THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Little Rock, Arkansas)
For Immediate Release January 17, 2001
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE JOINT SESSION OF THE ARKANSAS STATE LEGISLATURE
Arkansas State Capitol Building
Little Rock, Arkansas
2:07 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very, very much, and good afternoon. This
is the first time in over 20 years I've been here when I don't have to get
asked for a racing pass. (Laughter.) And I heard somebody utter that
hated phrase and I understand that, for a variety of reasons, you've all
gotten rid of that burden. So progress continues. (Laughter.)
Governor Huckabee, Lieutenant Governor Rockefeller, Senator Beebe,
Speaker Broadway, General Pryor, Secretary Priest, Jimmie Lou, Charlie,
Gus, my friends. I'm delighted to be joined by Senator Pryor, about whom I
would like to say more in a moment; Congressman Snyder, Congressman Ross
and a large number of people who came here with me from Washington.
I want to say that I am honored that the last trip of my Presidency is
to come home to Arkansas and home to the legislature where I spent so many
happy days. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
There are a lot of people in this body who got their start in
politics, working with me. A few who got their start in politics working
against me. (Laughter.) And some who got their start doing both --
(laughter) -- depending on the issue and the time.
I brought with me a large number of people from Arkansas today. And I
would like to mention them and a few others because I would like to begin
by telling you that in these last eight years, over 460 people from our
home state worked in this administration and helped to make America a
stronger country and I am very grateful to all of them. (Applause.)
Mack McLarty, my first chief of staff, my first envoy to the Americas,
is here today. When he led the White House, we made four of the most
important decisions we made during the entire eight years. The historic
balanced budget agreement where Senator Pryor cast the tie breaking vote,
and so did everybody else -- it passed by one vote in both houses. The
NAFTA Agreement, which joined us with Mexico and Canada, the family and
medical leave bill, the Brady law and many others. He did a superb job.
I want to thank the three Arkansans who have served in my Cabinet:
Rodney Slater, who is here today, our Secretary of Transportation; Hirshel
Gober, who is Secretary of Veterans Affairs and started out helping me with
veterans in Arkansas and in New Hampshire and has been absolutely superb;
and James Lee Witt, who could not be here today because disasters don't
only occur in Arkansas, there are other places as well, although I know
you've been through a doozy lately. I want to thank Buddy Young, who
worked with him as our regional official in Texas, who is here today.
Two other former legislators, in addition to Mack, have been part of
this administration. Gloria Cabe, who served with many if not most of you
here. Her daughter also works in the White House, in the White House
Counsel's Office, and she's here today. And Carl Whillock, who after he
was a legislator became the President of Arkansas State University, head of
the Co-ops. But he's most important to me because the first trip I took
out of Fayetteville, in the first race I ever made in 1974, was across the
hills of North Arkansas with Carl Whillock, when only my mother thought I
had any business in that race. And I thank them for being here.
I'd also like to just acknowledge a few people. As I said, some of
them are here and some of them aren't. Bob Nash, who's been with me for 21
years and his wonderful wife, Janis Kearney, my diarist, who's here. Nancy
Hernreich, who's not here, who's been with me since I first ran for
Attorney General and has worked for me for 15 years, just got married to
the brother of Montine McNulty, from Pine Bluff, and is about to move with
him to Hong Kong.
Stephanie Street, my wonderful scheduler, who's going to be working
with me here in Arkansas. Craig Smith, who did a great job in handling
appointments here and was my political director, came home to actually work
this trip, to go out at the grass roots where he began. I want to thank
Mike Gaines, who ran the Parole Commission, still is. Ken Smith, Mike
Dalton, and Janet Prewitt; Jim Bob Baker, who's done a great job in the
Agriculture Department. Maria Haley, Robin Dickey. Young Deborah Wood,
who's been with me the whole eight years, just working like a beaver in the
White House. Mel French, our protocol chief and, for many years, her
deputy, David Pryor, Jr. And Marsha Scott, who has kept in touch with so
many of you for me over these last eight years.
I want to thank Wilbur Peer and Harold Gist. I want to thank Carol
Willis, who's been at the Democratic Committee this whole time, who's been
wonderful beyond my words to say; and Lottie Shackelford, thank you.
Debbie Willhite and Ada Hollingsworth came home and they helped us in a lot
of ways, even though they weren't strictly on the payroll.
There are also tons of young people who have come to Washington and
worked, just out of college or just out of law school. And I used to see
them around and be so grateful that could have an opportunity to have this
experience, and I thank all of them for their work.
