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 19, 1999

Rebuttal Delivered by Representatives Jennifer Dunn of Washington (8th District) and Steven Largent of Oklahoma (1st District)

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

DUNN: Good evening, I'm Jennifer Dunn. I represent the people of the 8th District of Washington State.

LARGENT: And I'm Steve Largent from the 1st District of Oklahoma.

DUNN: As you might imagine, if you'd been sitting with us in the House chamber tonight as the president was giving his speech, you could have felt the swirl of history. These are disturbing and controversial times in our nation's capital.

A couple of weeks ago, I even heard a network anchor say, the capital is in chaos. Another proclaimed we were in the midst of a constitutional crisis.

Ladies and gentlemen, our country is not in crisis. There are no tanks in the streets. Our system of government is as solid as the Capitol dome you see behind me.

Our democracy is sound. Our economy is prosperous. The state of our union is strong. And no matter what the outcome of the president's situation, life in America will go on. Our lives will continue to be filled with practical matters, not constitutional ones.

I've been a single mother since my boys were little—six and eight. My life in those days was taken up trying to make ends meet, trying to get to two soccer games at the same time on two different fields, worrying about dropping the boys off early at school in order for me to get to work on time. I know how that knot in the pit of your stomach feels. I've been there.

I'm still a practical person.

You heard the president make a lot of promises to a lot of people tonight, but I'd like to talk to you about two very practical Republican priorities—tax relief and Social Security reform.

Our current tax system is a burden on the economy and on the American people. Let me tell you a story about a fellow I represent from North Bend, Washington. His name is Robert Allan.

A few years ago, the IRS denied his right to file a joint return with his wife, because they said his wife Shirley was deceased.

Well, I've seen Shirley. She looks pretty good for a dead person. Robert took Shirley to the IRS office in Seattle. The IRS was not convinced. So the Allans brought in their family doctor and in his medical opinion he pronounced Shirley alive.

The IRS was still not convinced. It took intervention by a member of Congress—me—to resolve this comedy, which in truth is a tragedy, because it's symbolic of how removed our entire tax system has become from reality and from common sense.

Last year we passed legislation reining in the IRS so that taxpayers are now considered innocent until proven guilty. But so much more needs to be done. Next year there will be a $63-billion budget surplus. Mr. President, give it back.

Last year a typical mother and father who both worked paid nearly 40 percent of their income in taxes. That means 40 cents out of every dollar they earn went to the government in federal, state or local taxes. That's the highest percentage of income ever paid in taxes by American families.

I don't know about you, but that really bothers me. No wonder so many American families are struggling. Get married, and your taxes go up. Save for your children's education, and your taxes go up. And when you die—that's right—your taxes go up. The government gets a bigger piece of your life's work than all your children put together.

So what can you expect from Republicans? Expect action. First, tonight we're proposing a 10 percent across-the-board cut in tax rates for every working American. That's the down payment on a simpler, fairer, flatter tax system.

Second, we must end the marriage penalty. We should honor commitment, not tax it.

And third, we must cut death taxes so that families don't have to sell their businesses and farms when mom and dad die. In all of our tax policies, we start from this premise: the people's money belongs to the people, not to the government.

The second thing I want to talk about is Social Security. A year ago in his State of the Union speech, the president said he was committed to saving Social Security.

I'm glad to hear him discuss it again this evening. Unfortunately spending the surplus as he proposes will not save Social Security. It just temporarily props it up with extra cash.

Mr. President, we're still waiting for real legislation.

We've reserved H.R. 1, the very first bill of this Congress, for the president's Social Security plan.

There's one thing we all can agree on—one non-negotiable principle—we must keep our contract with our senior citizens who depend on Social Security for part of all of their retirement income.

This nation made that promise long ago, and we will keep that promise.

But Social Security needs not just to be patched up. It needs to be updated for the 21st century.

People today want and expect to have more control over their lives and over their money. But President Clinton's approach, as you've just heard, gives the government more control of your retirement income.

The Social Security dollars deducted from your paycheck currently earn less than 3 percent a year. That's not enough of a return; that's not going to keep Social Security solvent; and it's especially not fair to young people and women.

For example, the current system works against mothers who choose to step out of their job for a while, away from their career, to raise children or to care for parents.

It works against wives, who more often than not, survive their husbands and they end up living for more years on fewer dollars. And it works against young people who believe they'll never see a Social Security check.

Here's a better way. Giving working Americans the choice to invest some of their Social Security dollars in personal retirement accounts. We can do this without touching a dime in Social Security funds, without raising one nickel in taxes, and without touching one penny of current benefits. A new century requires a new beginning—in approaches, in ideas, and, yes, in civility and cooperation between political parties. I'd like to close on a personal note. I'm a mother, a gardener, a Republican and a member of Congress. Believe me, all four take patience. My boys thankfully turned out to be wonderful young men. My plants at home unfortunately need a lot of work. And as for my efforts in the Congress, I am constantly planting and watering.

And as one citizen to another, in spite of all the troubling things you hear about our nation's capital, I believe that good ideas can take root here, good things can grow here and good things can blossom here.

And now my friend Steve Largent.

LARGENT: Thanks, Jennifer. Tonight, I want to share some brief but important thoughts with you.

First, let me say what a special privilege it is to speak to you and give my response and the Republicans' response to the president's remarks.

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I grew up in Oklahoma and was born in the very district I'm now proud to represent. I was raised in a broken home, and thanks to my mom, I stayed in school, stayed out of most trouble, and went to college. I married my high school sweetheart, Terry, a cheerleader, and for the next 14 years I got to live every boy's dream: playing in the National Football League for the Seattle Seahawks.

