THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||July 17, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT GIRLS NATION EVENT
Room 450, Old Executive Office Building
9:30 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I think I shouldtake Janet Murguia with me wherever I go to always introduce me.(Laughter.) I think she's a great advertisement for Girls' Nation.And someday before long, a number of you will have theseopportunities as well.
I'd like to welcome your President, Alana Aldag and yourVice President, Jennifer Hall and thank Diane Duscheck and BarbaraKranig and the other members of the American Legion Auxiliary forwhat they do for Girls' Nation. I hope you've had a very good weekin Washington. Some of you may know that, this week, these two dayshere, the 35th reunion class of my Boys' Nation group is also meetinghere. I happened to turn on the television last night to see thatTed Koppel on Nightline was doing a two-day review of it. And Ithought to myself, it wasn't all that long ago, but all of us areaging rather gracefully. (Laughter.)
Let me say to all of you, the people I met then, many ofwhom have been my friends over all these 35 years, made me believethat anything was possible. President Kennedy spoke to us and mademe believe that, together, we could change the world. I think thatis certainly no less true for you and your generation because youwill live in the time of greatest possibility in all human history.
If you think of the revolutionary changes that havetaken place just in the course of your still relatively shortlifetimes, the Cold War cast a shadow over my childhood -- it hasended -- technology has advanced at a breathtaking pace,fundamentally altering the way all of us live and work and learn.A typical laptop computer today has more computer power in it thanthe world's largest supercomputer did in the year you were born.
Many of the barriers that kept women from making themost of their potential and contributing their talents to our societyhave fallen away. Yesterday, the First Lady was up in New Yorkcommemorating the 150th anniversary of Elizabeth Kady Stanton and 68other women and 32 brave men gathering in New York with theirstatement of sentiments, with their 18 objections against men inAmerica, which included the fact that they did not have the right toown property; even the clothes married women had on their backsbelonged to their husbands 150 years ago. They couldn't inherit,they didn't vote. And what a long way we have come in the last 150years and in your lifetime.
I met my wife in law school when it was still arelatively unusual thing to find a law school with any significantnumber of women in it. Today, a lawyer in America is 12 times morelikely to be a woman than a lawyer was in 1963 when I came to Boys'Nation.
Women are earning more college degrees than men, theyoutnumber men in graduate school. Women-owned businesses are growingfaster than the national economy. Forty-one percent of ouradministration's appointees, including the Secretary of State, theSecretary of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General, theDirector of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary ofLabor, our Trade Ambassador and many others are women -- by far thehighest percentage of women in high positions in any administrationin the history of the United States.
I look forward to the day when I read in the newspaperthat America's new President has invited her own Girls' Nationreunion class back to the White House to gather.
In the meantime, we need to be working together tostrengthen our country for this new century, because it is a time ofdramatic change. Five and half years ago, I came here to moveAmerica in a new direction based on our old values of opportunity forall, responsibility from all, in an American community of allcitizens. We took a new direction in economic policy and educationpolicy and environmental policy, in welfare policy, in health carepolicy, in crime policy and foreign policy. We also articulated anew role for government. We tried to break through the debate thathad then dominated Washington for nearly 20 years, some people sayinggovernment could solve all our problems and others saying governmentwas the source of all of our problems. I had been a governor for adozen years and I thought the argument was frankly ridiculous. Ithought that neither extreme was true.
We have sought to create a government whose primary roleis to create the conditions and give people the tools to solve theirown problems and make the most of their own lives and build goodlives, good families, good communities and a strong country. Theresults have been, I think, quite good. America has the lowest crimerate in 25 years, the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, thesmallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years.
We're about to have our first balanced budget andsurplus in 29 years; the lowest inflation rate in 32 years and thehighest homeownership in the history of the country. We have alsoopened the doors of college to virtually every American through ourHope Scholarships and other tax credits for college education,through a better student loan program, through more work-studypositions and more Pell Grant scholarships.
We have added 5 million people who are children to theranks of people with health insurance who are in the process of doingthat. We have the highest rates of childhood immunization inhistory. We have worked hard on the environment and the water iscleaner, the air is cleaner, the food is safer. There are fewertoxic waste dumps and we have put more land aside to preserve foreverthan any administration in the history except those of the twoRoosevelts.