Three of my high school classmates are here today, who live in the
Washington area and flew home with me -- Dr. Jim French, who is a surgeon
in Washington; Carolyn Staley, who runs the Adult Literacy Foundation; and
my good friend, Phil Jamison, who was the president of our class in high
school, who retired from the Navy and stayed on to work in the Pentagon, on
nuclear weapons issues and did a lot of the pivotal work we have done with
Russia over the last eight years, which gave me an enormous amount of pride
to know that a guy from my home town knew all about that and made me look
like I knew what I was talking about from time to time.
I remember the first time I spoke here. It was in 1974, when I was
permitted to come in here and ask for House members to help me in my very
first race. I lost the election. If I hadn't, I probably never would have
become President. Every time I see Congressman Hamemrschmidt I thank him
for beating me.
I didn't lose my passion for public service, and it's been with me
ever since. In the last 25 years I have stood in the well of this chamber
many times. I have lobbied in the halls and the committee room back there
as Attorney General, when David Pryor was my governor. I stood here five
times to take the oath of office as governor of my state. Two months out
of every two years, with the help of a number of my legislative aides who
are here today, Bill Clark and Hal Honeycutt, and Bill Bowen, who was
briefly my chief of staff, when even I was intimidated.
We would argue and argue and work and work until we hammered into law our
dreams for the future of this state.
I'd like to thank some people who aren't here, some of whom are no
longer living. The late Judge Frank Holtz, who gave me my first chance to
work in a campaign in 1966. My great friend, Senator Bill Fulbright, who
lived long enough to see me become President and to receive the Medal of
Freedom, who gave me a job when I was flat broke, just so I could finish
college, and I'll never forget it.
I would like to thank the members of the congressional delegation,
present and past, who stood with me in these last eight years, in the tough
times and the good times, especially David Pryor and Dale Bumpers, without
whom I can't imagine how this last eight years would have been possible. I
thank you, my friends. (Applause.)
I'd like to thank Hillary. If she hadn't moved to Arkansas and
married me, I doubt the rest of this trip would have happened. She was a
great First Lady for this state. She did an amazing job in Washington and
did things that no one has ever done that will benefit this country for
decades to come. And I am so proud of her, I could pop today. (Applause.)
I want you to remember when she does great things in the United States
Senate, she learned all of her politics wrestling with you. (Laughter.)
I am delighted that my mother-in-law is here, Dorothy Rodham, is here;
and my step-father, Dick Kelley. I thank them for being here. Linda
Dixon, who was my secretary as governor and has run our office here in
Little Rock, along with Representative Mary Ann Salmon. And I am delighted
that Chelsea could come home with me. (Applause.)
As it happens, on the way home, on the way here from the airport, we
passed two of her schools, Mann and Booker Arts Magnet School, where she
spent so many happy years and learned a great deal about her lessons and
about life. And the friends, the schools, the churches, the associations
she had here had a lot to do with the person she is today and I'm very
grateful for that.
Finally, I would like to thank the people of this state who elected me
five times, for sending me to Washington to carry the lessons that I
learned from you and the progress that we tried to make here to the rest of
Everything that I have been able to do as President is, in no small
measure, a result of the life I lived and the jobs I had in Arkansas. My
conviction that politics requires a vision and a strategy based on sound
ideas and a belief that you can make a difference -- from education reform
to economic policy to welfare and health care to building one America --
those things were formed here.
I know that when a person gets ready to check out of an office,
there's always a lot of retrospectives. And I have followed them in the
local press: did this administration make a difference for Arkansas? Did
it make a difference for America? So I am going to do an unconventional
thing -- I think I will start with the facts.
First of all, when I came in, I think a lot of people thought, well,
you know, we'd just move the whole federal government down here. But the
problem is, we had a $290 billion deficit. And then the price of getting
rid of the deficit turned out to be losing the Congress for our party. So
then the people that were in control had other ideas about where the money
ought to go from time to time when we finally had a little.
Notwithstanding that, look what happened this year. We funded the
Delta Regional Authority, $20 million the first year. We got funds for the
Great River Bridge and for the Highway 82 bridge. We had 500 -- Rodney
said -- Rodney said in this year's transportation budget, there's $592
million for Arkansas. That's more than your per capita share.
We worked very hard, especially with Senator Lincoln and Congressman
Snyder, to save the mission of the Little Rock Air Force Base and to get
the C-130J there. There is $25 million in the budget this year for a
simulator and millions more for an operations and maintenance center. I
think you're okay.
