[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 21, 1998]
[Pages 594-597]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 594]]

Remarks on the 1998 Legislative Agenda and an Exchange With Reporters
April 21, 1998

    The President. Good afternoon. In the coming weeks, Congress will be 
making an awful lot of important decisions about how to best prepare our 
children and our Nation for the 21st century. First, we have an historic 
opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation to protect our children from 
the dangers of tobacco. The legislation would put an end to the tobacco 
industry's calculated, multimillion-dollar media campaign to hook our 
children early to the deadly habit of smoking.
    For years, the cartoon character Joe Camel was the star of their 
efforts to create a new generation of customers for cigarettes, what the 
tobacco industry euphemistically called ``replacement smokers,'' what 
most of us call our children. Even as the executives denied they were 
targeting children, Joe Camel became as recognizable to them as Mickey 
    Now, some in Congress say that teen smoking has nothing to do with 
Joe Camel. Medical science and common sense makes it plain: Teen smoking 
has everything to do with Joe Camel, with unscrupulous marketing 
campaigns that prey on the insecurities and dreams of our children. 
Indeed, a recent study by the American Medical Association found that 
over a third of our young people who try cigarettes do so because of 
advertising and promotion and that Joe Camel was the overwhelming 
favorite among 12- to 15-year-olds.
    The industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on such 
marketing campaigns, plainly not designed to appeal to adults. It is 
time to end this story once and for all. So again I say to Congress, now 
is the time to pass strong bipartisan tobacco legislation. And again I 
say, I hope that both parties will work together for the benefit of our 
    Today is an extremely important day for the future of public 
education in America. Soon the United States Senate will be faced with a 
clear choice: whether to modernize 5,000 schools and strengthen 
educational opportunity for all children or offer families about a $7 
tax rebate that would barely cover the cost of schools supplies and, in 
the process, would weaken our national commitment to education.
    Above all, the information age is an education age. And the most 
important thing we can do to strengthen our country for the 21st century 
is to give our people the best education system in the world. In our 
balanced budget, I propose a plan that would help us to do that. It 
would help all Americans--teachers, parents, students, principals--bring 
a revolution of standards, accountability, and choice to our schools.
    I am committed to seeing that our students master the basics with 
national standards and an exam to measure those in fourth grade reading 
and eighth grade math; to reduce class sizes in the early grades to an 
average of 18; to encouraging public school choice, charter schools; and 
to ending social promotion. Making sure that every child in America has 
an opportunity to learn in a modern, safe, state-of-the-art school is 
also a centerpiece of our plan.
    The need is great. With the number of school-age children at a 
record high and growing, schools across the country already are at or 
beyond capacity. One-third of our schools need to be modernized. Nearly 
half don't have the wiring to support basic computer equipment. The 
Federal Government helps to build roads and bridges and other 
infrastructure projects because they are in the national interest. But 
none of that will matter if we do not see that our national interest in 
an adequate education infrastructure is also preserved.
    Today Senator Carol Moseley-Braun 
will offer an amendment that will help communities raise the funds to 
modernize 5,000 schools. If we want our children to be prepared for the 
21st century, they ought to have 21st century schools. I urge Congress 
to adopt the amendment right away.
    Today the Senate will also vote on the wrong way--an ill-advised tax 
incentive for elementary and secondary expenses. The proposal is bad 
education policy and bad tax policy. It won't do anything to strengthen 
our schools and, in fact, would weaken public education by siphoning 
limited Federal resources away from public schools. The $1.6 billion 
proposal would do very little for average families, offering an average 
of $7 in tax relief for parents of the 90 percent of our children who 
are in public schools and

[[Page 595]]

$37 for the parents with children in private schools. It would 
disproportionately benefit highest income taxpayers; families who are 
struggling to make ends meet would never see a penny of it. It would 
short-change our children.
    The right way to fix the schools is to fix them not walk away from 
them. We have 600 days left before the turn of the century. We have to 
prepare our children for it. We should begin with protecting their 
health and giving them the best schools in the world.
    I'd like to ask the Vice President and 
Senator Daschle and Mr. Gephardt to make some remarks. Thank you.

