Prepared Text of Clinton's State of the Union speech
January 19, 1999
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, honored guests, my fellow Americans.
Tonight, I have the honor of reporting on the State of the Union.
Let me begin by saluting the new speaker of the House, and thanking him for extending invitations to two special guests who are sitting in the gallery with Mrs. Hastert. Lyn Gibson and Wei Ling Chestnut are the widows of the two brave Capitol Police officers who gave their lives to defend freedom's house.
I stand before you to report that America has created the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history -- with nearly 18 million new jobs, wages rising at more than twice the rate of inflation, the highest homeownership in history, the smallest welfare rolls in 30 years -- and the lowest peacetime unemployment since 1957.
For the first time in three decades, the budget is balanced. From a deficit of $290 billion in 1992, we had a surplus of $70 billion last year. We are on course for budget surpluses for the next 25 years.
Violent crime is the lowest in a quarter century. Our environment is the cleanest in a quarter century.
America is a strong force for peace from Northern Ireland, to Bosnia, to the Middle East.
Thanks to the pioneering leadership of Vice President Gore, we have a government for the information age. Once again, our government is a progressive instrument of the common good, rooted in our oldest values: opportunity, responsibility, community. A modern government, devoted to fiscal responsibility and determined to give our people the tools they need to make the most of their own lives. A 21st century government for 21st century America.
My fellow Americans, I stand before you to report that the state of our union is strong.
America is working again. The promise of our future is limitless. But we cannot realize that promise if we allow the hum of our prosperity to lull us into complacency. How we fare as a nation far into the 21st century depends upon what we do as a nation today.
So with our budget surplus growing, our economy expanding, our confidence rising, now is the moment for this generation to meet our historic responsibility to the 21st century. Let's get to work.
The Aging of 21st Century America
Our fiscal discipline gives us an unsurpassed opportunity to address a remarkable new challenge: the aging of America.
With the number of elderly Americans set to double by 2030, the baby boom will become a senior boom.
So first and above all, we must save Social Security for the 21st century.
Early in this century, being old meant being poor. When President Roosevelt created Social Security, thousands wrote to thank him for eliminating what one woman called the "stark terror of penniless, helpless old age." Even today, without Social Security, half our nation's elderly would be forced into poverty.
Today, Social Security is strong. But by 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover monthly payments. And by 2032, the trust fund will be exhausted, and Social Security will be unable to pay out the full benefits older Americans have been promised.
The best way to keep Social Security a rock-solid guarantee is not to make drastic cuts in benefits; not to raise payroll tax rates; and not to drain resources from Social Security in the name of saving it.
Instead, I propose that we make the historic decision to invest the surplus to save Social Security.
Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years.
But we must aim higher. We should put Social Security on a sound footing for the next 75 years. And we should reduce poverty among elderly women, who are nearly twice as likely to be poor as other seniors -- and we should eliminate the limits on what seniors on Social Security can earn.
These changes will require difficult but fully achievable choices. They must be made on a bipartisan basis. They should be made this year. I reach out my hand to those of you of both parties in both houses and ask you to join me in saying: We will save Social Security now.
Last year, we wisely reserved all of the surplus until we knew what it would take to save Social Security. Again, I say, we should not spend any of it until after Social Security is truly saved. First things first. Second, once we have saved Social Security, we must fulfill our obligation to save and improve Medicare. Already, we have extended the life of Medicare by 10 years -- but we should extend it for at least another decade. Tonight I propose that we use one out of every six dollars in the surplus over the next 15 years to guarantee the soundness of Medicare until the year 2020.
But again, we should aim higher. We must be willing to work in a bipartisan way and look at new ideas, including the upcoming report of the bipartisan Medicare commission. If we work together, we can secure Medicare for the next two decades and cover seniors' greatest need -- affordable prescription drugs.
Third, we must help all Americans, from their first day on the job, to save, to invest, to create wealth. From its beginning, Americans have supplemented Social Security with private pensions and savings. Yet today, millions of people retire with little to live on other than Social Security. Americans living longer than ever must save more than ever.
