microphone at podium

Republican Party Response to President Clinton's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union"

January 27, 1998

Rebuttal Delivered by Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi

[The President's speech of which this is a response, can be found by clicking this link.]

Tonight I'd like to share with you our plans here in the Congress for a safer, stronger and more prosperous America. Those plans are shaped by our commitment to family, to faith and to freedom. And they highlight some real differences between the Republican Party and the president concerning what government should do and how much of your money government should take; big government or families, more taxes or more freedom.

We believe the choice is clear. The first priority of your representatives in Washington must be to fight for the interests of the American family. That's one of the first things — that's why one of the first things we'll tackle is the real reform that's necessary for the IRS. I'll have more to say about IRS later on, but the bottom line is this: We're going to stop the abuses the IRS has been afflicting on the American taxpayers. You've got our word on it.

Also, we'll be building on the progress of the last few years, when our Republican Congress, working with the nation's governors, took some historic first steps. We took the first step in transforming welfare into workfare. We started reducing taxes, especially for families with children. And, with considerable difficulty, we finally worked out a long-term agreement with the president for a balanced budget.

We protected Medicare. And in that same way, we're going to protect Medicare this year against any changes that would imperil its financial stability. We strengthened education opportunities for disabled youngsters, launched a long-overdue reform of the nation's troubled foster care system, made adoption easier, and encouraged alternatives to abortion.

We proved that people of good will and of strong faith can work together to deal with the problems that face our nation and our neighborhoods. But we have only just begun the difficult job of stopping big government, making it more responsive and, perhaps hardest of all, rebuilding the trust you used to have in your elected officials.

That's especially important when it comes to education, to taxes, and to the twin plagues of drugs and crime. Those are the three areas where the American people are most dissatisfied and where our freedom is most threatened.

Parents and good teachers as well are dissatisfied with schools where kids don't learn, and in many cases where they aren't even safe. When one-quarter of our children, one out of every four in the high schools can barely read, isn't it obvious that the current system just isn't working?

I know we're all fed up with the criminal justice system that has tragically failed to halt the poisonous epidemic of drugs that is undermining family life in our country. Violent crime is turning the land of the free into the land of the fearful.

Today's workers and today's savers are angry and disillusioned with a tax code that benefits only tax lawyers and big government. Let's take a look at the typical family budget. The typical family pays more than 38 percent in its income in taxes. That's nearly 40 cents of every dollar. That's not just bad policy; it's immoral.

Our tax system should not penalize marriage, hard work or savings, not to mention your efforts just to keep up with the cost of living. We believe these high taxes mean less freedom overall. And yet President Clinton now wants the government to spend billions of dollars more. But I don't have to tell you; if government spends more, you'll wind up getting taxed more. You know that. He knows that.

Instead, Republicans want you, the people who work hard for the money, to keep more of what you earn. The president seems to think that big government can solve all your children's problems if you'll just give government more of your money and more control over your lives. I think that's nonsense.

We think the best things for safe, healthy children are healthy, stable families, not more government programs that require parents to work longer, to take home less, and to spend less time with their children. That's why we fought for the $500 per-child tax credit last year.

Once again, the choice is really quite clear: Big government or families; more taxes or more freedom. The American people elected us in the Congress to listen to you and then to lead. So while we listen respectfully to the president's ideas, we cannot wait on them.

One example is the drug crisis. With all due respect, for the past five years we've had all of the wrong kinds of signals. It took the president four years to admit the need to reduce the tax burden on the American people, as we finally did in the balanced budget act in 1997. That was a welcome reversal of the pile-on-the-taxes approach in his first four years in office.

But you know that Americans are still overtaxed, overregulated and overgoverned. This chart shows how the income of the federal government over the last 30 years has gone up almost 1,000 percent. But during the same period, family incomes rose only half as much. Government has gotten fat while families are working overtime just to stay where they were.

We believe hard-working Americans deserve a break. So our focus in 1998 will be to increase family income by cutting taxes and making government more accountable for the way it spends your money. But tax relief is only the first step.

As I said earlier, the only way to limit government and expand individual freedom is to eliminate the IRS as we know it today. It is morally wrong for a free people to live in fear of any government agency. It is morally wrong for a citizen in a democracy to be presumed guilty until proven innocent. And that's the way it is at IRS.

But IRS reform also is not enough by itself. The real problem lies with the tax code. It's too long, it is too complicated, and it's simply unfair. It punishes you if you are achieving things. It discourages work and savings and innovation.

As Republicans, we pledge to replace the tax code with a new system that is fair, consistent, easy to understand, and less frightening to the American taxpayer, a tax code that will end the fear and encourage more savings and investment.

Because the Republican balanced budget plan is working now, we should commit here and now not to spend any budget surplus on unnecessary government programs. If there is a surplus, our priority should be to use part of that to pay down the national debt and return the rest to you, the taxpayer. After all, it is your money.

Like those proposals, our education plan proposes fundamental change from what we now have. As a father and as a prospective grandfather, I realize that nothing is more important than education of our young people. Washington today has more than 750 education programs in 39 different bureaucracies. That just doesn't make sense. And it doesn't make sense for Washington to tax the people in your community and then give the money back, with strings attached, of course.

We want to cut those strings and remove the out-of-date rules and restrictions that hold back our schools from the future. For example, if your community needs to build new schools or rehabilitate old ones, you should be able to do that. If you want to offer merit pay for great teachers, you should be able to do that, too.

We've heard a lot from the president about testing. But he thinks Washington should administer the tests. Wrong again. We think that you — the parents, the teachers, the local officials — should do the job. Republicans in Congress strongly support that kind of state testing, just as we support an even more important kind: Periodic testing for teachers.

