[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 10, 1997]
[Pages 1738-1741]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1738]]

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner
in New York City
December 10, 1997

    Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank Congressman 
Gephardt and Congressman Frost. Martin Frost is the most dogged person I 
know. Sometimes I show up at these events just to get him to stop 
calling me. [Laughter] Most of the time I show up because I want to be 
    I thank Congressmen Pallone and Engel and Congresswoman Maloney, and 
I think Congresswoman Lowey is here now. I thank them all for their 
wonderful leadership. Hello, Nita.
    I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to the Secretary of 
Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo, from New York, who is doing 
a brilliant job. And I want to talk more about that in a minute.
    I thank my friend James Taylor for coming here to sing tonight. Two 
of the truly great evenings in my family's life together, our family 
life, have come in no small measure because of James Taylor. When we 
were vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, on two different occasions, we 
went sailing off Martha's Vineyard and James Taylor was a member of the 
crew. Now, it wasn't such a great thing watching him work the ropes and 
the sails, although that's truly impressive. But when we got to a calm 
sea, he sang for us, and with the stars out and the moon out and the 
water calm, it's something that none of us will ever forget. And it was 
a great gift we cannot repay, but we thank you for being a good man and 
a good friend and a good citizen of this country.
    Let me try to explain very briefly what I think is going on in this 
country now and ask you to remember where we are now as compared with 
where we were in 1992. We had a stagnant economy, increasing inequality. 
We seemed to be drifting toward the future. And the operative philosophy 
in this country for 12 years had been that problems were to be talked 
about, but not very much was to be done about them; the deficit was to 
be decried, but it was okay if it got bigger--you just tried to blame 
the other person; and that, essentially, Government was the problem so 
it should sit on the sidelines.
    Now, that was the governing philosophy. And for it we had to show a 
$290 billion deficit, a high unemployment rate, and nothing done to 
address 20 years of wage stagnation in the middle class, a growing 
underclass, and a lot of profound challenges caused by the globalization 
of the economy and the society.
    Could we grow the economy and improve the environment? Could we take 
advantage of trade to get more new high-wage jobs in America and retrain 
people who were dislocated quickly enough? Could we deal with what I 
think is maybe the most prominently mentioned complaint I hear all the 
time, the conflict that families increasingly in all income levels make 
that they don't feel they can do right by their job and spend enough 
time with their children? In short, could we get the benefits of the 
world toward which we were moving and meet the challenges? It seemed to 
me that we certainly couldn't do that if we stayed with the economic 
policy, the social policy, or the philosophy of government that 
dominated the 12 years before I became President.
    And today, before I came here, I had one of those days that reminded 
me of why, when I was a young man, I wanted to be in public service, 
because along with former Congressman Garcia, who is out here, and a 
number of others, I went back to the Bronx. And I went to those streets 
that were featured when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan walked the 
streets of the Bronx, and President Carter said it was devastating, and 
President Reagan said it reminded him of London during the Blitz.
    Today it reminds me of the American dream because of what people can 
do together when Government is neither a savior nor sitting on the 
sidelines but a constructive partner with community leaders who want to 
build strong families and strong communities and safe streets and good 
schools and a bright future. That's what I saw in the Bronx today. 
Everybody in New York ought to be proud of it, and it ought to basically 
reinforce your determination that you're doing the right thing here 
tonight because that's the kind of America we want to build in every 
neighborhood in this country.
    Does it matter who's in the Congress? Does it matter how they vote? 
You bet it does. By

