Sen. Trent Lott With The GOP Response To The President's State Of The Union Address
Jan. 27, 1998
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 why one of the first things we'll tackle is real reform
of the IRS. I'll have more to say about that later, but the bottom
line is this: We are going to stop the abuses the IRS is inflicting
on 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
We proved that people of good will and strong faith can work
together to deal with the problems that face our nation and our
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 -- one out of four -- of our high
school students can barely read, isn't it obvious the current
system isn't working?
I know we are 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 of 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 to keep up with
the cost of living. We believe these high taxes mean less freedom
And yet President Clinton now wants the government to spend
billions of dollars more. But I don't have to tell you -- if the
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
will just give government more of your money - and more control
over your lives. Nonsense!
We think the best thing for safe, healthy children are healthy,
stable families -- not more government programs that require parents
to work longer, take home less and spend less time with the kids.
That's why we fought for a $500 per child tax credit last year.
Once again, the choice is 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 kinds of wrong 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 last year. That was a welcome reversal of the
pile-on-the-taxes approach of his first four years in office.
But you know that Americans are still over-taxed, over-regulated
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
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
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
It is morally wrong for citizens in a democracy to be presumed
guilty until proven innocent.
But IRS reform alone isn't enough. The real problem lies with
the tax code itself. It is too long, it is too complicated, it is
simply unfair. It punishes achievement. It discourages work,
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 savings and investment.
Finally, because the Republican balanced budget plan is now
working, we should commit, here and now, not to spend any budget
surplus on unnecessary government programs.
If there is a surplus, we should use part of it to pay down the
national debt, and return the rest to you, the taxpayer. After all,
it is your money.
Like those tax proposals, the Republican education plan proposes
the same fundamental change from what we have now. As a father, and
a prospective grandfather, I realize that nothing is more important
than the education of our young people.
Washington today has more than 750 education programs in 39
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.
We want to cut those strings and to 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 and 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. 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, who taught public elementary
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, 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 both President Clinton and Vice
President Gore, who chose the schools their children attended.
Parental choice and involvement are absolutely essential, but
choice in education does not 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 launching 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 the
narcotics problem is a far greater threat to teen-agers.
First, to solve the drug crisis, we have to start with the
family, the school and with our churches and synagogues. Studies
show that teens in families that eat together, play together and
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
Second, schools must be drug-free. We must demand absolute
accountability and zero tolerance for any drug abuse on school
Third, there is the critical role of the federal government.
We've simply 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.
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, make the death penalty a real
threat and impose mandatory penalties for crimes committed with a
If we are honestly committed to protecting the innocent, we must
do more to punish the guilty.
By combining national leadership with community activism, we can
-- and we will -- save America, one child and one neighborhood at a
We don't pretend to have all the answers here in Washington, but
I guarantee you we will ask the right questions.
For example, there's the issue of child care. We say give
families more flexibility in the way they work and care for their
But how do we do it?
First and foremost, cut the 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 employees negotiate 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 taking this common-sense approach 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. Just last week, Pope John Paul's visit to Cuba
reminded us that, despite the collapse of communism, tonight the
future remains very uncertain over much of the globe.
Let me make one thing clear 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, we will 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.
As hard as it is to believe, right now our country has no
national defense against missiles carrying nuclear, chemical or
Those who hate America most -- in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere --they
President Clinton, I urge you to reconsider your opposition to
defending America from missile attack. Join us in taking the steps
that will actually deploy a missile defense system for the United
There 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 veto
of that legislation.
In addition, we're committed to more positive reforms in health
care, protection of workers' rights and paychecks, reform of
bankruptcy laws and legislation to combat teen smoking.
All the while, we're going to concentrate on what we call
oversight -- 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.
Last year, for example, 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 just 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.
This isn't a matter of Republicans vs. Democrats. It's a
question of whether we will learn from past mistakes in order to
restore the great institutions -- and the cherished values -- family,
faith and freedom -- that for so long have held us together as a
The president is right to point out our heroes tonight -- but
there are some others who should not be forgotten. Twenty-five
years ago, next month, a small band of Americans returned home
after long captivity in Southeast Asia.
Some 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 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 God bless you all.