THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 3, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE ECONOMY
The Rose Garden
10:08 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Before I read mystatement, I'd like to make a brief comment on a momentous eventwhich occurred during my trip to Africa, back here. The VicePresident turned 50, and I hope all of you noticed the increasedgravity and maturity of his aura. (Laughter.) I personally amgreatly relieved. Not long before he turned 50, as I told him when Icalled him, an elderly lady came up to me and she said, I think youand that young man are doing such a good job. (Laughter.) And it'snice to have a middle-aged team now at the White House.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She was very elderly. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, Hillary and I are delightedto be back from what was a wonderful trip to Africa. We are workinghard to strengthen the bonds of the African continent that I amconvinced is in the midst of a renaissance, where political andeconomic liberty is on the rise.
I only wish every American could have been with me everystep of the way to see, first, Africa, not only its problems, whichare profound, but the energy and intelligence and determination ofthe people. I also wish every American could have had yet one moreopportunity to see how a very important part of the world see America-- still as a beacon of equality and freedom and hope foropportunity.
Today we learned that the unemployment rate in the firstquarter of this year, averaging 4.7 percent, is the lowest it's beensince 1970, 28 years. While there will be ups and downs, our economycontinues to be one of the strongest in history. Over the past yearwe've seen the strongest wage growth in 20 years; inflation is stilllow; homeownership now at a record level. As we approach the longestpeace-time expansion in our history, this is a springtime of hope andopportunity for the American people.
Our economy is the product of the hard work, thecreativity, the innovation of our citizens, and the ingenuity anddrive of our businesses. But also it is the fruit, as the VicePresident said, of the comprehensive economic strategy we havepursued since 1993, a strategy for the new economy.
The coming months will now test our nation. It willdetermine whether we will maintain our discipline and pursue ourpriorities to strengthen our country for the new century. We canmake this a time of action as well as a time of abundance, to secureour prosperity well into the future, to widen the circle ofopportunity so that all Americans have a chance to reap the rewardsof economic growth.
First, we should go and balance the budget this year anddo it in a way that continues our investment in our people and theirfuture. With projected budget surpluses of $1 trillion over the nextdecade, I am pleased that members of Congress of both parties havejoined my call to reserve every penny of the surplus until we saveSocial Security first. This is very significant. I compliment theleadership of both parties. It will strengthen our nation.
At the same time, as we live within a balanced budget,we must invest to create prosperity for the future. Many times Ihave said that in the new economy, education is the leading economicindicator. We will continue to lead the world only if our childrenreceive the world's best education. In that context, I am veryconcerned that the budget plan now working its way through the Senatewill squeeze out critical investments in education and children.
I believe America must address the challenges before us.Class size for our children -- we must hire 100,000 new teachers sothat we can reduce those class sizes. We must spur schoolmodernization to make our classes smaller and our schools safer. Wemust invest in path-breaking scientific research that will lengthenour lives and promote prosperity into the 21st century. And we mustmake those investments which will make credible our call for higherstandards and higher performance in our schools. The budget nowbeing drafted by Congress simply does not meet these urgent nationalpriorities.
I'm also determined that highway spending, though it isquite important, and though our budget provides for a very impressiveincrease in investment in highways and mass transit, must be -- suchspending must be within the balanced budget, and should not crowd outcritical investments in education, child care, health care, orthreaten our budget discipline.
In the coming months I look forward to working withCongress in cooperation with lawmakers of both parties so thatAmerica stays on the path of both fiscal discipline and targetedinvestment -- a balanced budget that is in balance with our valuesand our long-term interest in the future. That is what has broughtus this far since 1993. We should not depart from that strategy now.
