November 11, 1995
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EST
Good morning. At midnight this Monday night, unless Congress passes legislation to keep the government running, the federal government will be required by law to begin shutting down. For months, the congressional Republicans have made a consistent threat: If I don't sign legislation cutting Medicare, education and the environment, they will plunge the government into default and force it to close its doors.
I don't want to shut down basic government services for the American people, but I can't allow that to be used to force us to accept extreme budget measures that would violate our basic values as a nation and undermine the long-term welfare of the American people.
A very great deal is at stake in this debate. This budget debate is not about whether we will balance the budget. Both parties support that. It's about whether we will balance our budget in a way that is consistent with our fundamental values -- our responsibility to our parents and to our children, our determination to provide opportunity for all Americans to make the most of their own lives through good jobs in education and technology, our obligation to protect the environment, and to keep America the world's strongest force for peace and freedom, democracy and prosperity.
This budget debate is about two very different futures for America, about whether we will continue to go forward under our motto, e pluribus unum -- out of many, one; whether we will continue to unite and grow together or whether we will become a divided, winner-take-all society. Today, as I speak with you, the congressional Republicans are on the verge of carrying out their threat. I want to explain how we have come to this juncture and why it is so important that we stand firm against measures that would endanger our future.
The congressional Republicans propose to balance the budget in seven years, but they would get there with deep cuts in Medicare, education, protection for the environment, and by raising taxes on working people. Five full months ago, I proposed an alternative plan to balance the budget in 10 years while protecting Medicare and Medicaid, increasing our investment in education and technology, protecting the environment without raising taxes on working families.
Since then, the Republican Congress has dismissed my proposal at every turn and has not met the deadlines established by law for setting this year's budget. The new federal fiscal year started back on October 1st. Now it's November 11th, Veterans Day, and still they haven't sent me a budget, even though the Republicans control both houses of Congress. This is very unusual. In my first two years, we passed budgets to reduce the deficit in a timely fashion.
Also this year, the Republicans have not come close to resolving their own internal differences in their overall budget plan between measures passed in the House and the Senate. Back in 1993, we passed our deficit reduction plan three months earlier than this, in August. That plan has now given us three years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Mr. Truman was president. And the United States now has the lowest deficit as a percentage of our income of any industrial nation in the world except one. Let me say that again: We now have the lowest deficit as a percentage of our income of any industrial nation in the world except one.
Now, there have been times in our history when our budget process has run late before. I want to acknowledge that. But when that happens, the differing sides, regardless of party, usually agree to find a fair and unbiased way to keep the government going and to enable the United States to pay its bills, while the broader debate about budget priorities goes on.
That is what I worked out with Congress in September. They passed and I signed a simple, straightforward bill to keep the government running and to prevent America from going into default. That was the serious and responsible thing to do, and I applauded them for doing it at the time. Last week I met with the congressional Republican leadership to try to find a way again to keep our government open and to keep it from falling into default. As I told them then, we should balance the budget, but we cannot do it under a threat of government shutdown and default.
Instead of following a path of reconciliation, however, they have once again gone their own way. This week they voted on an unprecedented measure on Thursday night. As a part of their bill to keep the government going, both houses voted a 25 percent increase in Medicare premiums for every single senior citizen on Medicare. That is an extraordinary act. No Congress in our history has ever demanded an increase in Medicare premiums as a condition of keeping the government open. That is wrong, and I will not accept it.
And on this Veterans Day, they have a strange way of honoring all those men and women who have sacrificed for our country. Eight million of the senior citizens and disabled Americans whose Medicare premiums will be raised by Congress are veterans. And they, too, deserve better.
The Republicans in Congress are also demanding deep cuts in education and the environment and a profound weakening of environmental laws as a condition of keeping the government open and our bills paid. And they have added conditions to the debt limit legislation that amount to a shortcut to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.
Think of it this way, my fellow Americans. Imagine the Republican Congress as a banker and the United States as a family that has to go to the bank for a short-term loan for a family emergency. The banker says to the family, "I'll give you the loan, but only if you'll throw the grandparents and the kids out of the house first." Well, speaking on behalf of the family, I say, "No, thanks."
I believe we can find a good-faith way to keep the government open and make good on its obligations. So I've asked my chief of staff, Leon Panetta, to meet with the Republican and the Democratic leaders of Congress this afternoon. I've instructed him to present them with straightforward ideas to keep the government open, just like we did in September and just as Congress has done dozens of times before. But I will not allow them to impose new, immediate cuts in Medicare, education and the environment as a condition of keeping the government open.
I believe we can resolve these differences without hurting the American people or our future. All around us we see evidence that America is on the move. Our economy is the envy of the world. The unemployment and inflation rates together are at a 25-year low. New businesses and exports of American products are at an all-time high. As I said, our deficit already is the smallest of any major economy in the world but one. Our government as a percentage of the work force is the smallest it's been since 1933. We're making a full assault on our social problems, like crime.
Now our challenge is to balance our budget in a way that is consistent with our fundamental values, and to do it without threats and without partisan rancor. We can do that, so let's get it done.
Thank you for listening.
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