[At this point, Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., Senate Minority Leader 
Thomas A. Daschle, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt made 
brief remarks.]

Cartoon Characters in Advertising

    Q. Mr. President, do you think that other cartoon characters used to 
market other products that potentially are dangerous to children, like 
beer, should be outlawed as well--the frogs in the Budweiser commercial, 
for example?
    The President. I think that, by an order of magnitude, what we saw 
with the tobacco marketing is far greater in its impact on children and 
in its destructive capacity. And so I don't want to be deterred by 
focusing on other things when the business at hand is to pass this 
tobacco legislation. I don't think there's any--no other thing I can 
think of compares with what has been done there in terms of the 
destructive impact on our children and their health.
    And also, I would say, based on all these documents which are coming 
out now and all these lawsuits--the latest one in Minnesota--it appears 
unambiguous that they were designed to do just what they did, which was 
to appeal to children.
    Q. Mr. President, the tobacco companies----

Bipartisan Agreement on Tobacco Legislation

    Q. Mr. President, how do you expect to get bipartisanship when you 
bash the Republicans and they bash you with the kind of rhetoric that 
we've heard here today?
    The President. Well, first of all, I haven't bashed all the 
Republicans. Senator McCain--I bragged on the 
bill that came out of his committee, 19 to one. I talked--I called 
Senator Lott a few days ago and said that I very 
much wanted to get this bill passed.
    What has caused our concern here is this apparent dramatic change in 
the statements made by Republicans about this. I mean, it wasn't so very 
long ago when the Speaker said that there's no way in the world that I 
could ever be for a more progressive tax bill--tobacco bill than he 
would be for. And I, frankly, loved hearing that. I don't mind sharing 
the credit for this. I don't want this to be a partisan thing; I want 
this to be an American thing.
    Let's look what had happened here. All of us have been talking about 
trying to get bipartisan agreement on this. The tobacco industry says 
they don't like the McCain bill, and they refuse to negotiate any 
further, and they're fighting for their life, and this is war. And all 
of a sudden, we get different public statements coming out of people in 
important positions in the Republican Party.
    I still believe and hope that there will be enough Republicans to 
make a genuinely bipartisan effort to pass sensible, sound, strong 
legislation. And that is my commitment. That is all of our commitments. 
We are responding to events as they have unfolded. But I would remind 
you that what sparked all this was the bipartisan action of the Senate 
committee. That is what I have lauded, and that is what I want.

Education Legislation

    Q. Mr. President, regarding the education bill, sir, you seem to be 
unwavering over the vouchers issue. The Republicans have indicated 
they're going to be unwavering on the vouchers issue. Isn't the reality 
that there probably isn't going to be an education bill this year, over 
this issue perhaps?
    The President. Well, I hope not. This may be just the opening foray, 
but I think a lot of them are genuinely opposed to the concept embodied 
in Senator Carol Moseley-Braun's bill. That is, they believe it's okay 
for Congress to invest money in highly specific local transportation 
projects but not to give even the most general kind of support for our 
education infrastructure.
    Now, during all the time I've been President, when we had those 
tough budget years, I always tried to provide enough room for there to 
be some increase in infrastructure for transportation. But I believe the 
infrastructure of the nineties will be the superhighway that carries 
information, and I believe the people that can travel it will be those 
that have a good education