Finally, I am determined to seize this historicopportunity to pass bipartisan legislation to protect our childrenfrom the dangers of tobacco. This Congress can be the Congress thatsaves millions of children's lives. I want to say that we seem to bemaking some progress on that, with the vote in the Senate committee,but there is an enormous amount of work still to be done. And I hopeduring this working recess the lawmakers of both houses and bothparties will be talking to the folks back home about the tobaccolegislation and will come back here at the end of this month with arenewed determination to actually pass legislation that will get thejob done.
Our economy is the strongest in a generation, our socialfabric is on the mend, our leadership around the world as we saw onthe trip to Africa, remains unrivalled. But our history and ourheritage tells us that we can do better and that our success dependsupon our constant effort to do better. The American people want usto use this sunlit moment not to sit back and enjoy, but to act. Wewere hired by the American people to act. If we do so, in the 21stcentury the American dream will be more powerful than ever.
Q Do you have any comments on reports that KennethStarr is being urged to indict Monica Lewinsky and name you as aco-conspirator?
Q On the tobacco deal, sir, how concerned are youthat one or more of the tobacco companies might walk away from thisproposed settlement? And do you believe that you need theircooperation both so that there is money for your budget prioritiesandso that you can win restrictions on cigarette advertising?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the latter is of greater concern.That is, their agreement, or lack of it, would influence the wayCongress would have to raise the money, through raising the price ofcigarettes to deter more consumption and to raise the funds for thehealth care costs of tobacco and the health research and the otherthings that I believe should be funded out of this settlement. Buton the advertising, of course, that could be a concern because of thegoverning legal precedents.
But I still believe that the incentives are there forthe tobacco companies to do this. With each new revelation of thestrategies which have been vigorously pursued to market cigarettes tochildren, I think they have an enormous interest to reverse therecord of the past to try to put this unforgivable chapter behindthem and to start off on a new path. So I still believe that in theend we will achieve an agreement which will convince them, or whichthey will be convinced will be in their interest.
The advertising issue is the more important one from alegal point of view, but I think we'll get there because they havenow -- with this evidence continuing to mount up about the deliberatestrategy which was followed, they have a big interest in pursuing it.
On the other matter, you know, I'm not going to commenton that. I'm going to try to do what the Supreme Court said I shoulddo, which is not to be in any way deterred by this, and I'm going onwith my business; others will comment on that.
Q Mr. President, Moody's debt rating service earliertoday issued a warning about Japan's sovereign debt. The UnitedStates has repeatedly urged Japan, with little apparent success, totry to jump start its domestic economy. Do you see any signs thatthe Japanese government is now ready to take actions that would helpbring it into recovery?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Prime Minister keeps movingforward in ways that the market seems to believe are insufficient.And we have obviously urged aggressive action, because we want theJapanese economy to grow. We think the Japanese economy is the keyto stability and growth in Asia, and we have always wanted a strong,healthy Japanese partner.
Japan is a great democracy, they've been a great partnerfor us, they've been a great engine of economic growth for many yearsuntil the last few years. There may be some momentary disruptionbecause now you have some business leaders speaking out in Japan, butit appears to us on the outside of this that there is an ongoingstruggle between what is now the articulated view not only of theUnited States and others, but of the business community in Japanabout the direction that country should take and the entrenchedresistance to that in the permanent government bureaucracy thatfollowed a different strategy with great success in previous years.And I think we need to be both respectful, but firm, in urging theJapanese to take a bold course.
Prime Minister Hashimoto is an able man, and heunderstands the economy, and I believe he wants to take such acourse. What has to be done is that the people within the permanentgovernment there, which have always enjoyed great power, have torealize that the strategies that worked in the past are notappropriate to the present. They have to make a break now in someways that's not so different from the break that we made in 1993.You simply can't stay with a strategy that is clearly not appropriateto the times and expect it to get the results that are needed for thecountry.
But Japan is a very great country full of brilliantpeople who have a great understanding of economics. And as I said, Ithink the Prime Minister understands this and is willing to takerisks and wants to do it. And he's got this raging battle going onand I have to hope that the forces of the future will prevail.