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Remarks on Welfare Reform and an Exchange With Reporters

July 13, 1995

The President. Good morning. I want to thank Senator Daschle, Senator Moynihan, Senator Mikulski, Senator Breaux, Senator Harkin for coming. Governor Carper; Mayor Archer; a county executive from Madison, Wisconsin, Rick Phelps; and the majority leader of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Bill Purcell, for joining members of our administration here.

We have just had a good talk about welfare reform and the growing consensus around the approach taken by the bill offered by Senators Daschle and Mikulski and Breaux on welfare reform.

The American people have made it abundantly clear that they want us to fix the welfare system. It doesn't work for the people who are stuck on it, and it doesn't work for the taxpayers.

Welfare reform furthers both of the primary objectives of our administration. If it works, it will further the American dream of opportunity, and it will further the American value of responsibility. Our goal should be to help people be successful and independent workers and to build strong families.

We ought to be able to do this. We've come a long way in this debate. There's a broad consensus, for example, on tougher child support enforcement requirements. And not so very long ago, liberals opposed work requirements; they don't anymore. Not so very long ago, conservatives opposed spending money to provide child care when people move from welfare to work; most conservatives out in the country don't any more.

In America, where people live with this issue, there is a great deal of consensus about what we ought to do. And we ought to build on that consensus here in Washington. The reason we can't is that some people on the far right are blocking any action on welfare reform—and the Senate especially now—that doesn't cut off children and parents if the parents are young, poor, and unmarried. I think that is a terrible mistake. We shouldn't punish babies for their parents' mistakes. We ought to be building strong families and independent workers.

I'm not the only person who feels this way. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Catholic bishops, who deeply oppose the extreme position of these far right Senators, and they're helping to lead the fight against it. They think it's cruel, and they believe it will even lead to more abortions.

I also think that people in the State legislatures and the Governors' offices throughout the country should think about the approach that is being offered on the other side. We believe it could constitute a huge, unfunded burden on State and local governments, people actually dealing with the welfare reform issue in the years ahead.

Now, there is an alternative. This shouldn't be hard. We basically all agree on what ought to be in a welfare reform proposal. It isn't getting done because a few Senators with an extreme position have decided that it is in their political interest to block any welfare legislation. The United States Senate should not practice "just say no" politics on welfare reform. We can fix this problem.

Every week that goes by, thousands of welfare mothers stay on welfare instead of going to work simply because they can't afford child care. Every week we don't make our child support laws as tough as we possibly can, we leave 800,000 people on welfare who could be off welfare if they got the child support to which they are legally entitled. Every day without welfare reform drains our economic strength, saps our community spirit, and prevents Americans from being able to live up to their full potential.

We need to work together and get this job done. This coalition is growing. We're going to continue to work. We need help. We cannot pass welfare reform without Republicans and Democrats working together. It is time to move away from the extreme position toward the common ground of sensible welfare reform.

I thank all these people who are here for supporting that.


Q. Mr. President, is it time for the U.N. troops to get out of Bosnia and for the U.S. to lift the arms embargo, as Senator Dole and others are proposing?

The President. Well, first of all, let me comment on the events of the last few days. I am very disturbed about what has happened in Srebrenica. We are very concerned about the fate of the refugees. And we have been working hard for the last couple of days to determine what options there are to deal with the immediate humanitarian problems. And we intend to do everything we can on that. And that is the first and foremost thing.

The truth is that the Bosnian Serbs should do what they did the last time this crisis arose, they should withdraw. And the United Nations should go back in there and reestablish the safe area, and the people should be able to go home. But we have to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

Now on the second issue, let me remind you of what my position has always been and what it still is today. The Europeans have tried to take the lead, under the umbrella of the United Nations, in minimizing the loss of life in Bosnia, in keeping the conflict from spreading, and in urging a diplomatic resolution of the war. They are still committed to do that.

I believe if the Rapid Reaction Force idea, which the French and the British have pushed, had been fully implemented before this occurred, this problem could have been minimized.

I still do not believe that it is in the interest of the United States to collapse and force the Europeans out of their willingness to put ground troops on the ground in Bosnia to try to minimize the loss of life and limit the spread. If the United Nations mission does collapse, then I believe that together the allies should all vote on the arms embargo. That is the best way to keep the NATO position unified, to keep the world position unified, and to avoid overly Americanizing the dealings in Bosnia, should the U.N. mission collapse.

I'm quite concerned about that. The Europeans have been willing to try to solve what is clearly the toughest problem they face on their own continent in the aftermath of the cold war. I have tried to be supportive of that. There are serious problems now with this. Unless we can restore the integrity of the U.N. mission, obviously its days will be numbered.

But let's not forget that it has accomplished a dramatic reduction in the loss of life since 1992, and the conflict has not spread. This is a serious challenge to the U.N. mission. It must either be resolved, or there will have to be some changes there.

Cigarette Smoking

Q. Mr. President, on another welfare issue that's headed for your desk, what are you going to do about this tobacco issue that is headed for your decision?

The President. Well, I haven't—let me say this—I have not received a recommendation from the FDA. I saw the news reports today, and they struck me as somewhat premature inasmuch as I have not yet received either a recommendation or, as the news reports indicated, requests for my own guidance on that yet.

