President Bill Clinton Talks To Congressional Democrats
Feb. 12, 1998
Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for what you said and for all
the work you have done over these last five-plus years to help
make our country a better place.
I want to thank Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, members of the
Senate and the House who are here, and members of our team --
Mr. Bowles and others. I want to thank Barbara Turner (ph) and
Judith Lee (ph) and Kay Casey (ph) for reminding us of why we're
You know, I -- as we have established in painful and
sometimes happy ways over the last five years -- I'm not exactly
a Washington person, you know. I just sort of showed up here a
few years ago for work.
Sometimes I really get lonesome for why I came here.
You know, you can go for days, weeks, here and hardly ever
spot a real citizen.
CLINTON: I mean, somebody that's just out there living,
trying to do the right thing, showing up every day, trying to
make this country a better place by making their lives and their
families and their workplaces and their communities better
These women reminded us today of why we are all here, what
our charge is.
Why we are here.
And we should draw two lessons from what they all said.
Number one, we should never, ever, ever believe that what we're
doing here does not make a difference and it's just some
personal power trip or some political party's power trip. That
is not true. What we do here makes a difference. And you just
The second lesson we should draw is that we shouldn't spend
too much time patting ourselves on the back, because we still
have a lot more to do to make this country what it ought to be
in this new century.
And they gave us that. And for me, it was a real jolt of
adrenaline. And it touched my heart and engaged my mind, and I
know you all felt the same way, and I think we should give them
Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you.
Let me say to all of you, I'm very proud to be a member of
the oldest political party in this country and maybe in any free
democracy. I'm proud to work with all of you not only to
strengthen that party, but more importantly, to make our country
a better place.
I want to say a little bit more about the Democratic Party at
the end of my remarks, but I'd like to say a couple of words
leaders, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle. And I could say many
things about both of them.
But I -- two things strike me, because they in different ways
reflect them at their moment of greatest challenge.
In 1993 and 1994, we were in the majority all
right. But Dick Gephardt knew that we were risking that majority
by having to pass a Democrats-only budget and passing a crime
bill, which along with the Brady bill not only put more police
on the street, but took more guns off the street and out of the
hands of people who shouldn't have them.
He was well-aware that if we did those things, the problem
for the House was they had to run every two years and that we
would be doing the right thing but people would not be able to
feel the right thing by the next election. But they could hear
all the fears -- the Democrats are taking your guns away; the
Democrats are taxing you -- all things that were wrong, but he
did it any way.
By the narrowest of margins, we prevailed on the budget. By
a very narrow margin, we prevailed on the crime bill. The crime
bill was written in effect by police officers and community
anti-crime activists. And five years later, we're going to have
a balanced budget. And we've got safer streets.
And there are all kinds of people like the three women who
talked here today who have different stories to tell because
Dick Gephardt did the right thing when it was required.
And I appreciate that.
Now, consider Tom Daschle's plight. He becomes the Senate
Democratic leader when we're in the minority. And he has to
deal with the almost unbelievable role of bad luck -- because,
you know, a third of the Senate comes up every year -- that even
though we're now in the majority, we have two more elections
where we have more people running than they do.
You couldn't -- no mathematical -- statistician could sit
down and figure out a bigger nightmare for a party.
Now, you go into the minority for the first time in awhile.
And by the way, you've got two more elections where you have to
put more people up to bat than they do. They'll have more
money, but you have got to have more candidates. And oh, by the
way, you have to show up for work tomorrow and figure out how to
get something done for the
American people consistent with what your members believe in and
consistent with what you know is in the interests of the
American people. But he did it.
I defy you to find a time in the last 20 years when more
Democratic ideas have made their way into the life blood of
America than they have through the balanced budget, raising the
minimum wage and the other things that were done.
Many of them came right out of Senate, Democratic
ideas, in no small measure because Tom Daschle proved that he
could stand up for our party and reach out a constructive hand
to the other party and get something done for the American
people. And I thank him for that.
We have taken our party in a new direction for the 21st
century -- to help our country go in a new direction, a new
direction rooted in the future, not the past; bound by fiscal
discipline, but unlimited in imagination and dreams and hopes
for our people; determined to invest in their future; grounded
in our traditional values.
We've shaped a new kind of government. As the vice president
said, it is leaner. It's more flexible. It's a catalyst for
new ideas. It's determined to give the American people the
tools they need to solve their problems and make the most of
their own lives.
It may be the smallest government in 35 years. But in many
ways, it is more progressive because of all the things we are
trying to do. And it is giving us a stronger nation.
You know, of course, that we have the lowest unemployment in
And I think it's important to say, because of what
we care about, we have rising incomes again, and we have
diminishing inequality. Child poverty is now lower than it was
in 1989 at the top of the last recovery. Why? Because of the
earned income tax credit that these -- Democratic caucus
insisted on, saying we are not going to tax hardworking people
who do go out there and work full-time.