We started the AmeriCorps program and now have hadalmost 100,000 young people, like you, just a little older than youserving in their communities, earning money for college, makingAmerica a better place. With our America Reads program alone, whichis designed to get young college students to go in and help make sureall of our third graders can read independently by the end of thethird grade, we now have 1,000 colleges participating.
While all this has happened, we've actually reduced thesize of government. The federal government is now the smallest ithas been since I came here to meet President Kennedy 35 years ago.So I believe that this country is moving in the right direction.
Now, I think one of the great decisions facing theAmerican people now is what to do about this. I like the fact thatthere is a good sense of well-being in America. I like the factthat, after over 20 years of downhill movement, public confidence ingovernment and the role of government in our lives is going back upagain. I like that very much. But I feel very strongly, and Ipredict that if you just read the paper, I think you can see, Ithink, support from my point of view that is a grave mistake to say,"Okay, things are going well in America and we don't need to do much,we should relax now." Why? For two reasons. One is, you will see,the older you get, no condition lasts forever. The good times don'tlast for ever but neither do the bad ones -- and that's the goodnews. (Laughter.)
Secondly, we are living in a very dynamic time. We areenjoying the success that we are enjoying today partly because theAmerican people have been very aggressive, because, you know, we livein a country where citizens deserve most of the credit. What we havedone to get these impressive numbers again is to create the rightconditions, the right environment, the right incentives for theAmerican then to take advantage of it and go forward. But we have to-- this is a very dynamic time. And there are all kinds ofdifficulties and challenges out there.
So, for America to sit back now would be a greatmistake. When times are good, but dynamic, that's the time to beardown, to take on the big challenges, the long-term challenges, thethings that will affect your lifetime when you begin to havechildren, and you begin to do your work, and you begin to take fullresponsibility for the welfare of the country. What are thosethings? Let me just mention a few of them.
Number one, I am the oldest of the baby boomers, thelargest generation of young people ever in -- to grow up, except thegeneration of which you are the oldest. That is, we -- for the lastyear, for the first time since I was in high school, we had a biggergroup of children in kindergarten through 12th grade than the babyboom generation. Now, what does that mean? It means, among otherthings, that if we continue to retire at present trends and the birthrates continue as they are, and the immigration rates continue asthey are, by the time all of our baby boomers retire, we'll only haveabout two people working for every one person eligible for SocialSecurity. And that is unsustainable -- Medicare would beunsustainable.
So what's the answer? The answer is to find a way topreserve these fundamental programs that have lifted the elderly outof poverty and given dignity and strength to our professed familyvalues in a way that does not bankrupt our children andgrandchildren. Everybody I know my age is obsessed with the ideathat we must not have the cost of our retirement be lowering yourstandard of living, be undermining your ability to raise your ownchildren.
Now, if we're going to have a surplus, we ought to makesure we've got a long-term plan to save Social Security before wesquander that surplus on tax cuts, which may be very popular in theshort-run, but which may leave us with a terrible problem that willcost us a lot more than you could ever get in a small tax cut by thetime you have to be taking responsibility for your parents'retirements and your children's education. And we should do it nowwhen times are good and we're projecting a surplus.
Number two. We should recognize that while we have thebest system of higher education in the world, no one believes ourschools are yet the best in the world. And we should take advantageof this moment to make sure all American young people have access toworld-class education with higher standards, with technology thathooks up every American classroom to the Internet and all the richesthat it holds by the year 2000, with smaller classes and with moreaccess to more constructive choices through things like the charterschool movement, which is very prominent in many of your states.
Number three, we should recognize that the environmentalchallenges we have are real and global. If there is anybody herefrom Florida -- and I'm sure there is -- if you -- all the rest of ushave been watching those fires, I went down and saw -- flew overthose areas that have been burned up. Florida had the wettest falland winter than they had ever had, they had the driest spring theyhad ever had, and then the month of June in Florida was the hottestmonth in the history of the state, hotter than any July or August;and in Florida, that's saying something.