We got $18 million for a quality evaluation center at the Pine Bluff
arsenal. And as we try to reduce the dangers of chemical and biological
warfare, I think that arsenal can have a very important mission in
America's future. I've talked to Representative Ross about it and I hope,
after I come down here, I can work with you to think about what it should
be doing in the 21st century.
There were $38 million for seven water projects, an expansion of the
Forrest City Prisons, $5 million for research for the Arkansas Children's
Hospital. We funded the Dale Bumpers Rice Research Center and the
Agriculture Research Center. The Little Rock VA got some money for a
research annex. I am very happy that we got $2.5 million for the Diane
Blair Center at the University of Arkansas. And we finally got the upper
payment limit for the medical center okayed, and that's worth $35 million,
and I think it saves the medical center. At least that's what Dale Bumpers
tells me. (Applause.)
Earlier, of course, there was over $40 million for the airport in
Northwest Arkansas. And when my library and center get built here, I
expect it will be a project on the order of $200 million, something that I
believe will make a big difference, not only to central Arkansas, but to
the whole state.
But what's really important, it seems to me, is that Arkansas shared
in what happened to the country. So when people ask you if it made a
difference, here are a few numbers you might want to keep in mind: 35
million people have taken advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Law,
which I signed after it was vetoed by people who said that it would hurt
the economy. If I was trying to hurt the economy, I did a poor job.
We have 22.5 million new jobs, a 30-year low in unemployment, a
40-year low in women's unemployment, the lowest Hispanic and African
American unemployment ever recorded. Thirteen million more people get some
form of college aid, thanks to the HOPE Scholarship, the Lifetime Learning
Tax Credit, the Pell Grant, which will go to $3,750 this year. Seven
million people have moved off welfare -- a 60-percent drop in the welfare
rolls; 3.3 million children now have health insurance under the Children's
Health Insurance Program. And, Governor, I want to thank you for your
interest, and Mrs. Huckabee, in getting our kids health insurance. It's
the first time in a dozen years the number of people without health
insurance is going down.
Two million children have moved out of poverty; 1.3 million children
are in after-school programs or summer school programs as the result of
federal funds that did not exist on the day I became President. In four
years we've gone from an experimental program at $1 million to one of over
$1.5 billion, serving 1.3 million children. There are 4 million latch key
kids in this country, a lot of them in Arkansas, and I think we ought to
keep working until every child has a wholesome school to stay in after
school rather than going back on the street -- something to say yes to,
rather than getting in trouble.
And 611,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers were unable to buy handguns
because of the Brady law and, yet, not a single Arkansas hunter missed an
hour in the deer woods, no sports shooter missed a single contest. Two
hundred thousand young Americans have served in AmeriCorps, a lot of them
right here in Arkansas. When the tornado hit the capital neighborhoods --
and I saw all the trees blown down in the backyard of the Governor's
Mansion, and I went over to the grocery store that was flattened -- I saw
young AmeriCorps kids from all over this country, working here in Arkansas
to try to help fix things and clean things up, and I am grateful for that.
And, I might say, I learned a couple of days ago that those 200,000 people
in six years are more people than have served in the Peace corps in the
entire 40 years of its existence. (Applause.) Thank you.
One hundred and twenty-five thousand community police officers on the
street; crime at a 25-year low; 37,000 teachers hired all over America in
the early grades, on our way to 100,000 and a class size average of 18 in
the first three grades; 90 percent of our kids immunized against serious
childhood diseases for the first time in the history of the country. We
had Betty Bumpers and Roslynn Carter over at the White House the other day
to celebrate that. The largest increase in Head Start in history; the
highest homeownership in history -- the first time we've ever had more than
two-thirds of the American people in their own homes.
We have a $500-a-child tax credit; we have 200,000 more people getting
child care assistance. The student loan program costs $9 billion less than
it did when I started to people who are borrowing. The direct loan program
saves the average college student $1,300 on a $10,000 loan. (Applause.)
Interest rates, long-term, are lower today than they were when I took
office, even though we've had an eight year expansion. Average interest
rates, because of turning deficits to surplus saves people $2,000 a year on
$100,000 home mortgage.