We're not going to use the tax system to put them into
poverty. We're going to use the tax system to lift them out of
poverty so their children can have a dignified and successful
And I thank you for that.
So what we're doing is working, but what the American people
want us to do is to keep showing up for work, to spend precious
little time celebrating what has been done. That's what we got
hired to do.
I remember one time when I was thinking about running for a
fifth term as governor, and I went out to the state fair.
I used to have Governor's Day at the state fair. And this
old boy showed up in overalls to the booth where I was sitting
there talking to people, and he said, well, Bill, are you going
to run again? And he said -- I said, I don't know, I might. I
said, if I do, will you vote for me? He said, yes, I will. I
always have. But he said, I don't know if you can win. He
said, you've been in an awful long time.
But he said, I'll vote for you. And I said, well, don't you
think I've done a good job? He said, well, of course, but
that's what we hired you to do.
He said, you picked up a paycheck every two weeks, didn't
We should all remember that.
Our citizens are focused on the future in their own lives and
in our lives. And we're here today not to talk about the past
but to talk about that future.
We're here today not to talk about the positions our party
seeks to take against the Republicans in Congress, but the
positions our party seeks to advance in the debate with the hope
that we can write them into law and change the lives and the
futures of the American people so we can have more stories like
the three we heard from these distinguished Americans today.
Now, most of this has been talked about. But let
me say the things that I think are most important and what I
hope will be our common agenda.
First of all, we've got to stay the path of fiscal
discipline. We've got to stay the path, because the reason this
economy is booming is that it's clear that we are serious about
running a disciplined shop here. And we've got interest rates
down, investment up. It's creating jobs -- almost 15 million
new jobs. We can't back off of that.
If I had told anybody -- any economist -- five years ago,
look, five years from now, we'll have 14.7 million new jobs, an
unemployment rate for months on end under 5 percent, and the
lowest inflation in 30 years, and the highest home ownership
rate in 30 years, the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate on
record, the lowest black unemployment rate in nearly three
decades, they would have said that I needed to see someone for
my sense of reality.
That has all happened because we began first with discipline.
And we dare not abandon it.
Now that means, among other things, we have to recognize that
this balanced budget, which is about to happen, will maintain
itself for many years, but only because of the high receipts
we're getting from Social Security taxes. And yet, Social
Security is not all right for the long run.
That's why we have to say, as a party, before we spend any of
this surplus, even a penny of it, we ought to have a commitment
and a plan that we will implement to save Social Security first.
The baby boom generation -- when we retire -- there'll be
less than three people working for every one person drawing.
Sometime in the middle of the next century, in
about the, oh, fourth decade of the next century, they'll be
only two people working for one person drawing if the present
retirement rates and work force participation rates continue.
I am the oldest of the baby boomers. I can tell you, all of
my friends at home -- I'm talking about my middle-class friends,
people that didn't have a college degree or anything -- they're
all worried about, number one, will they have a retirement? And
number two, if they have one, will it be so costly to our
children that their ability to raise our grandchildren will be
None of us want that. None of us need that. That would be a
wrong result, and we must save Social Security in a way that
binds us together across the generations and across our income
differences instead of tearing us apart.
So we must say as a party, we want to save Social Security
Judith (ph) pointed out she had a 401(k) plan. I'm really
proud of a lot of the work we've done in this Congress going
back to '94 to stabilize and safe private pensions and to make
it easier for people to take out their own private retirements.
That must be a part of this. Whatever we do with Social
Security, most people won't be able to maintain their living
standard on it. And that's good, because they've got a higher
But that means we have to do more to enable people to save
for their own retirement. We have to make it easier. We have
to make it more secure. We have to make them more options. We
have to tailor the plans to the economy that they're living in,
not to one that existed 10 or 20 years ago.
The second thing we have to do is to do more to preserve the
quality of health care. This has already been mentioned by the
But I want to say, I think it is imperative that the
Democratic Party work in this Congress to actually pass -- and
there are members of the Republican Party who want to do this
This need not be a partisan issue. We ought to
pass a consumer bill of rights that establishes baseline
protection for people. We have 160 million Americans in managed
care plans now. They ought to be entitled to the benefits of
those plans without giving up quality health care and the right
to have a doctor make the best prescription for them. We ought
to pass it, and we ought to work and work and work until it
becomes the law of the land.
We are now working, we in the administration, to implement
the law that you passed, that you generated out of this caucus
to extend health care coverage to five million more children.
And that will be very important. Child poverty is down in the
last five years. Visits to the doctor are up in the last five
years. That is good.
But we also have to recognize there are a lot of other
populations that still don't have health insurance.
People between the ages of 55 and 65. People who lost their
jobs and can't get hired again. People who retired early and
were promised health coverage but their companies broke the
promise. People who have spouse that's old enough for Medicare
but they're not and they're ill. Those people -- all we want to
do is let them buy into the Medicare program.