But we have had some discussions, and I can tell you this: My concern is apparently what the FDA's concern is, and that is the impact of cigarette smoking, particularly on our young people, and the fact that cigarette smoking seems to be going up among our young people and certainly among certain groups of them. And I think we ought to do more about that than is being done, and I'm willing to do that. But I want to see exactly what their recommendation is.

Base Closings

Q. Mr. President, how do you answer the charge that the White House has injected politics into the base closing process?

The President. First of all, it is absolutely false. I intend to answer it in the letter that I write today, but since you gave me a chance to do it, I'll answer it.

Let's look at the facts here. Where is the politics? This Base Closing Commission made far more changes in the Pentagon plan than either any of the three previous base closing commissions, far more. They've been under a lot of political pressure. I understand that. I don't disagree with all the changes they made.

They acknowledge—secondly, under the law they are supposed to take into account economic impact. Based on their report—which I have read, and I urge all of you to read it if you haven't; before you make any judgments about where there was political influence, I urge all of you to read it—they took 23 bases or realignments off that the Pentagon recommended off the list and then put 9 more on, 3 of which happen to be in California, with the biggest job loss by far in San Antonio at Kelly Air Force Base, rejecting the Defense Department's recommendation that instead of closing these 2 big Air Force depots, they take an across-the-board cut in all 5 of them. That's what they did. Apparently, in all of their deliberations, the only place where they took economic impact into account was at the Red River Depot on the border of Texas and my home State. It is clear that—I think they have a case there. It would have almost doubled unemployment in that community.

But let's look at the facts on this politics. This is about economics. In the report itself, they acknowledge that at Kelly Air Force Base 60 percent of the employees are Hispanic, 45 percent of the Hispanics employed in the entire area work there, that it will have a devastating impact, and they were willing to shut down about 16,000 jobs, when there was another alternative that saved at least as much money, according to the Pentagon, or nearly as much, according to them.

Secondly, in California, here are the facts. I have not seen these anywhere. I have not seen these anywhere. The law requires economic impact to be taken into account. Here are the facts. When this Base Closing Commission process started, California had 13 percent of the population, 15 percent of the people in military, 20 percent of the defense budget. In the first 3 base closings they sustained 52 percent of the direct job losses. We're not talking about indirect jobs; we're not talking about speculation—52 percent.

In this recommendation the Pentagon hit them pretty hard, recommended closing Long Beach, a big facility. This Base Closing Commission, not satisfied with that, made a decision that they had to add back a lot of other jobs. So they decided to take almost all the jobs they took out, out of one place, San Antonio, Texas, and by closing 3 California bases, taking the California job loss in this round to almost 50 percent.

Now, you tell me that my concern over that economic situation, when their unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, they have borne over 50 percent of the burden of the job loss, is political. My concern in San Antonio, Texas, where one decision could virtually wipe out the Hispanic middle class, is political, when there was another alternative that the Pentagon said was better for national security. I am tired of these arguments about politics. My political concern is the political economy of America and what happens to the people in these communities and are they being treated fairly.

Now, I do not disagree with every recommendation the Base Closing Commission made, but this is an outrage. And there has been a calculated, deliberate attempt to turn this into a political thing and to obscure the real economic impact of their recommendations in San Antonio and California, which were made solely so they could put back a lot of other things.

Now, let's not——

Q. Why do you think they did that?

Q. Have you accepted their recommendations?

Q. What is the reason that they did that?

The President. I don't know. I'm not imputing motives to them. I'm just saying it's very interesting to me that there has been almost no analysis of anything. This whole thing immediately became—well, this is a big political story about California. This is an economic story, and it's a national security story. And there has been no analysis of what got put back and why, and what got taken off and why.

And I have been doing my best to deal with what is in the national interest. There are two considerations here. We have to reduce our base capacity. That's the most important thing. We have twice as much base capacity as we need, more or less, for the size of the military force we have. That is a national security interest. And that is my first and most important duty. But secondly, under the law, economic impact was supposed to be taken into account. And as nearly as I can determine, it wasn't anywhere—never in these determinations, with the possible exception of the Red River Depot, based on my reading of the report.

Now, the question is, is there a way to accept these recommendations, because even though I think they're far—they're not as good as what the Pentagon recommended and they do a lot more economic harm for very little extra security gain—is there a way to accept them and minimize the economic loss in the areas where I think it is plainly excessive. And that is what we have been working on. That is what I've been working hard on. But I just want you to know that I deeply resent the suggestion that this is somehow a political deal.

I have not seen anything written anywhere that the State of California lost 52 percent of the jobs in the first three base closings and that this commission took them back up to nearly 50 percent in this one, even though they only have 15 percent of the soldiers and their unemployment rate is 50 percent above the national average. I haven't seen anywhere what this was likely to do to the Hispanic middle class and to the people of San Antonio, Texas, unless we can save a lot of those jobs there so that a lot of other things could be put back in 10 or 11 places around the country.

And I think that you folks need to look at the real impact of this. I am trying to do my job to reduce the capacity of the bases in the country consistent with the national interest and still be faithful to the statute requiring us to deal with the economic impact on these communities.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:08 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Tom Carper of Delaware and Mayor Dennis Archer of Detroit, MI.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Welfare Reform and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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