We've had over 300 trade agreements in the last year along, agreements
with China, with Africa and the Caribbean Basin, with Vietnam and with
Jordan. We have the smallest government in 40 years, since Dwight
Eisenhower was President of the United States, since 1960. Two-thirds of
the regulations under the Elementary And Secondary Education Act have been
eliminated. Hundreds of programs are gone -- and I'll give anybody $5 that
can mention five of them. I take it back -- I'll give you $100 if you can
mention five of them. (Laughter.)
When we started, the deficit was $290 billion; now we have a $240
billion surplus. (Applause.) In our last three budgets, we will pay down
-- pay down -- about $600 billion of the nation's debt, putting us on
track, if we stay there, to be out of debt by the end of the decade for the
first time since Andrew Jackson was President, in 1835. (Applause.)
This has allowed us, among other things, to pass pension protection
legislation that has strengthened the pension protection for 40 million
Americans, to put 25 years on the life of Medicare for the first time in 25
years. And if the interest savings from paying down the debt as a result
of Social Security taxes are put against Social Security -- which is
something I've been trying to do for two years -- if they do that next
year, it will extend the life of Social Security 54 years, to 2054 --
almost long enough to get us beyond the life span of all the baby boomers,
when the demographics of America will begin to right themselves again.
We have cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner drinking water, safer
food, twice as many toxic waste dumps cleaned up as in the previous 12
years. And today we announced that we were setting aside eight more
national monuments, which means this administration has now protected more
land than any administration in the history of the country, except that of
Theodore Roosevelt. (Applause.)
Per capita income after inflation is up an average of $6,300; median
income is over $40,000 for the first time in the history of the country;
and wages have gone up 9 percent, as poverty has dropped 20 percent. So
for the first time in decades, this was an economic recovery that I'm proud
to say did produce more billionaires and millionaires, but also helped
people in the lowest 20 percent of the wage earning bracket with the
highest percentage gains in the last three years.
So that's what happened. And what I want to say to you is, one of the
things that I tried to remember every day was that being President is a
job, like being governor was a job. And it matters how hard you work, but
it also matters whether you've got the right ideas. And a lot of the ideas
that I had came out of the experiences we shared together during the 1980s,
when times were tough in Arkansas. We did not have an unemployment rate
before the national average in the last 10 years I was governor a single
time, until 1992, when we ranked second in the country in job growth.
But I learned a lot as we worked, day in and day out, together, across
party lines, across regional lines, to try to actually do the people's
business. And I've said before and I'll say again, one of the biggest
hazards of any national capital is -- America is no different from others;
I followed this pretty closely in other countries -- is when you set up a
government so far away from the people, it is easy when you realize maybe
you get your 15 seconds on the evening news to believe that politics is all
about rhetoric and positioning. But it's not. It's a job. It really
matters what you do, whether your ideas work, and whether you have a team
of people who can translate those ideas into reality.
I tell everybody who listens to me that it's a team sport, that I may
be the captain of the team, but if you don't have a team, you're going to
lose every time. And so, just once more, I would like to ask all the
people who came here with me today from Arkansas, who have been part of
this last eight years, to stand, because they were a big part of our team.
You all stand up. (Applause.)
Now, I'd like to just mention three or four specific areas where I
think your relationship to the national government is important, and where
I hope our country will continue to move forward. The strategy we followed
in education, which is still key to everything else, was very, very
important: basically, higher standards, more accountability, greater
investment and equal opportunity -- a simple strategy. But it's working.
We provided, for the first time, funds for states to identify failing
schools and help local districts to turn them around or put them under new
management or start charter schools. There was one in the country when we
started; there are over 2,000 now. Reading and math scores are up in the
country; SAT scores are at a 30-year high, even though more people from
more disadvantaged backgrounds are taking them. A 50-percent increase in
the number of kids in America taking advance placement tests; 300 percent
increase in Hispanic students over the last seven years; 500 percent
increase in African American students. The African American high school
graduation rate is virtually equal to the white high school graduation rate
in the country, for the first time in the history of America. (Applause.)
And more and more people are going on to college. But we have some
significant challenges out there. We have the largest and most diverse
group of students in our schools in history. Arkansas is now in the top 3
states in the percentage growth of its Hispanic population, as all of you
doubtless know better than I.
I just hope that you will continue to work and to urge the federal
government to work with you in making progress in these areas. We've got a
billion dollars-plus, a little more than a billion dollars this year, for
the first time to try to just give funds to states and school districts to
help repair old schools or grievously overcrowded schools. And I think
that's very important. (Applause.)