[[Page 1739]]

one vote in the Senate and one vote in the House--and the vote in the 
Senate was the Vice President's; as he always says, ``Whenever I vote we 
win,'' because he only gets to vote in the case of a tie; if someday we 
lose, I'll be in trouble, sure enough--[laughter]--we passed an economic 
plan that had reduced the deficit 92 percent before the balanced budget 
bill was passed last year--nearly 14 million new jobs in our economy, 
the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, and the lowest crime rate in 
24 years.
    Mr. Gephardt mentioned the crime bill. Does it matter? You bet it 
does. There were hardly any Republican votes for the crime bill. We had 
more in the House, I think, than the Senate in the end. Why? Because 
they did not want to offend people who said that we shouldn't keep 
assault weapons off the streets. There were people who said it wouldn't 
make any difference if we put another 100,000 police on the street, 
people who said it was a waste of your tax money for us to give children 
something to say yes to when they got out of school. But we know most 
juvenile crime is committed between 3 o'clock in the afternoon and 7 
o'clock at night. Well, we got the lowest crime rate in 24 years. The 
Democrats were right, and those who fought them were wrong.
    They said the economic plan would bring on a recession; it would be 
unfair; it was going to raise taxes on middle class people. They were 
wrong. We now have the evidence. You don't have to--this is not a matter 
of debate. And I would have to admit it if the reverse were true; I'd 
have to say I was wrong. Our position was right, and they were wrong. 
And I am tired of seeing them get rewarded at elections because they 
have more money or they can divide the American electorate in some 
better way. And you being here is going to give a chance to the American 
people to vote for the people who have been right about the last 5 years 
and who are right about America's future. And that's why you're here, 
and I'm glad to see you.
    Now, let me give you another example: The air is cleaner; the water 
is cleaner; the food supply is safer; and there are fewer toxic waste 
dumps today than there were 5 years ago. And there is always a big 
debate--we had a huge debate. One of the reasons the Government got shut 
down in 1995 is that we Democrats thought we could continue to improve 
the economy and clean up the environment. And they said it was a nice 
thing to have a clean environment, but it was a burdensome economic 
impediment, and it was an ugly big old Government on everybody's 
    Well, we have evidence now. This is no longer subject to serious 
debate. What is the subject of debate, what we should be debating is, 
what is the best way to combat global warming; what is the most 
efficient way to clean up these toxic waste dumps; what is the most 
health-conscious way to guarantee the safety of a food supply that 
inevitably will have more imported food? That's a debate worth having.
    But to debate whether it is right to protect the integrity of the 
environment and to improve it and grow the economy--that debate is over. 
Our side has been proved right. We have 5 years of clear evidence. And I 
would like to see people who are committed to environmental protection 
and responsible growth voted into the House of Representatives next 
year. That's why I'm glad you're here, and I hope you will follow James 
Taylor and help us to do that. This is not a subject of debate.
    We passed the family and medical leave law. There were a lot of 
Republicans who voted for that--I'll give them credit for that--far more 
Democrats. My predecessor had vetoed it twice. Why? Because their 
theology said--their theology said it's a nice thing if people can spend 
a little time with their new-born babies or if someone in their family 
gets sick, but we couldn't think of requiring it because it would hurt 
the economy and the economy is always the most important thing.
    We said the most important thing in any society is raising healthy 
children and keeping families together. And when you permit people to do 
the right thing when their parents are sick or their babies are born, 
you will make them stronger and healthier and happier, and they will be 
better in the workplace, and it will help the economy to do the right 
thing about the family unit.
    Well, there's no longer subject to serious doubt--we passed the 
family and medical leave law. We've had study after study after study; 
hardly anybody affected by it has reported any problem with it. We were 
right. I think we should expand it. I think people ought to get time off 
to go to regular parent-teacher conferences at the school. I think 
people ought to get time off if they have to take a parent or a child to 
a regular doctor's appointment. I think the more we can help people 

[[Page 1740]]