There is ample evidence now that what my wonderful VicePresident has been saying for years and years and years is true:that the climate of the globe is warming at a rate which isunsustainable, which will lead us to more extreme weather conditions.We now have records going back over 500 years which we can use tomeasure what the temperature was on this planet. The five hottestyears ever recorded have been in the 1990s. Nineteen ninety-sevenwas the hottest year on record, 1998 is going to be hotter if itcontinues.
A big part of the problem is the way countries get richwith their use of energy. We have to prove -- and by the way, we canprove -- that we can grow the economy and improve the environment atthe same time. The young people of this country, without regard totheir other differences of region and political party and philosophy,by and large are much more committed to this proposition than olderpeople are. Young people -- I find even young people in grade schoolare just instinctive environmentalists. We are depending on you toprovide the phalanx of brainpower and voting power to move America tothe proposition that we can preserve our environment and grow theeconomy.
Next, we have to prove that we can bring the benefits ofthis new economy to people who don't have it yet. Believe it or not,there are still some urban neighborhoods that have unemployment ratesabove 10 percent, some above 15 percent, while the nationalunemployment rate is below 5 percent. If you talk to the delegateshere from North Dakota where they're having a collapse of farm pricesin the aftermath of a terrible, terrible set of natural disasters allthrough the high plains, it's hard -- you could walk down the streetin a lot of towns in North Dakota and they would have a hard timebelieving we've got the strongest economy in a generation.
If any of you have ever been on a Native Americanreservation that doesn't have a lot of money from gaming enterprises,you know that there are still an awful lot of the first Americans whohave received no tangible benefit from this economic growth. Nowthat the economy is strong, we should be working to implementstrategies that will bring this growth to them to make sure that allAmericans feel that they're a part of our future.
Just two more things, quickly. Over the long run, wehave got to prove that we can be one America. I like it -- I lookaround this room, I see all of you come from different racial andethnic and religious backgrounds. That's a great, great advantage toAmerica in a global society, a global economy. Look around the worldat all of the problems we have that are based on racial, ethnic andreligious differences. Why did those three little children have todie in that firebomb in Ireland a few days ago? Because somebodyjust cannot give up the idea that they ought to fight until the endof time over their religious differences.
Why can we not achieve a lasting peace in the MiddleEast? What is at the root of the problem in Bosnia, in Kosovo? Whydid hundreds of thousands of people die in Rwanda in a matter of daysin 1994? All over the world you see this. If America wants to dogood in a world like that, we must be good at home. We must be ableto live in all of our communities like you're working and livingtogether here. And you can lead the way on that.
It is very important that we continue, finally, to beengaged in the world. That's why I went to China, even though somepeople said I shouldn't -- not because we agree with everything theChinese do, but because we respect the progress they have made in thelast several years and because they are going to be the biggestcountry in the world, and it is much better if we work them to try tobuild the kind of world we want than if we're forced into a situationof continuous conflict and estrangement. And I feel a moralobligation to you and your future and your children to try to createthat kind of world. But first, the power of the American example isimportant, and you must never forget that.
Now, against that background, you need to evaluateeverything we're doing here. How are we doing to keep Americaworking today, or are we dealing with the long-term challenges of thecountry? Every issue should be evaluated in that context.
One of the things that's most troubling to me is that wehave the best health care in the world but we don't have the besthealth care system in the world, and we don't have the healthiestpeople in the world, partly because of institutional problems. Onewe've been talking about is the necessity to pass the Patient's Billof Rights so we get the benefit of managed care without the burden ofhaving accountants make decisions doctors should make in the medicalarea.
Another big problem we have -- it's probably the mostprominent health problem your generation faces is the problem of --epidemic of teen smoking, with 3,000 young people starting to smokeevery day -- 1,000 will have their lives shortened as a result of it.More people die from smoking than accidents and murders and AIDS, andother unrelated maladies put together in this country. So it is avery, very serious problem.
I have been working very hard now for a long time topass legislation that will raise the price of cigarettes, give theFDA the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, stop the marketingof cigarettes to teenagers, launch new anti-smoking research andeducation drives, protect the tobacco farmers and their communities,and use the money to pay for health care and medical research,education and child care, and any tax cuts that the Congress wantedto pass, so it didn't affect our surplus and our commitment to saveSocial Security.
