[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 25, 1998]
[Pages 290-294]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 290]]

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in San 
February 25, 1998

    Thank you. You know, that was a better speech than the one I was 
going to give. [Laughter] Thank you, Bill. 
Thank you, Sally. I am delighted to be here; 
this is a beautiful, beautiful place. It's been a great dinner, 
interesting people. Thank all of you for being here and supporting these 
fine candidates.
    Thank you, Congressman Miller, and thank 
you, Nancy Pelosi, for being here and for your 
leadership. I told some people--we were just at a larger reception over 
at the Fairmont, and I told the people there that the thing I really 
liked about Nancy Pelosi was she'd been in 
Washington a long time, and she still had not managed to become cynical. 
She's still full of energy and passion and conviction. And we need more 
of that there.
    I want to thank Mike and Lois for running for Congress. They are prepared to make a 
not insignificant sacrifice in the quality of their life to go there and 
serve you. And they will serve us well.
    Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for coming 
here, and thank you for going on ``Politically Incorrect'' and sticking 
up for me tonight. [Laughter] It's truly strange that that would be 
politically incorrect to do, but that's all right. [Laughter]
    I have a lot of friends here, but I want to say I'm especially glad 
to see Bill and Lee Perry. Bill Perry is one of the finest public servants that has 
served the United States in my lifetime, one of the greatest Secretaries 
of Defense we've ever had, and I thank him for being here.
    I'd also like to thank all of you in this room who have helped me 
and Hillary and Al and Tipper in our wonderful journey these last 
several years. And the people of California and the people of this 
community, in particular, have been very, very good to us, and I'm 
profoundly grateful. And to those of you who've helped us, especially on 
the technology issues over the last 5 years, I thank you, too.
    I was trying to think of what I ought to say tonight that you 
haven't already heard. One thing I thought, when Bill talked about what 
a meritocracy Silicon Valley was, and it didn't matter where you came 
from as long as you could program a computer, you know, you could become 
a partner. I thought, my God, if I had made my career there, I'd be 
starving now. [Laughter] Never has one so technologically challenged 
tried so hard to do so much for high technology in America.
    Our country is in good shape tonight, and I'm very grateful for 
that. When you made that crack about how could you still be a 
Republican--I used to kid Bob Dole about every time 
the stock market would go up another 100 points, I'd say, ``Here I am 
working to get you more money for your campaign.'' [Laughter] It was 
against my self-interest, but I did it anyway. It was good for the 
    The country is in good shape. I hope that doesn't mean that we are 
feeling complacent or that we're going to take our eye off the ball and 
become more small minded when we ought to become more large minded and 
more visionary. And that's basically what I was trying to say in the 
State of the Union. And I feel--I'm glad that my fellow Democrats can go 
into this election cycle and say we proved that you could reduce the 
size of Government and balance the budget and still invest more in 
education and health care and the environment. We proved that you could 
have a partnership with business and still be compassionate toward 
working people. We proved that you could be for creating more jobs and 
still for giving people the support they need to succeed with their 
families at home, with child care and things like that. I'm glad we can 
say that. Or we can just reel the numbers off and say we've got the 
lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years, 
the lowest, smallest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest inflation in 
30 years, the highest homeownership in history.
    But all that means is that more people have good life stories to 
tell. And yet, if we think about the dynamism of this time, it's not 
true that the society is changing as fast or as profoundly as the 
Internet is growing, for example. But it's changing about as fast or as 
profoundly as a human organism can change. And therefore, we need to be 
thinking always about the future and what we're doing to prepare for 
this new

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century we're about to enter. And I'd just like to mention three or four 
things tonight that I think are terribly important.
    First of all, it's important to keep the economy growing. It may be 
that technology with good economic conditions will permit a higher level 
of growth for a longer period of time at lower levels of inflation than 
previously we had thought. That may be true. It will only be true if we 
are responsible. And one of the things that to me has been most 
gratifying has been the public response to my insistence that we not 
start spending the surplus before it materializes. We've had a deficit 
for 30 years, and you know, as soon as the new year came around 
everybody had great ideas for how to spend the projected surplus.