Therefore, in addition to saving Social Security and Medicare, I propose a new pension initiative for retirement security in the 21st century.
I propose that we use 11 percent of the surplus to establish universal savings accounts -- USA accounts -- to give all Americans the means to save. With these new accounts, Americans can invest as they choose, and receive funds to match a portion of their savings, with extra help for those least able to save.
USA accounts will help all Americans to share in our nation's wealth, and to enjoy a more secure retirement.
Fourth, we must invest in long-term care. I propose a tax credit of $1,000 for the aged, ailing or disabled and the families who care for them. Long-term care will become a bigger and bigger challenge with the aging of America -- and we must help our families deal with it.
I was born in 1946, the first year of the baby boom. I can tell you: Our generation is determined not to let our growing old place an intolerable burden on our children and their ability to raise our grandchildren. Our economic success and fiscal discipline now give us the opportunity to lift that burden.
Saving Social Security and Medicare is the right way to use the surplus. If we do so, we will still have the resources to meet urgent national needs in education and defense. And this plan is fiscally sound. And listen to this: By saving the money we need to save Social Security and Medicare, then within 15 years we will achieve the lowest level of publicly held debt since 1917.
With these four measures -- saving Social Security, strengthening Medicare, establishing USA accounts, and supporting long-term care -- we can begin to meet our generation's historic responsibility to establish true security for 21st century seniors.
21st Century Schools
There are more children, from more diverse backgrounds, in our public schools than at any time in our history. Their education must provide the knowledge and nurture the creativity that will allow our nation to thrive in the new economy. Today we can say something we could not say six years ago: with more affordable student loans, more Pell grants and work-study jobs, education IRAs, a lifetime learning tax credit for junior and senior year of college, and the new HOPE scholarship tax cut that more than 5 million Americans will receive this year, we have opened the doors of college to all.
With our help, nearly every state has set higher academic standards for public schools, and a voluntary national test is being developed to measure the progress of our students. With over one billion dollars in discounts available this year, we are on our way to our goal of connecting every classroom and library to the Internet.
Last fall, you passed our proposal to start hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. Now I ask you to finish the job.
Our children are doing better. SAT scores are up. Math scores have risen in nearly all grades. But there is a problem: While our fourth-graders outperform their peers in other countries in math and science, our eighth-graders are around average, and our 12th-graders rank near the bottom.
We must do better. Each year the national government invests more than $15 billion in our public schools. I believe we must change the way we invest that money, to support what works and to stop supporting what doesn't.
Later this year, I will send Congress a plan that for the first time holds states and school districts accountable for progress and rewards them for results. My Education Accountability Act will require every school district receiving federal help to take the following five steps.
First, all schools must end social promotion.
No child should graduate from high school with a diploma he or she can't read. We do our children no favors when we allow them to pass from grade to grade without mastering the material.
But we can't just hold students back when the system fails them. So my balanced budget triples the funding for summer school and after school programs. We can keep one million students learning beyond regular school hours, when parents work and juvenile crime soars.
If you doubt this will work, look at Chicago, which ended social promotion and made summer school mandatory for those who don't master the basics. Math and reading scores are up three years running -- with some of the biggest gains in some of the poorest neighborhoods.
Second, all states and school districts must turn around their worst performing schools -- or shut them down. That is the policy established by Gov. Jim Hunt in North Carolina, where test scores made the biggest gains in the nation last year. My budget includes $200 million to help states turn around their failing schools.
Third, all states and school districts must be held responsible for the quality of their teachers. The great majority of teachers do a fine job. But in too many schools, teachers don't have college majors -- or even minors -- in the subjects they teach.
New teachers should be required to pass performance exams. All teachers should know the subjects they are teaching. My balanced budget contains new resources to help them reach higher standards.
To attract talented young teachers to the toughest assignments, I recommend a sixfold increase in scholarships for college students who commit to teach in the inner cities, isolated rural areas and Indian communities.
Fourth, we must empower parents with more information and more choices. In too many communities, it is easier to get information on the quality of the local restaurants than on the quality of the local schools. Every school district should issue report cards on every school.