Now, right now, our legislative drive has been stalledin the face of a $40-million advertising campaign by the tobaccocompanies that has been unanswered by the public health advocatesbecause they don't have that kind of money. But the facts are clear,and if we keep working, I think we will prevail on the issue. Why?Well, the main reason is the evidence that the tobacco companiesthemselves have given us about the dangers of smoking and theirstrategy. We now have, as a result of all these lawsuits, internaltobacco company documents that show that even as they publicly deniedthat nicotine was addictive, they conducted secret research in theirlabs, devised secret marketing strategies in their boardrooms toaddict children to smoking for life, and they knew exactly what theywere doing.
How do we know it? Again, look at the documents thatthey, themselves, have produced in the court cases. These documentstell us in the tobacco companies' own words how children andminorities became the primary targets they saw as new customers.There are memos admitting in plain English, for example, quote, "Thebase of our business is the high school student." Memos saying,quote, "Creating a fad in the 14- to 20-year-old market can be agreat bonanza." And even as they insisted that young people are offlimits for advertising, one company document from 1984 recommendedtargeting younger adult smokers as the only source of replacementsmokers in the future, while children are the future of America, notthe future of the tobacco companies -- and that future should not goup in smoke.
These documents contain a treasure trove of informationthat can be used to save lives. Public health experts can designmore effective anti-smoking strategies by studying the marketingplans of the cigarette companies. Scientists can look to documentsfor findings that can aid their research into nicotine addiction andtobacco-related illnesses. And all Americans can understand the rolethe industry has played in hooking our children to the habit ofsmoking.
There are tens of millions of pages of these documents.While some of them are already on the Internet, most are stored indepositories all across our nation and as far away as England. Theyaren't easy to find. So I've decided to use this moment with you toshow you one thing that the President can do with executive authoritythat has nothing to do with legislative action in Congress. I amdirecting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report backto me in 90 days with a plan to make these documents more accessibleto all Americans, so anybody that can get on the Internet can getthem all and can understand them all.
The plan should include a strategy for indexing them andfor making that index widely available through both the Internet andother methods. It should also have a strategy for broad and rigorousanalysis of the information contained in all these documents. I'malso pleased that the Attorney General will file a brief in supportof the State of Minnesota's efforts to make the tobacco industry'sown currently existing index to all of these millions of documentsavailable to the general public.
We must lift the veil of secrecy on the tobacco industryso that all Americans understand that there is an epidemic of teensmoking and how it came about. Let us use the darkest secrets of theindustry to save a new generation of children from this habit and tohelp us fight and win.
This administration and many of our nation's leaders areworking to make sure that this challenge, along with these larger,longer-term challenges that I've mentioned -- education, climatechange, Social Security -- do not become intractable problems of yourfuture. I don't want your generation of Americans to have to face aproblem like the magnitude of the deficit that I faced here when wetook office.
I can tell you that the tougher problems are, the harderthe resolution is and the more controversial the resolution is, andthe more painful the price to pay is. We had to make a lot of toughdecisions in 1993 to get that deficit under control, and a lot ofbrave members of Congress lost their seats in Congress because theyvoted for an economic program in 1993, the benefits of which were notapparent in 1994 when they were up. But when we got ready to passthe Balanced Budget Act in 1997 on a bipartisan basis, guess what?Over 92 percent of the deficit had already disappeared because ofwhat had been done in 1993.
The best thing for a smart country to do is to takethese challenges when they come up and deal with them quickly,looking to the long run, not waiting for those things to fester andbecome infected and become a wound in the nation's psyche. That iswhat we're trying to do here.
That's why I think programs like Girls' Nation are soimportant -- because they enlist people in the work of citizenship asa disciplined habit, not as something that you think about when anemergency comes along. I hope you will be able to do that to yourfriends and your neighbors and your family members when you go home.