    Now, I do believe we have eliminated the structural deficit, and I 
believe we'll get a balanced budget this year--if not this year, 
certainly next year. And then it's projected that we'll have surpluses 
for several years thereafter, more than a decade. And I hope that 
happens. And because there's no structural deficit in the budget--that 
is, even if the economy slows down, and you know, when the economy slows 
down, you get less tax money, and you have to put more out because there 
are more people unemployed--but over time, if there's no structural 
deficit, we'll still have a balanced budget to a large surplus, 
depending on how much we're growing.
    There are a lot of people who want to start spending that right now 
in tax cuts or spending programs, and we should do neither. We certainly 
shouldn't do it (a) until it materializes--the bird is not in hand yet--
and (b) we should not do it until we have dealt with the long-term 
financial problems with the Social Security system. We have some 
significant decisions to make. And I think it's very important.
    Now, what my goal is, is to spend this year having a nonpartisan 
national process by which we discuss all the alternatives that are out 
there available, and then early next year we'll pass legislation which 
will basically take care of the long-term stability of the system. 
Simultaneously, no matter what option we choose, by 2029, when the 
present Trust Fund is expected to run out of money and start costing 
more money than the people are paying in every year in taxes, we will 
have to do some significant things. But no matter what we do, not now 
and not then will Social Security be enough for most Americans, the 
vast, vast majority of Americans, to maintain the standard of living 
they enjoy, once they retire. Therefore, we also have to find ways for 
people to save more and to prepare more for their own retirement. So 
we're going to be looking at a lot of interesting ideas in the Social 
Security system. And I hope all of you will enter that debate.
    But as I said in the State of the Union Address, it's literally 
true, there was a public opinion survey done last year which showed that 
most people under 25 thought it was more likely that they would see a 
UFO than that they would ever draw a penny of Social Security. I don't 
want to discourage young people from watching ``The X-Files''--
[laughter]--but I think we have to somehow reverse that perception. So 
that's the first thing I want to say.
    And by the way, we have a simultaneous effort going on now with 
Medicare. We have more than a decade of life on the Medicare Trust Fund. 
But again, the pure demographics of the baby boom retirements and the 
fact that we're living longer and accessing more high-tech medicine mean 
that we're going to have to make some changes in Medicare if we expect 
it to sustain itself well into the next century.
    It is well not to underestimate the good these programs have done. 
In 1985, for the first time in the history of our country, the poverty 
rate among people over 65 was lower than the poverty rate of people 
under 65. When Social Security was inaugurated, over 70 percent of the 
American people over 65 were living in poverty. Many of them were living 
in abject poverty. This is a terrific achievement for our country. And 
while I have emphasized putting more emphasis on the children in this 
country in poverty and more on their health care, their education, their 
nutrition, their well-being, we do not want to give up this signal 
achievement that is really a mark of a decent society. And yet, in order 
to avoid it, we're going to have to plan for it and deal with the fact 
that my generation, the baby boomers--and I'm the oldest of them--when 
everybody from my age to 18 years younger crowds into the Social 
Security system, the Medicare system, all this is going to change 
everything substantially.
    And we owe it--and I don't know anybody--and most of the people I 
grew up with are middle class people; more than half of them don't have 
college educations, the people I went to high school with. And I was 
with a bunch

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of them not very long ago, and we all sat around the table, and every 
one of them is haunted by the idea that when we retire we would have to 
impose an unwarranted financial burden on our children and on their 
ability to raise our grandchildren in order to take care of us. Nobody 
wants that. And we have an opportunity now, by acting now, to make 
relatively modest steps that will have relatively huge impacts in the 
years to come if we do it. So that's the first and very important thing 
I want to say.
    The second point I'd like to make is that we have a lot of work to 
do in this country on education. And many of you have helped us in our 
goal of hooking up every classroom and library to the Internet by the 
year 2000. We're making good progress on that. But consider the anomaly 
in the United States--one of the things that I could just feel, during 
the State of the Union, resonating with people at home was when I went 
through all the things we'd done to increase aid to people who go on to 
college. Basically, now, most Americans qualify for a $1,500 tax credit, 
tax reduction for the first 2 years of college and a tax credit for 
junior and senior year and graduate school. And there are more Pell 
grant scholarships at higher income levels. There are education IRA's. 
