[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 21, 1997]
[Pages 1403-1405]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues
October 21, 1997

    Thank you, Eleanor, for that introduction. We've been friends a long 
time and, frankly, I had forgotten that I had done some of those things. 
[Laughter] Thank you, Nancy Johnson, Madam Secretary. Thank you, First 
Lady, for now spending more than half your life at least acquainted with 
me in some form or fashion--[laughter]--almost half of it married.
    I congratulate the members of the caucus on 20 years of leadership. 
I thank Women's Policy Inc. for hosting this event, and I am delighted 
to be here, not only with the Secretary of State but also with Audrey 
Haynes, the Director of the White House Office for Women's Initiatives 
and Outreach, and several other outstanding senior officials of the 
White House.
    I, too, want to pay tribute to Margaret Heckler and Elizabeth 
Holtzman for their vision in creating this office, for the leadership 
that--[applause]--thank you--for the past leadership of Olympia Snowe 
and Pat Schroeder, Connie Morella and Nita Lowey. And of course, to 
Nancy Johnson and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who show no lack of energy in 
pressing your cause with the President.
    When Nancy mentioned there are now 52 members of this caucus in the 
House of Representatives, I was sitting next to Hillary, and I knew what 
she was thinking: That's about 52 too few. [Laughter] And I was thinking 
it, too, based on your record.

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    I think the thing that has been overlooked in this whole endeavor of 
trying to give more sensitivity to issues of special concern to women 
and trying to give women more opportunities to serve is that we live in 
an age where every public figure says, as if it were just a cliche, that 
the most important resource in any human endeavor in the private sector 
or the public sector is our people. And yet we cavalierly go on, in 
example after example after example, not giving all our people the 
chance to live up to the fullest of their God-given capacities and make 
the greatest service they can to the rest of us to promote the general 
welfare. I've done what I could to correct that, partly based on the 
example of my wife, my mother, and my grandmother, and partly because I 
have known so many of you personally, and partly because it is manifest 
that we have to find a way to reach across all the lines in our society 
and lift up everyone to the position of his or her highest and best use 
and potential.
    In that connection, I would like to thank the newly confirmed 
Ambassador to the Vatican, Lindy Boggs, for her willingness to serve.
    I've been proud to work with you on a lot of issues. Most of them 
have been mentioned tonight--the family and medical leave law, which has 
changed more lives than almost any bill that we've passed around here in 
a long time. Everywhere I go around the country now, people still come 
up to me and tell me personal stories of how that law changed their 
lives. The Kassebaum-Kennedy bill, the minimum wage, the child care, the 
adoption tax credit, increased child support enforcement, the family 
violence initiatives--all these things have made a difference. The hand 
of this caucus was felt heavily in the recent balanced budget, with the 
single biggest aid to education increase since '65, the biggest increase 
in aid to children's health since Medicaid in '65, and the children's 
tax credit. So, the country is in your debt.
    And I do believe that the bipartisan nature of this caucus has made 
a profound difference. I know that we're joined tonight by the 
Democratic leader, Dick Gephardt, and I believe Speaker Gingrich wanted 
to be here and had to be in Georgia tonight. I know Mr. Gephardt would 
agree with me that all of us have been impressed by how you are able to 
stay together, work together, and, in Eleanor's terms, get down to 
business no matter how crazy things get in this occasionally loony town. 
And for that, too, we are all in your debt, for you set an example that 
everyone else should follow.
    I'd like to talk just a moment about health issues. Hillary 
mentioned them and has worked on them so hard, and others have mentioned 
them. The budget not only provided for $24 billion to extend health 
coverage to 5 million children who don't have it, thus giving greater 
peace of mind to the parents who are raising them, both as parents and 
also when they're away at work, it did a lot more for the health of 
women. It expanded Medicare to cover bone mass measurement for women at 
risk of osteoporosis. Funding for osteoporosis research has now reached 
more than $100 million at NIH. It expanded Medicare to cover annual 
mammograms for all women over the age of 49 and eliminated the 
copayments to make these examinations more affordable. These were 
important things, and we have more to do.
    We have to continue our focus on women's health. Since I took 
office, funding for breast cancer research, prevention, and treatment 
has almost doubled, and we've discovered two breast cancer genes, 
holding great promise for the development of new prevention strategies, 
something that's profoundly important to all of us who have ever dealt 
with this in our families.
    We're unlocking the mysteries of the genetic code and continuing to 
discover new ways to diagnose and treat genetic disorders. But we know 
that these breakthroughs also bring with them the need for new 
protections. Studies show the leading reason women do not take advantage 
of new genetic breast cancer tests is because they fear they will be 
discriminated in health plans if the tests come out the wrong way. This 
is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.
    So I want to work with you to get Congress to pass bipartisan 
legislation that will ban all health plans, group and individual, from 
denying coverage or raising premiums on the basis of genetic tests. 
After all, if we can get everybody to take the tests, if they know what 
they're up against, in the end we will prevent more severe illness, we 
will reduce cost to the health care system. And we shouldn't punish 
individuals for doing something that we know is not only in their own 
interest but is in the interest of society.
    Also, legislation should prohibit all health plans from disclosing 
genetic information that could be misused by other insurers. It ought to 
protect researchers' ability to make the best

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use of this important tool. So, again, let me applaud those, especially 
Representative Slaughter and Senator Snowe, for their leadership. 
Genetic discrimination legislation deserves action now.
    Let me also say that many of you in this room have contributed to 
our efforts to support legislation to protect women who have had 
mastectomies. They shouldn't be forced out of the hospital before 
they're ready because of pressure from a health plan. It's unacceptable 
that Congress has not yet held a hearing on the DeLauro-Dingell-Roukema 
48-hour mastectomy patient protection bill, and we need to keep pushing 
for that.
    And finally, we need to keep breaking down the doors and breaking 
through the glass ceilings and acting to bring women the full measure of 
economic and legal equity to which they're entitled. This caucus and our 
administration, under the leadership of Aida Alvarez, continues to work 
to counter the effects of discrimination and long-developed networks 
which hinder the success of women- and minority-owned businesses. I'm 
proud of the fact that the SBA in the last 5 years has tripled the 
number of loans to women businesses, and I thank you for your support of 
the disadvantaged business enterprise program, which has successfully 
increased the percentage of women- and minority-owned construction 
firms. I'm pleased to say that this has now passed both Houses, and I 
hope you'll keep up the fight so that it actually reaches my desk.
    Twenty years after its creation, the Congressional Caucus for 
Women's Issues commands the respect that you've always deserved. You now 
have a record you can be proud of. You work in a way that you can be 
proud of. You can feel the respect here in this audience this evening of 
all the people who have come to pay tribute.
    Tonight is a night for celebration. We celebrate an initiative taken 
in 1977, a celebration of 20 years of hard work, of the many initiatives 
that you have accomplished. But most importantly, I'm here to celebrate 
the energy, the intelligence, the character, and the old-fashioned 
patriotic devotion to the task at hand that will bring you even more 
brilliant achievements in the years ahead.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:27 p.m. in the Mellon Auditorium at the 
Department of Commerce. In his remarks, he referred to Delegate Eleanor 
Holmes Norton and Representative Nancy L. Johnson, cochairs, former 
Representatives Margaret M. Heckler and Elizabeth Holtzman, founders and 
original cochairs, and former Representative Patricia Schroeder, former 
cochair, Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues; and former 
Representative Corinne Claiborne (Lindy) Boggs.