I hope you will always continue now to help raiseawareness of the issues you care about and propose solutions to them.I hope you will always continue to lobby your elected leaders and toparticipate until you become one. Our democracy is only as strong asits citizens. Think about this when you go home: Our founders did arevolutionary thing -- they created a whole country based on theidea, at the time totally unheard of, that God gave every person anequal portion -- every person an equal portion the right to life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They say, we've got to createthis government because there's no way we can individually protectand enhance these rights. That's why we're doing this.
And then they gave us -- all of us -- every Americanuntil time immemorial, a mission: They said, "We must work togetherto form a more perfect Union." They were really smart, those guys.They were really smart. They understood that every generation wouldhave its own challenges. They understood the work of liberty wouldnever be over. They understood all that. They understood it all.And they gave us a permanent mission. And keep in mind, they createda limited government which means that in this country, the mostimportant players will always be the citizens. As great as theleaders are and all the monuments you've seen to our great leadersaround this city since you've been here this week, none of them couldhave accomplished anything if the people hadn't said, okay, we agree;we'll do our part.
So, again, I say, you've had a remarkable opportunitythis week to learn more about how your country works. You have,yourselves, been good citizen-servants by doing it. You've had achance to manifest your love in America and your belief in America.For the rest of your life, I hope you'll do what you can to make ourUnion more perfect. Good luck and God bless you. (Applause.) Thankyou.
Now, I'm just going to go sign this order and I'm goingto ask your President and Vice President to stand with me, and thenI'm going to turn the microphone over to them. Come on.
Q Mr. President, do you think that the court rulingcan --
THE PRESIDENT: I'll answer questions, but let's do --let us finish the program and then I'll answer a few questions.That'll be fun for them; they'll see a little press conference here.(Laughter.)
Okay, you've got the floor.
MS. ARGUIA: Mr. President, we are absolutely thrilledand honored that you chose to take the time from your highlydemanding schedule to meet with us today. And on behalf of Girls'Nation, I'd just like to present this small token of ourappreciation. (A presentation is made.) (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's wonderful. Thank you.
MS. ARGUIA: Mr. President, distinguished Senators,ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor as the President of the 1998Girls' Nation Session to present to you the legislation that theSenate of the 1998 Girls' Nation has passed. It represents a widevariety of issues in many of our states.
THE PRESIDENT: This is the largest legislative packagethat's passed in Washington so far this week. (Laughter.) And Ithank you very much. (Applause.)
Thank you. I will have our people review this for goodideas. (Laughter.)
Now, go ahead. Helen, first -- we'll take two or threequestions. Go ahead.
Q Well, do you think that the court rulings arejeopardizing the duties of the Secret Service?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they believe -- that is, theTreasury Department and the Secret Service, based on their experiencenot just with me, but with all the Presidents, in the institutionalmemory of the Secret Service -- they believe that. And so, they aredetermined to pursue it and the Attorney General has agreed torepresent them in that. But that is their professional judgment. Ihave decided that it would be inappropriate for me to express anopinion and I have not done so. And I believe that I should stay outof it. But they have a very strong professional opinion about it andthey are pursuing it.
Q But you have an opinion, surely.
THE PRESIDENT: I do have an opinion. I have anopinion. I have a legal opinion and I have a personal opinion, but Ithink that's it not -- I think it's important, and I think it wouldbe completely inappropriate for me to be involved in this. I wantthe American people to understand that, notwithstanding what somehave said, and others have implied, this was a decision that came outof the Secret Service about which they feel very strongly. And thesepeople risk their lives to protect me and other Presidents in aprofessional way, not a political way. They have strong convictions.They have manifested those convictions. The Attorney General hasdetermined that there is sufficient legal merit in their positionthat they ought to be represented, and they are pursuing their case,which they have a right to do. I believe that they should speak forthemselves and I should not interject myself into it.
Q Mr. President, I wonder if you could respond to theruling yesterday by the Appeals Court, and specifically the opinionof one judge when he said that the White House had effectivelydeclared war on the Independent Counsel --
THE PRESIDENT: I think you have to consider the sourceof that comment. And that is simply not true. The judge should --can have a right to his legal opinion about what the TreasuryDepartment and the Justice Department said, but I have told you thatthis case is about their professional judgment about what's necessaryto do their job. And I have not -- neither I nor the White House hasbeen involved in it in any way, shape, or form -- nor will we, norwill I complicate it by commenting further on what he said.
