And I do believe that there are some cultural reasons for it. I think we do get deadened to violence if we're over-exposed to it as children, collectively in show after show on television and movie after movie. I believe all that. But that's not an excuse to leave assault weapons on the street or keep police officers out of the school or not do what we can and we must to change that. So it's not either/or; it is both.
I am very pleased with the work that Secretary Riley, that Director Brown, that Attorney General Reno have done. We're working hard now to try to find a way to comply with the Supreme Court's decision saying that the present law making it illegal for anyone to have a gun within a thousand feet of a school is not constitutional and to try to find a way to make it constitutional so that all of our States will have this protection and not just some.
I also am proud of the fact that we fought last year for a law requiring States to expel students for a year if they bring guns to school, no excuses, zero tolerance. That's something the Government ought to stand for. If we're not for zero tolerance for guns in the schools, what are we for? There should be zero tolerance for guns and for drugs in our schools.
So let me say in closing, perhaps the most meaningful things said here today were said by Jaime. I want you all to think about her tomorrow when she graduates from high school. Then I want you to think about all the kids in this country that are in the grip of drugs and gangs and guns and violence. I want you to think about all the teachers who wonder every year whether they should continue to teach because they are having to deal with these problems and they don't feel that their schools are either organized to deal with it, supporting them in dealing with it, or bringing in the other people and resources who can deal with it. And I want you to ask yourself, is there a courthouse in America, is there a city street in America, is there a single solitary special highway project in America worth the price, worth the risk that we will not have more children like her? The answer is clearly no, no, no, no.
Now, I would like to ask Jaime Chambron to come up and receive her award; Marilyn Green, a wonderful teacher, to come up and receive her award; and John Torres, a D.A.R.E. officer who represents people who are literally beloved by schoolchildren all over America who changed their lives because of their role models, to come up here and receive his award.
Let me again say to all of you, I am profoundly grateful to you. I am asking for an end to the word wars and the artificial divisions here. You are being honored because you are making a difference in people's lives. That's what we got hired to do. And if we could get every American on the solution side of the problems, we'd be a lot better off. I hope this veto, plus this substitute, will be a good start in bringing all of us back to the solution side of the problems, beginning with education and safe and drug-free schools.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
[At this point, the President presented the awards.]
The President. Thank you for being here. Thank you, students, for being here. We're adjourned. Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:49 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jaime Chambron, Largo High School student, Largo, FL.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Recognition Program Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220959