And parents should have more choice in selecting their public schools. When I became president, there was one independent, public charter school in all of America. With our support, there are 1,100 today. My budget assures that early in the next century, there will be 3,000.
Fifth, to ensure that our classrooms are truly places of learning, all states and school districts must adopt and implement discipline policies.
Now, let's do one more thing for our children. Today, too many of our schools are so old they're falling apart, or so overcrowded students must learn in trailers. Last fall, Congress missed the opportunity to change that. This year, with 53 million children in our schools, Congress must not miss that opportunity again. I ask you to help our communities build or modernize 5000 schools.
If we do these things -- end social promotion, turn around failing schools, build modern ones, support qualified teachers, promote innovation, competition and discipline -- we will begin to meet our generation's historic responsibility to create 21st century schools.
21st Century Support For American Families
We must do more to help the millions of parents who give their all every day at home and at work.
The most basic tool of all is a decent income. Let's raise the minimum wage by a dollar an hour over the next two years.
And let's make sure women and men get equal pay for equal work by strengthening enforcement of equal pay laws.
Working parents also need quality child care. Again, I ask Congress to support our plan for tax credits and subsidies for working families, improved safety and quality, and expanded after-school programs. Our plan also includes a new tax credit for stay-at-home parents. They need support too.
The Family Medical Leave Act -- the first bill I signed into law -- has helped millions of Americans care for a new baby or an ailing relative without risking their jobs. We should extend family leave to 10 million more Americans working in smaller companies.
Parents should never face discrimination in the workplace. I will ask Congress to prohibit companies from refusing to hire or promote workers simply because they have children.
America's families deserve the world's best medical care.
Thanks to bipartisan federal support for medical research, we are on the verge of new treatments to prevent or delay diseases from Parkinsons to Alzheimers, from arthritis to cancer.
As we continue our advances in medical science, we cannot let our health care system lag behind.
Managed care has transformed medicine in America -- driving down costs, but threatening to drive down quality as well. I say to every American: You should have the right to know all your medical options -- not just the cheapest. You should have the right to see a specialist. You should have the right to emergency care. You should have the right to continuity of care -- to keep your doctor during a pregnancy or chemotherapy or some other treatment.
I have ordered that these rights be extended to the 85 million Americans served by Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health plans. But only Congress can enact the Patients' Bill of Rights for all Americans in all health plans. Last year, Congress missed that opportunity. This year, for the sake of our families, Congress must not miss that opportunity again. Pass the Patients' Bill of Rights.
There's one more right you should have. As more of our medical records are stored electronically, the threats to our privacy increase. Because Congress has given me the authority to act if it does not do so by August, one way or another, we will protect the privacy of medical records this year.
Two years ago, we acted to extend health coverage to up to 5 million children. Now, we should make it easier for small businesses to offer health insurance, and to give people between the ages of 55 and 65 who lose their health insurance the chance to buy into Medicare. No one should have to choose between keeping health care and taking a job. We should pass the landmark bipartisan legislation, proposed by Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, Roth and Moynihan, to allow people with disabilities to keep health insurance when they go to work.
We need to enable public hospitals, and community and university health centers, to provide basic, affordable care for working families without insurance. My balanced budget makes a down payment toward that goal.
We must continue to ensure access to family planning. And we must step up our efforts to treat and prevent mental illness. No American should ever be afraid to address this disease. This year, we will host a White House Conference on Mental Health. With sensitivity and commitment, Tipper Gore is leading our efforts here -- and I thank her. As everyone knows, our children are targets of a massive media campaign to hook them on cigarettes. I ask this Congress to resist the tobacco lobby. Together, let's reaffirm the FDA's authority to protect children from tobacco, hold the tobacco companies accountable, and protect tobacco farmers.
If we act in these areas -- minimum wage, family leave, child care, health care and the safety of our children -- we will begin to meet our generation's historic responsibility to strengthen our families for the 21st century.
A 21st Century Economy
Today, America is the most dynamic, competitive, job creating economy in history.
But we can do even better -- in building a 21st century economy for all Americans.
