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President Clinton Meets with Medicare and Social Security Trustees

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 28, 1998


The Rose Garden

1:55 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Five and a half years ago, America chosea new course of fiscal discipline and ecOnomic growth, balancing ourbudget and investing in our people. Holding fast to that course, ourpeople have built the strongest economy in a generation.

The success of this strategy cannot be cause forcomplacency, however. Instead, it offers us an opportunity and anobligation to act boldly to strengthen our nation for the newcentury. Above all, we can harness our unsurpassed prosperity touphold our duty to our parents, to our children and to each otherthrough Social Security and Medicare.

I've just been briefed by the four Social Security andMedicare trustees for the administration: Secretaries Rubin,Shalala, Herman and Social Security Commissioner Ken Apfel. Thetrustees have issued their annual report on the future financialhealth of these vital programs.

The trustees have told us today that the Balanced BudgetAct I signed into law last year has significantly improved thefinancial future for Medicare. The unprecedented reforms included inthat law have cut the so-called 75-year deficit of Medicare in half-- even as we have extended new preventive benefits, provided morehealth choices for Medicare beneficiaries, and instituted otherreforms that extended the life of the Medicare trust fund for adecade.

In fact, because of the bipartisan steps taken lastyear, the long-term prognosis for Medicare is stronger than it hasbeen in over a decade. A bipartisan commission is now at work tocraft further steps to strengthen the complex program into the 21stcentury. I look forward to their recommendations.

The trustees also report that the strength of oureconomy has led to modest improvements in the outlook for SocialSecurity. They project that economic growth today will extend thesolvency of the Social Security trust fund by three more years, nowto 2032.

Today's report is encouraging. It shows we can honorour values and meet our most fundamental obligations, even as webalance the budget. However, these modest improvements onlyunderscore the fundamental challenge we face. We must act to makecertain that Social Security is as strong for our children as it hasbeen for our parents.

Above all, let me say again, we must save every penny ofany budget surplus of any size until we have strengthened SocialSecurity. I've been heartened by the support this approach hasreceived from lawmakers from both parties. But as estimates of thepossible surplus have grown, the demand for new tax and spendinginitiatives that could upend our fiscal discipline have grown aswell. Fiscal responsibility created our prosperity. Fiscalirresponsibility could undercut it. So I will resist any proposalsthat would squander the budget surplus, whether on new spendingprograms or new tax cuts, until Social Security is strengthened forthe long-term. Once more I will insist that we save Social Securityfirst.

In the coming months we will work to build publicawareness of the nature and scope of the challenge, and to buildpublic consensus for solutions. We must proceed with care,remembering that Social Security offers our people not only aguarantee of retirement security, but also a life insurance and adisability insurance policy as well.

Any changes we make now will be far easier than if wewait until the problems of Social Security are at hand. We willstrengthen Social Security only if we reach across lines of partyphilosophy and generation, as we did when we drafted last year'sbalanced budget. And if we make this year a year of education onSocial Security, I'm confident we will come together to take thenecessary steps next year.

Finally, let me say that as we continue to take thenecessary steps to sustain the growth of our economy, we must lookahead to the challenges that remain. Today, once again, I have askedCongress to strengthen America's commitment to the InternationalMonetary Fund and the U.N. In this new era, the health of oureconomy will be deeply affected by the health of the world economy,and the security of the United States is clearly affected by thesecurity of the rest of the world. Failure to act on these matterswill put at risk both global economic stability, which will affectour own, and the prosperity that has widened the opportunity that wehave enjoyed in this country -- the very prosperity which has madepossible the progress on Social Security and Medicare that Iannounced today.

We've got a real opportunity here, and a rare one, toact today to provide for our children's tomorrows. We should seizethe moment, and I'm confident that we will.

Thank you.

Q Mr. President, Newt Gingrich says youradministration postures more and achieves less than anyadministration in America history. How do you respond?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the achievements speak forthemselves. And he said a lot of things last night that I don'tthink it would serve any useful purpose for me to respond to. Thereis enough negative political talk in Washington every single daywithout the President adding to it. I want to focus on thechallenges facing our country, and that's what I intend to do.

Q Mr. President, he also said that you should tellyour supporters to stop attacking the independent counsel, Ken Starr.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't have -- I've already told you,Mr. Gingrich said a lot of things last night that I don't thinkdeserve a response, and I think it would not serve the Americanpublic well for me to waste my time doing it. I think I need to befocused on the public issues that affect them, and that's what Iintend to do.

Q Do you have any thought of firing Ken Starr? Imean, he made that suggestion.

THE PRESIDENT: Of hiring him?

Q Firing him, sir. (Laughter.) He said, if youwant, you could do it in the morning. I mean, have you ever thoughtof that?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, that's not what thestatute says.

Q I'm just quoting him, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: I know, but I don't want to respond towhat he said.

Q Are you concerned that the Canadian PrimeMinister's visit is undermining your efforts to isolate Castro?