There is a limit to how much we can ever expect local property
taxpayers to pay, and very often -- you have two things going on now --
very often the places where the need is the greatest, the property tax base
is the smallest, which we know a lot about in Arkansas. And, secondly,
ironically, even though we've got the biggest school population in history,
we have a smaller percentage of those students -- excuse me, a smaller
percentage of property tax owners with kids in the schools -- property
taxpayers with kids in the schools.
So we've got to work this out. Now, when we started this there were a
lot of people who had genuine reservations -- and this is not a political
deal in the traditional sense in Washington. There were a lot of people
who honestly thought that the federal government should not be giving money
to states and the local school districts to help with school construction
or repair because it wasn't something we did. And I agree that normally we
shouldn't do that. Normally, we should either give you the money to spend
as you need it, or target it on the poorest people or the areas of greatest
need, like the need to hook up all our classrooms to the Internet.
But this is an unusual time. This is the first time, the last three
years, the first time that we've ever had more school students than we had
in the baby boom years right after World War II. And the student
population is much more diverse. And after World War II, the national
government did help states and school districts to deal with the school
So I hope that you will help us with that, because I think the unmet
need is somewhere over $100 billion for adequate school facilities for our
kids. We also are putting more funds than ever before, with total
bipartisan agreement in Congress, into teacher training, continuing
development and funding the Master Teacher program to try to certify
board-certified master teachers all across the country, until we get up to
100,000 of them, which will be enough for one in every school in the
country. I think that's very, very important. But I would urge you to
continue to do that.
The second thing I'd like to say is I think it very important that we
keep trying to refine the partnership between the national government and
the states in the area of economic development. Except for education, I
guess I worked harder on just trying to get and keep jobs when I was here
than anything else, and a lot of you worked very closely with me. I'm very
grateful for the progress that has been made, and I'm especially grateful
that we have got a focus now on the people and places that have been left
behind. Because, in spite of this long recovery, there are still places in
mountain counties in Appalachia in North Arkansas, there are places in the
Mississippi Delta and other rural areas, there are inner-city
And, worst of all, a lot of our Native American reservations, where
you can't tell there has been an eight-year recovery. I was on the Pine
Ridge Reservation a little over a year ago in South Dakota, which is near
Mount Rushmore, and one of the most historic places in all American Indian
culture. The unemployment rate there is 72 percent. And as a result, all
the social indicators are terrible. There are a lot of problems there.
But intelligence is evenly distributed.
I was taken around there by a young girl who had to move out of her
home, was taken in by friends, living in the back of a trailer where there
were, like, 11 people living. She was one of the most intelligent young
people I met in the whole eight years I was President. She deserves the
same future everybody else does.
That's why we passed the Empowerment Zone Program that Vice President
Gore ran for eight years, and did a brilliant job, I think, where we had
these zones. But I thought we ought to do something to try to essentially
make every area in America that was insufficiently developed eligible for
the same investment incentives that we presently give American investors to
invest in poor communities in Africa or Latin America or poor countries in
That's essentially what this New Markets legislation is all about. We
did it in partnership with the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, a
Republican from Illinois. And I'm very grateful to him for the work we did
together. And any number of other legislators who are active in it -- J.C.
Watts from Oklahoma, a lot you know; Danny Davis, from Illinois, who is
from Arkansas, the congressman from Chicago.
So I hope that you and, Governor, the economic development agencies of
the state, will look for ways to maximize the usage of this New Markets
legislation. Because, essentially, we've got one more piece that I think
will pass early in this new session of Congress; but what we're trying to
do is to give people the incentives to put money into places of high
unemployment, where people are willing to work, and to spread the risk.
So, essentially, what it does, it sets up the system where you can get
about a 25 percent tax credit for investing in areas with very high
unemployment, which means your risk is only 75 percent of what it would
otherwise be. And if you have to borrow money, that up to two-thirds of an
investment could be guaranteed by a government mechanism, which would give
you about 2 percent lower interest rates, which would further reduce the
Which is essentially what we do when we try to set up trade and
investment agreements all around the world in developing countries, where
we have an interest in building the trading partners for the future and
helping democracy. I could never understand why we wouldn't do it for
people here in America. And I believe we have a unique opportunity here to
bring free enterprise to people who have been left behind.
I know Arkansas is small enough, you all know each other well enough,
you've had enough experience with this, we went through all that nightmare
of the '80s, that it seems to me that this state is in a position maybe to
take more advantage of that, and also to identify what still needs to be
done, what the national government can do, than any place else.