You can deduct the interest on the student loan. The people that are in 
our direct loan program can get cheaper college loans with better 
repayment terms. All of these things--there are 300,000 more work-study 
slots out there.
    It's literally true today that if you're willing to work for it, you 
can go to college. And community college is virtually free now. For 
people who go to community colleges, that $1,500 tax deduction covers 
all the tuition for about 80 percent of the community colleges in the 
country. And there's a great sense of achievement there. Why? Because 
people know it really means something to have higher education in 
America. And they know we have the best system of higher education in 
the world.
    No one believes we have the best system of elementary and secondary 
education in the world. We just got the results of the Third 
International Math and Science Survey, which is given to several 
thousand--I think about 20,000--but a representative sample of our high 
school seniors. And of 21 countries, we scored 19th. Now, in the eighth 
grade we're in the middle; in the fourth grade we're near the top now; 
we tied for second in the fourth grade test.
    What happens? There are lots of reasons for what happens. But we've 
been trying to unpack that. But I do not believe it is any longer 
acceptable to say, ``Well, what do you expect, because we have so many 
poor kids. Twenty percent of our kids are in poverty, and we have so 
many minority kids,'' and all that. That is all a bunch of bull. This is 
not rocket science. I mean, Sally just introduced us to that magnificent 
young woman who's a student at Stanford. I believe all kids can learn. I 
believe 90 percent-plus of us can learn 100 percent of what we need to 
know to make a society go; otherwise democracies would all fail. And it 
would have happened long ago.
    I have supported the charter school movement and school choice and a 
lot of other things. But we have got to have also more standards and 
more emphasis on teaching and a lot of other reforms in the schools. 
We've got a big program out there now to lower class sizes and do a 
number of other things in this session of Congress. But I intend to 
spend a huge amount of effort in the next 3 years to do what I spent the 
20 years before I became President working on in public life, and that 
is trying to give us the best elementary and secondary system in the 
world. Because we're kidding ourselves if we think we can really build a 
truly meritocratic society if a bunch of people are stunted coming out 
of the blocks.
    The next issue I'd like to mention that I think has great relevance 
to the future is the environment. This year the two major--I'm very 
proud of this; I didn't mention this before, but compared to 5 years 
ago, the air is cleaner; the water is cleaner; there are fewer toxic 
waste dumps; and the food supply is safer. And we have set aside more 
land in trust to be saved than any administration in the history of the 
country, except the administrations of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. 
And I'm very proud of that. We're working on saving Lake Tahoe now, and 
I'm very proud of that.
    But there is still a great deal to be done and on two issues in 
particular which will affect the quality of life in California. The 
first is with regard to clean water. The Clean Water Act, which was 
passed 25 years ago, was designed to deal with pollution mostly coming 
out of sewage systems and out of industrial activities, so-called point 
source pollution. Bad stuff comes

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out of a pipe, goes in the water. Clean it up. Forty percent of our 
waterways in America are still not pure enough to swim and fish in 
because of non-point pollution, things that run off from the land. We 
have got to do more on that. We have a major initiative on that, a new 
clean water initiative.
    The other thing that I think is imperative that we get on is--and 
you're dealing with it right now with El Nino--the climate change 
phenomenon is real, and we must do what we can to meet America's 
responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can do that and 
still grow the economy. Every time we've had to face a clean air or 
clean water issue people have said, ``Oh, if you do this, it's going to 
shut the economy down.'' And every time we've done it, it has given the 
economy a boost because it's opened up a whole new area of high-tech 
jobs that we didn't have before.
    Now basically, a third of all these CO2 emissions come 
from transportation, a third come from buildings, homes, and office 
buildings, and a third come from manufacturing plants and electric 
generators. And the technology is now available, right now, to reduce 
substantially our greenhouse gas emissions, with available technology 
that pays out in 2 to 3 years, with regard to buildings, office 
buildings, homes, manufacturing facilities, and electric generators. And 
with the new fuel injection engines that are being developed for 
automobiles, with the hybrid electric and fuel and gasoline engines and 
a lot of the other things that are going on, within 2 or 3 years you're 
going to look at automobiles that have literally one-fourth to one-fifth 
the greenhouse gas emissions of today's automobiles. This is an 
imperative thing to do, and I hope all of you will support this, because 
we have a good program going through Congress, and I think we'll pass 
it. But it's important.