Q -- tax cuts --

THE PRESIDENT: Wait, wait, I'll take both, but -- goahead.

Q Are you concerned that the Canadian PrimeMinister's visit to Cuba is undermining your efforts to isolateCastro?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Canada and most other countries inthe world do not agree with the extent of our embargo. But Canadahas been a good, loyal ally in the cause of human rights. And Italked to the Prime Minister at some length both on the telephone andwhen I saw him about the importance of advocating a human rightsagenda, and I believe that he will do that. I think he will push fordemocracy and human rights in Cuba. And if he does that effectivelyand makes that case, the same case that President Cardoso of Brazilmade when we were in Chile -- when he said that it would be possiblefor Cuba to preserve its social contract in health care and educationand still make the transition to democracy, and that's what theyshould be working on now -- then it could serve our common goal. Wecan have different approaches to a common goal and I think we do havea common goal.

Go ahead, Helen, I'm sorry.

Q I was asking, are you threatening a veto for anytax cuts?

THE PRESIDENT: I tried to make it clear that I will domy best to stop any legislation that does not honor the principle ofsaving Social Security first.

There are lots of good ideas out there that deserve tobe evaluated in the coming months about what we should do to promotelong-term security and stability for not only our parents, but theyounger generation, and secure Social Security, and they all ought tobe debated. But when we move we ought to move in the context ofSocial Security reform.

Then, after that's out of the way, we can see what theTreasury looks like and what else should be done. But I think weneed to deal with Social Security first. And I still believe that amajority of members of both Houses in Congress and both partiesbelieve that. I hope they do and I hope they'll stick with it.

Q Do you have any ideas of how to save it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, sure I do. But as I said in thefirst forum -- and I think I've been proved right -- you see SenatorMoynihan's got a proposal out there, Senator Kerrey's got a proposalout there, there are many proposals that have been offered by variousRepublican members of the Congress. It is important for me to keepthis process going and get these ideas out there. And if I were toactually take a position now, it would undermine debate and publiceducation and immediately focus on the specific piece of legislation,which I think is the worst thing we can do.

We know -- every survey of American opinion shows thatthere's a far different level of understanding about this issuestoday even than there was a year ago. Nearly everybody knows thatsomething substantial, really substantial, has to be done to reformthe Social Security system to accommodate the baby boom generationand then, subsequent, the generations after that. And yet there is adramatic difference of opinion across the age lines about whatexactly should be done and what the facts are.

So we have to -- we really need to continue this effortwe're making in this calendar year to educate the public and to getall the ideas out there, and to encourage all the proposals to beviewed against the backdrop of how it fits into the overall scheme ofthings. And then I think what you'll see is -- and what I certainlyhope you'll see -- is very rapid action early next year. I have aplan. We're going to end up in December with a conference here,we're going to meet with the leaders of both parties in Congress, andI'm going to do my best to hammer out a plan, which then will be acenterpiece of what I recommend to the American people and theCongress early next year.

Q Mr. President, on the Iraqi report at the U.N. --

Q May I ask on the U.N. and the IMF, sir? Despitewhat you said, it seems unlikely Congress will pass funding thisyear. Can you spell out in more detail what you think will happen ifthere's not funding? Do you have any other mechanism to give --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just make it clear thatSecretary Rubin has done a good job, I think, managing a difficultsituation. But let's just look at Asia, for example. There's been alot of talk about whether the IMF should be active in Asia, what itshould be doing. The United States has had a good deal of successover the last five years by exercising economic leadership to openmore markets to American products and services on terms that werefair not only to ourselves, but to our trading partners. About athird of our economic growth has come as a result of that increase intrade. Just under a third of our exports are going to Asia. Now, Ithink, therefore, it is clear that it is in our long-term interestfor the IMF to be involved in trying to stabilize those Asianeconomies and help them to recover.

In our personal interest, how can we expect to be theleader of the world and also to benefit, personally, economically,from a system that we won't contribute to, and we won't pay our fairshare on? I think, virtually, every American now believes -- or atleast a huge majority -- when it comes to the United Nations that inthis interdependent world we should share responsibilities. I thinkpeople liked it when we shared responsibilities in Haiti, when weshared responsibilities in Bosnia.

And we're saying to the world, yes, we want to continueto lead the world toward peace and freedom; we understand this is animportant part of our security and our prosperity; but we're having alittle political spat in the United States, and we don't think weought to pay our dues to the U.N. We think that different rulesapply to us, and we have a right not to pay our way, so we can havethis fight over an issue that is unrelated to our U.N.responsibilities or our IMF responsibilities.

I don't think that is a responsible, mature message tosend to the world by the leading country in the world. I think thatif we want to lead, we ought to lead and we ought to lead by exampleby paying our way. That's what I believe. And I hope that I'll beable to prevail upon the Congress to make some progress in thatdirection.

Thank you.

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