I should also tell you that we're now going to have 40 of the
empowerment zones that we had -- not that many, but we had 20 to 30 -- and
we're going to have 40 other communities, enterprise communities, designed
by the Republican members of Congress. We said, look, why don't we just
test this. You guys design 40 communities that will get the special tax
treatment the way you want it, we'll have 40 that work the way we think
would work best. We'll identify 80 places that will get extra help. And
then we'll just see what works, and then we'll do what works. If your idea
works better than ours, we'll do yours; if ours works better, we'll do
ours. And if some of each works best, we'll do that.
So there will be approximately 50 or more new community designations
coming out next year and I would like to see some of those come to
Arkansas, as well. And, you know, you'll have to go through the
application process and all of that. But I really would urge you to make
sure that Arkansas gets a substantial share of those new community
opportunities because they get extra help to get investment there. And I
think that will work.
A third thing I would like to say a little something about is welfare
reform. We had a huge debate, you remember, back in '96, on welfare, but
we passed a bipartisan bill that had a majority of both parties in both
Houses. And you know how it works, and it has worked very well.
Arkansas's rolls are down 60 percent and I applaud you for that.
Now, what I would like to suggest is that we won't know how well this
really works until the economy slows down, which is bound to happen
someday, but I don't think it's imminent. I don't believe we've repealed
the laws of the business cycle but the truth is, because our markets are
open, it's a great, great hedge against inflation. And because of the
technology sector, we continue to increase productivity. And if we keep
driving down interest rates by paying the debt down, which is the main
thing the government can do, the aggregate economy will continue, I think,
to do very well.
But it seems to me that we need to really kind of -- it's time now.
This will be the fifth year since the welfare reform bill was passed. And
we need to look and see where it's working and what the problems are, and
what about people that are hard to place? Are we doing enough on job
training? Have we done enough on transportation? Are people so
concentrated that are still on the rolls or people that keep dropping out
and go back in a hurry, that those are the places that need the New Markets
designation and help. These are the kinds of things that I think ought to
But one of the great stories of the last eight years is that all of us
who thought poor people would rather work than draw a government check for
not working were right. But that people still have to be able, even on
modest wages, to succeed at work and at home, which is one of the reasons
I'm disappointed we didn't raise the minimum wage again last year. I think
it will go up fairly soon in this new session of Congress.
But we've got to make sure that people who are working, particularly
if they're single parents, can do a good job with their kids, because
raising children is still the most important job of any society.
(Applause.) so, again, our state is -- ironically, it's small enough, but
also diverse enough, that you can really kind of do a mid-course check
here, see what's working, what's not, what should the Congress do, what
should the new Administration do to help you make this work.
But this is an enormous story, to see these rolls cut 60 percent. And
people, just like we always knew, preferring work to idleness -- as long as
they can take care of their kids.
Now, one other thing I'd like to mention, and I alluded to it earlier.
I know you've had some vigorous debates here in the legislature about how
best to cover children and what should be done on health care. But let me
just get to the bottom line -- I'll state it again.
This Children's Health Insurance Program, which is the biggest
expansion of health care since Medicaid was passed in '65, was a part of
the Balanced Budget Act in '97. Then it took about a year for the states
to get their programs up. So, essentially, in two years, 3.3 million kids
have gotten health insurance. And it's the first thing that's been done in
a dozen year to get the number of people without health insurance going
down. And we all know why it went up -- insurance rates went up, it was
harder and harder for small businesses to cover their employees. And when
they couldn't cover their employees, the employees, themselves, weren't
making enough money to buy insurance. So we've got the numbers going down
There is enough money here in the Congress, they have enough money in
the projected 10-year budget to afford a substantial tax cut, to keep
paying the debt down, to meet our investment commitments at the national
level, and still expand health care coverage. I believe the best way to do
it is to work with the states to add the parents of the children who have
been insured under the CHIP program.
Now, some of those parents, a few of them, have insurance at work
where they can get insurance, but they can't insure their kids. But most
of them don't have anything. And if you did that, if you did just that,
that would cover over 25 percent of all the people left in America who
don't have health insurance -- just that one thing. And the money is there
to do it.
The other thing that I've been trying to get the Congress to do that
is -- really there's nothing for you to do, but I think we ought to do it
-- is to give a tax credit to people who are over 55 and have either
dropped out or retired early and lost their health insurance on the job.
Or who lost their jobs or who work in jobs without health insurance. Their
not old enough to get into Medicare. Without in any way weakening
Medicare, if we gave them a 25-percent tax credit, we could let them buy
into Medicare at cost when they're over 55.