After I concluded by career in the NFL, I started my own marketing and advertising business back in Tulsa. But in 1994, I campaigned for the first elective office in my life, and won. I came to Washington with a group of Republicans committed to balancing the budget, slowing the growth of government, cutting taxes, reforming welfare and saving Medicare. And that's exactly what we did.

But as Babe Ruth once said, yesterday's home runs don't win today's games. It's time to step up to the plate once again.

Prior to 1994, my wife and I, we weren't political. We were like most families, raising four kids, hustling from one school or sports event to another—our car littered by fast food wrappers and French fries.

In fact, it wasn't until after I was elected that I attended a Republican function where a banner hung that read "GOP." I had to ask someone what those letters stood for.

They said, "Grand Old Party, of course."

I believe tonight is an appropriate time to ask once again, what does the GOP stand for? What does the party of Lincoln and Reagan stand for today? What are the lasting bedrock principles that personify and distinguish the Republican Party? It's these questions I want to answer tonight because the answer is why I ran for office in the first place. Here's the 15-second sound bite answer—the Republican Party's mission is to promote, preserve, and protect individual liberty, free enterprise and limited government. But what does that mean to my family and your family?

Let's start with individual liberty.

We must preserve the notion that true liberty and freedom come from God and are his blessing on this land and that freedom reigns only as we act responsibly toward God, each other, and his creation. Our freedom was bought at a great price and our most important responsibility is to defend this sacred gift and keep our country secure.

Tonight we support our troops that are stationed in Bosnia, the Middle East and around the world. And the good news is that after six years of cutting spending for our armed forces, the president has signal that he's ready to join us in strengthening our national defense.

We must never be complacent in which is still a dangerous world.

Terrorists and rogue nations are rapidly acquiring technology to deliver weapons of mass destruction to our very doorstep. Most Americans are shocked to discover that our country is unshielded from the accidental or ruthless launch of even a single missile over our skies. Mr. President, we urge join Congress in establishing a viable missile defense system to protect the United States.

Protecting individual liberty also means protecting the unborn. Again this year, overwhelming majorities in both houses will urge the president to end the dreadful and unwarranted practice of partial-birth abortion. We must uphold the sanctity of life amidst the tragedies of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.

Republicans also promote free enterprise. We believe market principles like competition really work. At the heart of free enterprise is good education. For far too long we've allowed Washington to dictate how our children are taught.

One of our priorities is to give control of our schools to local communities. We want the most important election affecting your children's education to be the one that decides who sits on the school board, not who you send to Washington.

Parents deserve the opportunity to choose the best school, with the best curriculum, the best teachers, and safest environment for their children.

I recently met with a roomful of teachers in Jenks, Oklahoma. I came out of that meeting convinced more than ever that teachers like these know best how federal education dollars should be spent. That's why Republicans are leading the effort that will ensure 90 cents of every federal education dollar goes directly to the classroom, empowering parents and teachers, not bureaucrats. And if we really want to "free" enterprise and the economy, let's scrap the Internal Revenue tax code. The 8,000-plus pages of confusion, contradiction and confiscation are choking small business and driving the average taxpayer mad.

Republicans want to establish a date by which the tax code will be abolished and replaced by something that's simple, fair, and takes a smaller bite from the family's pocketbook.

Finally, Republicans stand for limited government. Ronald Reagan reminded us that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have. And tonight the federal government is still too big and taking more than it should.

We will continue our efforts to control Washington's wasteful spending and its insatiable appetite for your money. Well, this is what the Grand Old Party stands for, and if this represents your hopes and dreams, we ask not that you pull for us, but that you push with us.

Back in my district, Oklahomans are steeped in America's deep tradition of faith, family, hard work and strong neighborhoods. They represent the values that hold communities together, and they believe in the power of a better tomorrow.

There's still a lot to be done. But I, too, am more optimistic than ever. These last four years have given me the unique opportunity to witness the grit and determination of the American people—our greatest resource.

Yesterday marked the 70th year since the birth of a great American leader and hero, Dr. Martin Luther King. In one of his last sermons in 1968, Dr. King warned that while the world is a closer neighborhood, we are experiencing less brotherhood. That's equally true today.

It is no longer the aggression from without that is America's greatest threat, but alienation from within—alienation at every level; husband from wife; mother from father; parent from child; black from white; Republican from Democrat; liberal from conservative. And there's only one solution: reconciliation.

Ironically, the word "congress" itself is made of two Latin words that mean "to walk together." Reconciliation requires the humility and courage to say: "I'm sorry; I was wrong; Will you forgive me?"

Therein lies the healing salve for the wounded soul of our nation. You see, the body of our country is strong. It's the heart that needs attention.

On Christmas Eve my family and I packed up our kids and gifts and headed to Grandma's house. In the car we sang along with Vince Gill's Christmas tape. As we sang one particular song, I was struck by the words and by their poignancy for our country tonight. The chorus went, "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."

So, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me. And let it begin with Republicans and Democrats and blacks and whites, and moms and, yes, especially dads. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with all of us who comprise one nation, under God, indivisible.

And if we work together and walk together, and if we have a Congress motivated not by the maintenance of power, but by principle, then I believe historians will tell our children's children, there walked a great people, a nation that preserved the wonderful promise that we call America.

May God bless you and your family, and may God continue to bless this great nation.

DUNN: Thank you for listening. Good night.

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/308915

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