    The last thing I'd like to say is, Bill talked about research. 
Hillary gave me the idea of trying to have a part of our program this 
year be a gift to the millennium that would be part respecting the past 
and part imagining the future. The respecting of the past part, we're 
going to try to restore the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the 
Declaration of Independence, and the Star-Spangled Banner and get people 
in every community in the country to do an inventory of what they have.
    For example, there's a place called the Old Soldiers' Home in 
Washington, DC, that was built before the Civil War. And on the Old 
Soldiers' Home there is a cabin which is almost totally dilapidated now, 
where Abraham Lincoln's family lived every summer--and other Presidents. 
It wouldn't cost that much to restore it. It's a Washington, DC, 
facility. Every single community in this country has places in it that 
tell the part of America's story, and they have to be preserved.
    But we also have to recognize that in the years we were running 
these huge deficits, we wound up underinvesting in a lot of things we 
should have invested more in, principally research. So we've also 
offered the biggest research budget in the history of the country in 
this balanced budget. And I hope we can pass it, and I hope all of you 
will help us pass it because it's a big part of our future.
    The last thing I'd like to say is this: I have tried very hard to 
change the political culture of Washington with, you would have to 
charitably say, mixed results. [Laughter] I don't even understand it 
half the time. I realize I'm afflicted by the fact that I had a real 
life for too long.
    But I will say this: I think that the work we're doing in this race 
initiative, the campaign against the employment nondiscrimination--for 
the ``Employment Non-Discrimination Act,'' the efforts to bring America 
together across all the lines that divide us and to have everybody 
judged based on their merit and to give everybody a chance and to build 
an America that basically is a stunning contrast to the racial and 
ethnic and religious conflicts that are beleaguering the world--how much 
of your time as President--because my time is really yours--has been 
spent in my Presidency on the problems of my people in Northern Ireland, 
my people, still arguing over things that happened 600 years ago, or the 
continuing torment in the Middle East or what happened in Bosnia or 
trying to save all those children from the horrible fate they were 
facing in Rwanda and all these places? We're supposed to be living in 
this great modern world--you can hook everybody up to an Internet--but 
if they still have primitive impulses, then they just have modern 
technology to give greater vent with greater intensity to primitive 
    I want us to have a strong economy, and I want us to always be on 
the forefront of every

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new thing that happens. But in the end, we have to prove that we can be 
one nation together. And I try to end all my talks now by just reminding 
everybody that the people that came here to start this country came here 
because they literally deplored the unlimited, arbitrary, abusive 
exercise of power over the lives of citizens. And they had a better 
idea. They said, ``We want to be free, and we want to be free to pursue 
happiness--not have it guaranteed to us; free to pursue it--and in the 
process, we will work to form a more perfect Union.''
    Now these people you're supporting here and the party we represent--
yes, we've modernized the Democratic Party. Thank you, Bill. And yes, they can't say all those bad things about 
Democrats they used to say. But if you look at the whole 20th century, 
if you go right back to Woodrow Wilson forward, our country has always 
been for those things. We've always been for more freedom, more 
opportunity, and a stronger Union. Which means, even when we haven't 
been right on the issues, we've been on the right side of America's 
history. And I'm proud to be here with you, Mike. I'm proud to be here with my good friend Lois. And I'm proud to be here with a party that I think can 
lead America to a better place in the new century.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:20 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to William and Sally Hembrecht, dinner hosts; State 
Senator Mike Thompson, candidate for California's First Congressional 
District; Lois Capps, widow of the late Representative Walter H. Capps 
and candidate for California's 22d Congressional District; Mayor Willie 
L. Brown, Jr., of San Francisco; and William J. Perry, former Secretary 
of Defense, and his wife, Lee.