This is a big deal. And that's 300,000 or 400,000 people. And that's
another big chunk of folks. But the thing I would like you to focus on,
there will be a debate in this coming Congress, and I think there will be
bipartisan interest now that the CHIP program is working so well, in adding
people to the ranks of health insurance. And back in '94, when we had this
big fight about it, we had a big fight because the economy was bad and
there was no way to cover everybody except with an employer mandate, which
couldn't pass because the economy was bad, or with more money which we
didn't have unless we raised taxes, and we couldn't do it because we just
raised taxes to get the deficit down.
Now, we are in a position to fund this. And it's very important that
it be done in the right way. And the states I think have experience about
how this might be done. So I would hope that this is one of the things
that you would be working very closely with your congressional delegation
on, because it really is the opportunity of a lifetime. I mean, for 50
years American Presidents and Congresses and people around the country have
been trying to figure out how to get health care coverage to everybody.
And Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota are about the only people that have
done it -- that is, that are substantially over 90 percent. So I hope you
will do that.
Another thing I think might be very valuable to Arkansas is that in
the previous campaign, President-elect Bush said that he would put more
money into public health centers if he were elected. And I guess it's the
same as it was, but when I left office, we were, for example, giving -- 85
percent of all the immunizations in the state of Arkansas were being given
by the county health departments. Even upper-income people were taking
their kids to county health departments because doctors didn't want to buy
the liability insurance, and so they'd just go and do that.
But I think that if there is going to be funding for health units,
which I think would be a very good thing, then the states ought to have
some significant input into how it's going to be done, so the money will be
spent in a way that the states -- and the southern states, by the way,
in general, have historic -- for historic reasons, have relied on county
health units, public health units, more than the rest of the country. So
that's something else I think you ought to be looking for in this coming
session of Congress -- are they going to do this; if so, how's the money
going to be spent; what do you have to say about it; how can it help the
health of the people of Arkansas, especially the children of Arkansas, in
the most effective way.
Let me just make one final comment. I think one of the most important
contributions that our administration made to life in Washington in the
last eight years was arguing that we had to find a way to be at peace with
each other, and to work together across all of our differences. If you
follow American politics as closely as all of you do, you know that a lot
of our differences are almost cultural -- race, religion -- the people who
live in the west as opposed to people who live in the east, and their
attitude about protection of public lands. Is it gun control, or gun
safety? All these things that keep -- politicians just stay away from a
lot of these issues because you're afraid, no matter which way you move and
what you say, it will all blow up on you, and you can't get much done, but
you lose votes no matter what you do.
But the truth is, in a highly diverse society, where we're growing
more and more interdependent both within our country and around the world,
with the rest of the world, we have no choice but to confront a lot of
these things. So the work that we've done with this office of One America
I think is very, very important -- with our race report and all of that.
On Martin Luther King's holiday, Monday, I sent a report to Congress
on where we are, what progress we've made in building one America in the
last eight years, and what I thought the unmet challenges were -- from
dealing with the challenge of racial profiling and law enforcement to
closing disparities in health and education, to giving back the right to
vote to ex-offenders
once their sentence is discharged, something that the Arkansas legislature
did without a word of criticism in 1977 -- 1977. (Applause.)
This is a big deal, 600,000 people every year get out of the
penitentiary. You all want me to give more money every year for that
prison over in Forrest City. People here in the room have lobbied for it.
Most people who go in, get out. And we have a huge collective interest as
a people in seeing that when people get out of prison, they obey the law.
You know, you don't want to dog people to the end of their days. If
you say, here's your penalty, serve it, they serve it and then they get
out, and say, and now we want you to be a good, successful, law-abiding
citizen and, by the way, here's a 50-pound weight we want you to wear
around your neck for the rest of your life. But you've got to do as well
as we do. I just think it's a mistake.
And we have got to find a way to figure out how, once people pay and
they get out, 600,000 a year -- that's a lot of people -- we can bring
them back into America. I mean, the whole purpose of defined punishment is
to say when it's over, you did it, but it's over.
And I can tell you, I'm going through this now -- Meredith Cabe is one
of my pardon attorneys -- just dealing with the mechanics of this, I just
don't -- most people who apply for a presidential pardon do it because they
want to vote again. But a lot of people don't even know how to do it.