Now there are some who say, well, they can't afford it, $300
a month. I'll tell you what: That's a lot of money; it's a lot
less than one trip to the hospital. One trip to the hospital
will cost them three times as much as the annual premium will.
Secondly, we cannot afford to do anything that undermines the
stability of the Medicare fund. We've got a Medicare commission
-- thank you, Senator Breaux -- that's going to try to figure
out what to do about the long term financial problems of the
Medicare. So we have to let people buy in, in a way that
doesn't affect the stability of the fund.
A lot of these people have children who will help them pay
these premiums. They may have brothers and sisters who will
help them pay the premiums.
What have we got to lose by trying?
It is wrong to leave all these people out there between 55
and 65 at a vulnerable time when we can simply give them the
option to pay into the fund at the real costs in a way that will
not upset the stability of the Medicare trust fund.
I implore you to get behind that and let's pass it.
We have a great agenda. We have to finish hooking up every
classroom -- a great agenda for education. We have to finish
hooking up every classroom to the information superhighway. We
have to finish our work to raise standards and have these basic
exams in the basics.
We are offering now -- I seek at least to offer -- new
options for schools to follow the Chicago model, not just to end
social promotion, but to give all these kids that are being left
behind there an actual chance to learn and the tools with which
they can learn.
But perhaps the two most important things we have proposed --
that I hope all of us will be united behind -- are the idea of
putting 100,000 teachers out there to lower average class sizes
in the first three grades to 18 kids a class, and then helping
either build or repair classrooms in 5,000 more schools so we
can actually lower class size, improve the physical conditions
and improve education in those early grades. It will make a
dramatic difference to American education, and I hope that we
will be out there fighting for that.
Lastly, let me say I want to join the chorus of those who
believe we should raise the minimum wage. Now every time we
have raised the minimum wage in my lifetime there have been
those that say, if you do this, it will cost jobs.
The last time we did it, it didn't cost jobs. We continued
to create jobs at a very brisk pace.
But we know that the real value of the minimum wage today is
actually less than it was 20 years ago.
We know that. We know that there is a limit to how
much we can do with the earned income tax credit in terms of
giving people back money through the tax system to lift working
people and our kids out of poverty without running a risk of
having the system abused and having people take advantage of
But we know if people just get a fair wage for the work they
do, they're not going to get paid if they don't do the work. So
I believe it's time to raise it again.
And again, I say, with our economy the strongest in a
generation, our prospects bright, but with our efforts to
overcome 20 years of increasing inequality among working people
just beginning to take hold, I think we should raise it again by
a dollar in two equal steps by the turn of the century. That
will raise the living standards of 12 million hardworking
I thank Senator Kennedy. I thank you, Congressman Bonior,
for your leadership on this.
I think we ought to reach out a hand, just like we did
before. We raised the minimum wage once in this Congress. We
can do it again, and the economy will support it. We just have
to look at the statistic of what's happened to these working
families over the last 20 years. And let's just simply say, we
say we favor work over welfare. We set up a system to promote
that. Now if people are going to show up for work, they ought
to be able to raise their children in dignity.
And we ought to save (ph) it.
So -- thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Save Social Security first. Establish the patient's bill of
Let people buy into Medicare. Reduce average class size and
build more schools and schoolrooms. Raise the minimum wage.
I also want to associate myself with what has
already been said and with the proposals I've already made on
child care, on campaign finance and the tobacco legislation, on
environmental protection and medical and other research, on
making our streets safer by passing the funds I've asked for
through the Justice Department and the Education Department to
keep these schools open late hours. All these kids that are
getting in trouble -- a bunch of them will never get in trouble
in the first place if you give them something positive to do
after school and before the parents get home from work.
I hope you will pass the Community Empowerment Initiative to
bring free enterprise and jobs and investment to poor
neighborhoods in urban areas and rural areas where it still
We have a lot of other things to do. And let me just say
this: You know the American people agree with this agenda
because you say the response to the State of the Union.
I urge all of us to resist the temptation to have the whole
agenda to take to them next November. Let's pass every bit of
it we can into law. Let's make every bit of we can real in the
lives of our people.
Believe me, we have enough honest disagreements with our
friends in the Republican Party that some of this agenda is
going to be left for us to take to the American people in
November and debate about it.
You know that. If we all -- if they make their best efforts
to honestly work with us, based on what they really believe, and
we make our best efforts to honestly work with them based on
what we really believe, there'll be some things left on the
table next November that we can proudly go to the electorate
with. And we don't have to be ashamed of that.
But we owe it to our people to make sure that if any of these
things that could become law and could change their lives and
could make more stories like these three we've heard, that if it
doesn't happen this year, we owe it to the American people to
make sure that it is not our fault ...