Q But in a larger sense, you don't believe that theWhite House is --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in a larger sense, I am spoken foron that by Mr. Kendall. I think the facts speak for themselves. Ithink -- again, I say you've got to consider the source of thatcomment.
MR. MCCURRY: Last question.
Q Mr. President, the trade deficit in May was uparound $15 billion. Are you willing to overlook that while the Asianfinancial crisis -- itself out?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think -- no, I don't thinkwe should overlook it, I think it ought to prompt us to action. Butlet's understand why the trade deficit is so large. The tradedeficit is large because we live in an integrated global economy, andour economy has been strong while the Asian economy has been introuble. What does that mean? When their economy is in trouble, thevalue of their currency goes down. What does that mean? That meansthat compared to yesterday, if their currency goes down, their moneyis worth less than ours in the same amounts.
That means it becomes their goods that they sell to usbecome cheaper, and it means our goods that we would sell to thembecome more expensive. Almost the entire increase in the tradedeficit is due to the Asian economic trouble, which is why, sinceJanuary, I have been saying we should make our proper contribution tothe International Monetary Fund to promote economic reform andeconomic recovery in Asia. And the fact that we have not done so isendangering the livelihood of American farmers and American factoryworkers because we are not making the exports -- especially toAsia -- that we otherwise could be making if those economies werecoming back. And a critical part of that is our contribution to theInternational Monetary Fund.
So, we should not ignore it, because, as I said in theState of the Union Address way back in January, our welfare is tiedto the welfare of Asia. We've got 16 million new jobs in the lastfive and half years, 30 percent of our economic growth is due toexports. A significant area of export growth has been Asia.
That's why I worked hard to -- the other big area ofreal growth has been in Latin America. And what I've tried to do isto head these things off. You may remember a couple of years agowhen we moved in aggressively to help Mexico when their economy was
in trouble and a lot of people criticized that. But Mexico paid backtheir loan ahead of schedule and at profit to the United States. Andthey are now a functioning economic partner with us again. That'swhat we need in Asia.
So, the American people should be concerned about this,but we should know that there is a disciplined answer. We need torestore growth in Japan, restore growth in Asia, and our major goalhere for our own action should be to pay our fair share to theInternational Monetary Fund so we can support economic recovery, sothey can afford to buy our products, and so there's some greaterparity in the prices of our products. Meanwhile, what you see is aproduct of the strength, not the weakness, of the American economy.
Q What do you think of the Speaker's proposal to usethis budget surplus for big tax cuts?
THE PRESIDENT: I think, first of all, let's rememberhow we got where we are. We got the strength of our economy to thepoint where it is now by being determined to bring down the deficituntil we balanced the budget, by expanding trade to sell moreAmerican products around the world, and by investing in education, intraining, in technology, in scientific research. Those are theengines of our economic recovery.
Now, we have not had a balanced budget for 29 years.And now, before we've had the first year, the first year of asurplus, to be talking about spending hundreds of billions of dollarson a tax cut based on projected surpluses that may or may notmaterialize before we have spent the first dollar to save SocialSecurity so that you aren't going to have to support your parents ina way that diminishes your standard of living, I think is a mistake.So I'll go back to my position: I think we should save SocialSecurity first. Let's show the American people this balanced budget.Let's show the American people this surplus. Let's try to keep thiseconomy going and get our growth going, and when we have passed aplan to save Social Security, let's see what it costs and then make adecision on the tax issue.
We don't want to count our chickens before they hatch.Now, the end of the fiscal year here is September 30th. And it's nowprojected that we'll have a $63-billion surplus, and I earnestly hopewe do. But it wouldn't do any harm to rack one up before we startspending it. We had 29 years of deficits. Between 1981 and 1983 in12 years alone, we increased by four times the total debt of theUnited States. We quadrupled the debt of the United States in 12years that we had amassed in the previous 200. It won't do us anyharm to take one year and enjoy the fact that we've balanced ourbooks, ran up a surplus and planned to save Social Security. Thatwill not do us any harm. It will keep our economy stronger and it'sbetter for America's future.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)