I'm not going to be President in three days. We're still getting
applications in the mail, and it's crazy. Most of these people should just
be able to vote and be full citizens, because they've paid. I think it's
an important issue. And, as I said, we did it here in 1977. But I'll bet
you, most people in Arkansas don't know that's the law, because only about
14 states have done it. So people just assume it's not there.
The other thing that I recommended that I think is very important is
not that we re-litigate the last election, but that we make sure in every
future election in every state in the country, voting is clear, simple,
unquestionable and people's votes get counted. (Applause.) And I asked
the incoming administration to appoint a commission headed probably by
President Ford and President Carter, but something totally bipartisan, just
to look at this. Because we all know -- I know the history of voting, but
voting machines are good in a lot of ways because you can't vote twice in
the same race on a voting machine because you can't pull two levers now.
But they're expensive, they're hard to maintain. When the ones you bought
don't work anymore, they're hard to get parts to repair. So that's how
people got into these punch card systems.
I personally think that the pencil system I use on my absentee ballot
here from Pulaski County is a lot better, a lot less subject to messing up,
and can also be counted by machine, so it can be counted more quickly. But
this is something that every state needs to be sure of.
The states in this country have done, I think, a very good job of
making it easier for people to vote. One reason it took so long to count
these votes in Washington State is it took two weeks or three weeks to
count the votes because over a third of the votes were cast by paper
ballots in advance of election day.
By the way, it's going to change everything for all the politicians.
There is a congressional seat in New Mexico that was won twice by the
candidate of one party on election day and both times the other candidate
was elected because she got so many votes in the three weeks leading up to
So it is going to change the nature of politics. But the main thing
is it's voter friendly. So the idea of making it easier for people to vote
is taking hold in America. But until the recent election, I don't think
any of us -- I know I hadn't -- we hadn't paid enough attention to the
mechanics of voting. For example, the biggest reject state in the country
-- that is where people vote, but their votes are not counted -- was Idaho
last year. But because Idaho is overwhelmingly a Republican state, the
races aren't close, so if 5 percent of the votes don't get counted, it
never makes any difference. So nobody gets upset; they never think about
But now we know that this is not just a problem in Florida, it's a
problem in other places. And we need to look at everywhere the mechanics
of voting. Because, you just think about it -- in Washington, D.C., across
the river, in the Alexandria Public School System, there are people from
180 different national and ethnic groups in one school system. Their
parents speak over 100 different languages as their native language. And
as I said, I know Arkansas is one of the top three states in the country in
the growth of Hispanic students. As this country gets more and more
diverse and more and more commingled, it will be more and more important
for people to believe not only when their candidates win, but especially
when their candidates lose, that the whole thing was done in the best
So that's another thing that I would like to see not only this state
and this state legislature weigh in, but every state in the country.
This is something we can do as a people that there ought to be no
difference of opinion on. Just we can figure out the most cost-effective
way to get the mechanics right. But in this case, the whole integrity of
our democracy over the long run depends upon it.
Let me just say one other thing. I went back and read my first
inaugural address in 1979. I got a little plaque from the Arkansas Gazette
when I gave it that I put on the wall in the White House and I had it up
there every day I was President. And I had a line in it that said, "The
people of Arkansas have two emotions in great abundance: hope and pride.
Without them, there is no such thing as quality of life. With them, there
is nothing we cannot achieve."
I will leave office at noon on the 20th, amazingly grateful that
somehow the mystery of this great democracy gave me the chance to go from a
little boy on South Hervey Street in Hope, Arkansas, to the White House.
(Applause.) I am quite sure there was more than a little luck in that and
good fortune. I am absolutely positive that I may be the only person ever
elected President who owes his election purely to his personal friends,
without whom I would never have won. But I know this. If we have the
right vision, if we have good ideas, and if we always believe, if we are
proud of our country and its history and our future is absolutely filled
with hope, then the best days of this country will always be ahead.
After I became President, I went back and read all the founding
documents again, to make sure that I knew them as nearly by heart as I
could. And when the founders kicked our country off with the Declaration
of Independence, they said they pledged their lives, their fortunes, their
sacred honor to the enterprise of forming a more perfect union -- not a
perfect union, but a more perfect union. And they were smart people.
What they said is, if we get this right, then all the people who come
after us will always be able to do better. There will always be new
challenges, that as long as we are on this Earth and finite human beings,
God meant us to have new problems. But we will always be able to form a
more perfect union.
I will leave that office at noon on January 20th more idealistic than
I was the day I took the oath of office eight years before, largely because
it worked out the way I thought it would based on what I learned and how I
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 3:02 P.M. CST