Today's income gap is largely a skills gap. Last year, Congress passed a law enabling workers to get a skills grant to choose the training they need. This year, I recommend a five-year commitment in this new system so that we can provide that training for all Americans who lose their jobs, and rapid response teams to help towns where factories have closed. And I ask for a dramatic increase in federal support for adult literacy, so we can mount a national campaign aimed at millions of working people who read at less than a fifth-grade level.
In the past six years, we have cut the welfare rolls nearly in half. Two years ago, from this podium, I asked five companies to lead a national effort to hire people off welfare. Tonight, our Welfare to Work Partnership includes 10,000 companies who have hired hundreds of thousands of people. Our balanced budget will help another 200,000 people move to the dignity and pride of work.
We must bring the spark of private enterprise to every community in America -- to inner cities and remote rural areas -- with more support for community development banks, empowerment zones and 100,000 vouchers for affordable housing. And I ask Congress to support our bold plan to help businesses raise up to $15 billion of private sector capital to bring jobs and opportunity to our inner cities and rural areas -- with tax credits and loan guarantees, including new American Private Investment Companies modeled on our Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Our greatest untapped markets are not overseas -- they are right here at home.
We must bring prosperity back to the family farm. Dropping prices and the loss of foreign markets have devastated too many family farmers. I am ready to work with lawmakers of both parties to create a farm safety net including crop insurance reform and farm income assistance.
We must strengthen our lead in technology.
Government investment led to the creation of the Internet. I propose a nearly 30 percent increase in long-term computing research.
We must be ready for the 21st century from its very first moment, by solving the "Y2K" computer problem. If we work hard with state and local governments and businesses large and small, the "Y2K problem" can be remembered as the last headache of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st.
For our own prosperity, we must support economic growth abroad.
Until recently, one-third of our economic growth came from exports. But over the past year and a half, financial turmoil overseas has put that growth at risk. Today, much of the world is in recession, with Asia hit especially hard.
This is the most serious financial crisis in a half century. To meet it, the U.S. and other nations have reduced interest rates and strengthened the International Monetary Fund. While the turmoil is not over, we are working with other industrial nations to contain it.
At the same time, we will continue to work on a global basis to build a financial system for the 21st century that promotes prosperity and tames the cycles of boom and bust. This June I will meet with other world leaders to advance this historic purpose.
We must also create a freer and fairer trading system for the 21st century. Trade has divided Americans for too long. We must find the common ground on which business, workers, environmentalists, farmers and government can stand together.
We must tear down barriers, open markets, and expand trade. At the same time, we must ensure that ordinary citizens in all countries benefit from trade -- trade that promotes the dignity of work, the rights of workers, the protection of the environment. And we must insist that international trade organizations be open to public scrutiny.
We must enforce our trade laws when imports unlawfully flood our nation. I have already informed the government of Japan that if that nation's sudden surge of steel imports into our country is not reversed, America will respond.
And we must act to help all American manufacturers hit hard by the present crisis -- with loan guarantees and other incentives to increase U.S. exports by nearly $2 billion.
We can achieve a new consensus on trade, based on these principles. I ask Congress to join me in this common approach and give the president the trade authority long used to advance our prosperity.
This year, we should expand trade with our neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean. And because trade and investment are the keys to African development -- we must finally pass the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
And tonight, I also issue a call to the nations of the world to join the United States in a new round of global negotiations to expand exports of services, of manufactures, and most of all, farm products.
We will work with the International Labor Organization on a new initiative to lift up labor standards around the world. And this year, we will lead the international community to conclude a treaty to ban abusive child labor everywhere in the world.
If we do these things -- invest in our people, our communities, and our technology, and lead in the global economy -- then we will begin to meet the historic responsibility of our generation to build a 21st century prosperity for America.
A Strong America in a New World
No nation in history has had the opportunity and the responsibility we now have to shape a world more peaceful, secure and free.
All Americans can be proud that our leadership helped to bring peace in Northern Ireland.
All Americans can be proud that our leadership has put Bosnia on the path to peace. And with our NATO allies, we are pressing the Serbian government to stop its brutal repression in Kosovo, to bring those responsible to justice, and give the people of Kosovo the self-government they deserve.