[[Page 596]]

not the finest vehicle. And so, to me, when we've got cities with the 
average school building being 65 years old, when we've got small 
communities like the one I visited in Florida with 17 trailers out back 
of the main school building where the kids are going to school--this is 
a national infrastructure issue. And I think it's important.
    Now, on this education IRA, I think the real thing you have to ask 
yourself about that is this: Does it make sense, when the Federal 
Government only spends about--provides about 6 percent of the total 
education budget of the country and when everybody recognizes we need 
more general investment--does it make sense to take $1.6 billion and put 
it into a program that will give the average public school parent 7 
bucks? Let's assume the Republicans who favor more private school 
education are right--give the average public school parent 7 bucks to 
pay tuition to a private school? And for those that already have their 
kids in private school, if they're middle class families, give them an 
average of $37 a year?
    I think the $1.6 billion would be far better spent funding charter 
schools, funding school standards programs, funding the master teacher 
program, and helping to fund this school construction program. That's 
what I believe. I don't think it's even close. If they believe these 
programs are so great, then they ought to be out there in every city and 
every State in the country making this case instead of using the limited 
Federal money we have which ought to be spent to benefit the largest 
number of people in the most impactful way.
    Q. Mr. President, the tobacco companies----

Transportation Legislation

    Q. [Inaudible]--fails to lower the spending levels in the 
transportation bills, will you veto the bills? And if not, why not?
    The President. Well, first of all, the transportation bill has not 
yet passed; it's going into conference. I have a lot of problems with 
it, including the dropping of the provision for a tougher DWI standard 
in the House bill. But I think it is imperative that we wind up with a 
transportation bill which increases our investment in transportation but 
does not do so at the expense of education, of research--medical 
research--the environment, all the things that are also important to our 
future, on the one hand, and on the other hand, that doesn't run away 
from our Social Security first commitment on the surplus.
    And so I'm going to do my best to fashion that sort of 
infrastructure highway bill. And I am concerned that the bills, as 
passed, are disembodied from the budget. They don't have any 
relationship with all the other pieces in the budget and, at least on 
their surface, appear to be far in excess of anything we can afford and 
still continue our commitments in education and honor Social Security 
    But this is a process, and we're not there yet. We're not to the 
point yet where we have to make the discussion you said.

Education Legislation Veto

    Q. Do you expect that you can get anything done as long as Congress 
meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays?
    Q. Would you veto an education bill if it included both the 
Coverdell accounts and the school construction money you want?
    The President. Yes, yes.


    Q. Mr. President, Speaker Gingrich yesterday said you sent the wrong 
signal to children by smoking a cigar when you're celebrating. How would 
you respond?
    The President. Well, first of all, I think the only time I've done 
that since I was President was when we got that young man out of Bosnia. 
And I think he's probably right about that. I think he's probably right about that. But let me say, I do not--I 
think to contend that that isolated event has a bigger impact on 
children than these millions of dollars of deliberately calculated ads--
billions--is just a way of avoiding taking responsibility for doing the 
right thing.
    Now, secondly--you know, he made another 
point with which I agree, which is that there is too much--there are too 
many young actors and actresses in alluring movies in Hollywood making 
smoking look alluring again. But we've been talking about that for 2 or 
3 years. The Vice President, I think, has 
already had two meetings with people in Hollywood; I have voiced the 
concern publicly and privately. I agree with that.
    But these things get--said in the context in which he said it, it 
was like to let them off the hook for taking responsibility for passing 
tobacco legislation and making cigarettes both more expensive for kids 
to buy and then using

[[Page 597]]

the money to deal with the health care consequences and to fund an 
antismoking advertising campaign that they know would be effective. And 
I'll tell you one--I'll bet you anything that in addition to their 
previously effective advertising campaigns, we'll be treated to another 
big ad campaign from the tobacco industries surrounding this before you 
know it.
    So you can say all these things, but none of us should ever, ever be 
guilty of that. We can point the finger at others, but no amount of 
finger-pointing at others, by the President or anyone else, will ever 
absolve us of our own responsibility to push the public interest. And 
that's what I'm trying to do.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:23 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White 
House. During the exchange, he referred to Capt. Scott O'Grady, USAF, an 
F-16 pilot shot down and subsequently rescued in Bosnia in June 1995.