family and work, the better off we're going to be. And I think the 
evidence is clear.
    Now, let me move to--there is a second category of issues where 
Democrats and Republicans have voted for and against certain bills. I'd 
like to talk about them because you can also see what matters there.
    You look at this balanced budget bill. It's got the biggest increase 
in health care for children since 1965. We're going to get enough money 
to insure 5 million more children. Does anybody doubt which party in the 
bipartisan coalition in that balanced budget bill contributed that? This 
balanced budget bill contains the biggest increase in help for people 
that go on to college in 50 years, since the GI bill passed, a $1,500-a-
year tax credit for the first 2 years of college, tax credits for the 
third and fourth years, for graduate schools, for workers who have to go 
back and get retraining. Does anybody doubt which party contributed 
that? Finishing our determination to double the amount of job training 
money we're giving to people who are dislocated or underemployed over 
the last 5 years--does anybody doubt which party contributed that? It 
matters. And we have been right about these issues. That's why I'm here.
    We were right to take on the NRA. Even though they took some of our 
Members out, the light of American history will shine brightly on them.
    We were right to take on the tobacco issue because it's the biggest 
public health problem in America, and it's illegal for kids to do. And 
if we get a bill out of the Congress that's a bipartisan bill, just 
remember, we ought to give credit to everybody who votes for it, 
Republican or Democrat, if it's a good bill--but remember how it got 
started. It never would have happened without the progressive party in 
this country taking it on.
    And finally let me say, there are lots of challenges in the future 
like that. I think we ought to have a health care bill of rights. We put 
a commission together, a quality health care commission. More and more 
people in managed care plans--I think on balance they've done a lot more 
good than harm. But the more you lose control over your own life, the 
more you want to know you've got some protection, some recourse, some 
guarantee. It's not just the cost, it's the quality and availability of 
health care that matter. So we put this coalition together, and we had 
health care providers and business people, employers, and consumers of 
health care on it. And they came up with this health care bill of 
    The leader of the other party in the Senate says it's a terrible 
thing because it's too much of an imposition on the people who are 
running the programs. I disagree. Big choice: Who is right about the 
future? Are we right, or are they right? Whether we can pass it or not 
depends on the Members of Congress. And it will affect the lives of 
millions of people.
    Once we get these 5 million kids insured, what about the other kids 
that don't have health insurance? What about all these people that work 
all their lives, and they have to take early retirement in companies, 
and they lose their health insurance, and they can't get into the 
Medicare program because they're not old enough? What's going to happen 
to them? There are lots of other challenges out there. You have to 
decide; who do you trust to meet these challenges?
    Look at our schools. What's the next big challenge here? We've got 
to guarantee that all of our kids get a world-class education. The 
Democratic Party is firmly on record in favor of high standards, more 
investment, a national testing program--voluntary--to see if the kids 
are meeting these standards, and then opening the doors of college to 
every kid in this country. If you want young people not to be trapped in 
dead-end jobs, they have to be able to get education for a lifetime. Who 
do you trust to give education for a lifetime?
    Now, the things that our friends in the Republican Party used to say 
about us--they used to say we couldn't manage the economy. Now we've got 
almost 14 billion new jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years. 
They used to say we couldn't be trusted on crime; we were soft on crime. 
We have the lowest crime rate in 24 years. And if our Democratic 
juvenile justice approach passes, it will be lower still.
    They used to say we couldn't be trusted on welfare. Look at the 
welfare reform bill. A lot of Democrats voted against it; a lot of them 
voted for it. But you know what's in that bill? We did not give in to 
their determination to take away health care and nutrition from kids. 
We've got $4 billion more in there for child care and $3 billion to give 
to poor neighborhoods, where there aren't enough private jobs for able-
bodied people to go to work. Which

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party do you think made those contributions to that welfare reform bill?
    These are important issues. They can't say that anymore. They used 
to say, well, we couldn't manage foreign policy, the national defense. 
This country is stronger and has made more contributions to peace and 
freedom and facing the security challenges of tomorrow than it was 5 
years ago.
    So I say to you, we have a party we are proud of. And we are not 
ashamed that it is more progressive, that we believe we are one Nation, 
that we believe we have to come together across all the lines that 
divide us, that we believe in things like AmeriCorps and citizen service 
and people getting together and what I saw in the Bronx today. And if 
you want more of that, if you like what's happened in the last 5 years 
and you want more of it, you give me a few more of these folks, and 
you'll have it.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:20 p.m. in the Empire Room at the Waldorf 
Astoria. In his remarks, he referred to singer James Taylor and former 
Representative Robert Garcia of New York.