All Americans can be proud that our leadership renewed hope for lasting peace in the Middle East. Some of you were with me in December as we watched the Palestinian National Council completely renounce its call for the destruction of Israel. I ask Congress to provide resources to implement the Wye Agreement -- to protect Israel's security, stimulate the Palestinian economy, and support our friends in Jordan. We must not, we dare not, let them down.
As we work for peace, we must also meet threats to our nation's security -- including increased dangers from outlaw nations and terrorism. We will defend our security wherever we are threatened -- as we did this summer when we struck at Osama bin Laden's network of terror. The bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania reminds us of the risks faced every day by those who represent America to the world. Let's give them our support, the safest possible workplaces, and the resources they need so America can continue to lead.
We will work to keep terrorists from disrupting computer networks, to prepare local communities for biological and chemical emergencies, and to support research into vaccines and treatments.
We must increase our efforts to restrain the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles, from North Korea to India and Pakistan.
We must expand our work with Russia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet nations to safeguard nuclear materials and technology so they never fall into the wrong hands. My balanced budget will increase funding for these critical efforts by almost two-thirds over the next 5 years.
With Russia, we must continue to reduce our nuclear arsenals. The START II treaty and the framework we have already agreed to for START III could cut them by 80 percent from their Cold War height.
It has been two years since I signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. If we don't do the right thing, other nations won't either. I ask the Senate to take this vital step: Approve the treaty now, so we can make it harder for other nations to develop nuclear arms -- and we can end nuclear testing forever.
For nearly a decade, Iraq has defied its obligation to destroy its weapons of terror and the missiles to deliver them. America will continue to contain Saddam -- and we will work for the day when Iraq has a government worthy of its people.
Last month, in our action over Iraq, our troops were superb. Their mission was so flawlessly executed, we risk taking for granted the bravery and skill it required. Captain Jeff Taliaferro, a 10-year Air Force veteran, flew a B-1B bomber over Iraq as we attacked Saddam's war machine. He is here with us tonight. Let us honor him and all the 33,000 men and women of Desert Fox.
It is time to reverse the decline in defense spending that began in 1985. Since April, together we have added nearly $6 billion to maintain our readiness. My balanced budget calls for a sustained increase over the next six years for readiness and modernization, and pay and benefits for our troops.
We are the heirs of a legacy of bravery represented by millions of veterans. America's defenders today stand ready at a moment's notice to go where comforts are few and dangers are many, doing what needs to be done as no one else can. They always come through for America. We must come through for them.
The new century demands new partnerships for peace and security.
The United Nations plays a crucial role, with allies sharing burdens America might otherwise bear alone. America needs a strong and effective U.N. I want to work with this new Congress to pay our dues and our debts.
We must support security in Europe and Asia -- expanding NATO and defining its new missions at its 50th anniversary summit this year in Washington, maintaining our alliance with Japan and Korea, and our other Asian allies, and engaging China.
In China, I said to the leaders and people what I say again tonight: Stability can no longer be bought at the expense of liberty. And I say again the American people: It is important not to isolate China. The more we bring China into the world, the more the world will bring change and freedom to China.
Last spring, with some of you, I traveled to Africa, where I saw democracy and reform rising, but still held back by violence and disease. We must fortify African democracy and peace -- and support the transition to democracy now beginning to take hold in Nigeria.
We are strengthening our ties to the Americas -- to educate children, fight drugs, deepen democracy. And to increase shared prosperity, we will work to launch a Free Trade Area of the Americas.
In this hemisphere, every government but one is freely chosen by its people. We are determined that Cuba, too, will know the blessings of liberty.
The American people have opened their arms and their hearts to our Central American and Caribbean neighbors devastated by recent hurricanes. Working with Congress, we will help them rebuild. When the first lady and Tipper Gore visited the region, they saw thousands of American troops and volunteers. In the Dominican Republic, Hillary helped to rededicate a hospital that had been rebuilt by Dominicans and Americans, working side by side.Text prepared by The Associated Press.
Tuesday January 19, 1999
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