Now, you won't hear much about that from the president. On this subject, the president disagrees with us and we disagree with him. But good teachers, like my mother, bless her heart, who taught public school for 19 years, don't object to testing. They want it. They say teacher testing will be a key step in implementing the kind of merit pay program that attracts star teachers.

They also say even the best teachers can't get good results when their school is a dangerous and violent place. We hope the president this year will finally see the wisdom in our proposal to give freedom of choice to low-income families whose children are stuck in dead-end, drug-ridden schools. Because we care so deeply about those families, we want them to have the same option exercised by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, who chose the schools for their children.

Parental choice and involvement are absolutely essential. But choice in education doesn't mean abandoning our public schools. It simply means moving decision-making away from Washington and back to you, at your family's kitchen table. That's the first and most important step to launch in an era of education renewal that will equip our schools and our students to lead America and the world into the new century.

But don't forget, today's young people confront a danger even worse than poor education. Teen drug abuse has become epidemic, and there are no safe havens from this insidious modern plague. Overall, teenage drug use has nearly doubled since 1992. And perhaps most frightening of all, nearly half of all 17-year-olds say they could buy marijuana in just an hour's time. Like the president, I want to stop youth smoking. But narcotics is a problem that is a far greater threat to teenagers.

First, to solve the drug crisis, we have to start with the family, the school, and with our churches and synagogues. Studies clearly show that teens in families that eat together, play together and, yes, pray together are the ones least likely to try drugs. When the battle against drug abuse is first waged at home, the war is half-won.

Second, schools must be drug-free. We must demand absolute accountability and zero tolerance for any drug abuse on school grounds.

And third, there is the critical role for the federal government. We simply have got to be more aggressive in guarding our national borders. Along with that, we must be more vigilant in arresting and prosecuting anyone — yes, anyone — who sells this poison to our young people.

And fourth, it's time to get tough on society's predators. We must end parole for violent criminals, crack down on juvenile criminals, increase prison capacity and make the death penalty a real threat. And we need to impose mandatory penalties for crimes committed with a gun.

If we're honestly committed to protecting the innocent, we must do more to punish the guilty. By combining national leadership here in Washington with community activism, we can and we will save America one child and one neighborhood at a time.

We don't pretend to have all the answers here in Washington. In fact, we don't have them. But I guarantee you we will ask the right questions this time. For example, there is the issue of child care. We say give families more flexibility in the way they work and care for their children. But how do we do it?

Well, first and foremost, cut tax burdens on the American family. Don't force both parents to work, and work longer hours, when they could have more time at home with their kids. Give stay-at-home parents the same tax breaks and benefits available to parents who use day care. After all, all moms work, whether at home or in an outside job.

Let employers negotiate with their employees for flex time and comp time arrangements. Help small businesses provide on-site day care. And make it easier and more profitable for older Americans to provide child care for growing families.

We're talking about common-sense approaches here because, as parents and grandparents ourselves, we've learned it takes parents and parental choice to raise a child in today's world.

Of course, there are dangers in today's world that demand strong national leadership. You know, just last week Pope John Paul's visit to Cuba reminded us once again that despite the collapse of communism, the future remains very uncertain over much of the globe.

And let me make one thing perfectly clear tonight to Saddam Hussein or anyone else who needs to be told: Despite any current controversy, this Congress will vigorously support the president in full defense of America's interests throughout the world.

By the same token, though, we ask the president to work with us in considering ways to stop the threats of terrorism, international narcotics, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. You know, as hard as it is to believe, right now our country has no national defense against missiles carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. Those who hate America most in Iraq, in Iran and elsewhere, they know that.

President Clinton, I urge you to reconsider your opposition to having a national missile defense for America. Join us in taking the steps that will actually deploy a national missile defense system for the United States.

Now, there are at least a dozen other important subjects the Congress will deal with in the months ahead; for example, ending the dreadful practice of partial-birth abortions. I urge our Democratic colleagues in the Senate to help us override the president's second veto of that legislation.

In addition, we're committed to more positive reforms in health care, protection of workers' rights and their paychecks, reform of bankruptcy laws, and legislation to combat teen smoking. All the while, we're going to concentrate on what we call oversight in the Congress, which means finding out why you aren't getting your money's worth from government and why so much of your hard-earned money goes for programs filled with fraud and abuse.

For instance, last year the administration admitted it paid out $23 billion in ineligible Medicare claims — that's in one year alone — and spent another $5 billion in improper payments in just one welfare program. That's intolerable. We intend to make government accountable from the classrooms to the courts, from the clerks to the president's cabinet, from the post office to the presidency.

Now, this isn't a matter of Republicans versus Democrats. No, it's a question of whether we will learn from past mistakes in order to restore the great institutions and cherished values — family, faith and freedom — that for so long have held us together as a nation.

The president was right tonight to point out our heroes. But there are some others we should not forget about. Twenty-five years ago next month, a small band of Americans returned home after long captivity in Southeast Asia. Some were broken in body, but never broken in spirit. Those returning prisoners of war reminded us, through our cheers and our tears, just how precious we hold our freedom.

Now the world has changed greatly, and greatly for the better, in those 25 years. But we must remember why it changed, why we can now look to the century ahead with high hopes, and just why we are the envy of the world. The reason is that Americans — we, the people — have been willing to sacrifice everything to protect our families, to practice our faith, and to defend our freedom.

What those heroes fought to preserve, we must now work to recover and to strengthen by renewing American education, restoring the security of the American family, and rebuilding the kind of government that works with you and for you, the kind of government you can trust.

Thank you for listening. Good night, and bless you all.

Rebuttal Speech, Republican Party Response to President Clinton's "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/308909

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives