Balanced Budget Agreement

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 16, 1997


The Rose Garden

11:25 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Less than two weeks ago, the Vice President and I joined with leaders of Congress in announcing a truly historic agreement, a bipartisan agreement to balance the federal budget for the first time in nearly three decades. We knew that only by finishing the job of putting our fiscal house in order could we keep our economy thriving for all Americans. And I knew that because of all the progress we've made in the last four and a half years, we could balance America's books while protecting America's values and preparing the American people for the 21st century. Last night, we took the next significant step toward writing the spirit and substance of that agreement into the law.

I want to begin by thanking Chairman Domenici, Chairman Kasich, Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Spratt for their hard work and their earnest commitment to sticking with this very difficult process to put our balanced budget agreement in writing. I know from my own negotiating team that we would not be here today without their good faith and good efforts. And I am deeply grateful to them.

I also want to thank the congressional leadership who supported this process. And I'd like to thank the people who are here -- the Vice President; Erskine Bowles, who's still a pretty good negotiator even though he's left his beloved private sector; Secretary Rubin; Deputy Secretary Summers; OMB Director Frank Raines; NEC Director Gene Sperling; our CEA Chair, Janet Yellen; and John Hilly, who handles our congressional relations and had one the most difficult and demanding jobs of his life in the last few weeks; OMB Deputy Director Jack Lew.

I'd like to also thank all the people who are here from OMB, Treasury, and perhaps from other agencies who were the team that put the numbers together that made this agreement possible. Thank you. You ought to give yourselves a hand. You did a great job. Thank you. (Applause.)

We have finalized a detailed description of the agreement reached two weeks ago. The document is already before the relevant congressional committees who are now moving the balanced budget resolution through the legislative process at an expedited pace. This agreement will keep in place the economic strategy that has served our nation so well for the last four and a half years.

When I took office, I was determined to reverse the failed policies of the past. Back then, we faced growing deficits as far as the eye could see. It was a time of economic stagnation and high unemployment. We moved quickly in 1993 to put in place a policy of invest and grow -- cut the deficit, invest in our people, open new markets around the world through tough trade agreements.

We are now in the fourth year of the disciplined, tough, five-year economic strategy we put in place in 1993. The results of the strategy are now clear and no longer subject to

reasonable debate: 12 million new jobs, the highest economic growth in a decade, the lowest unemployment in 24 years, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the largest decline in income inequality since the 1960s. And the deficit has been cut already by 77 percent. Our economy is now the envy of the world.

That progress has brought us to this rare moment in history and made it possible for us to balance the budget in a way that balances our values. America needs a balanced budget that is in balance with our values; that protects Medicare and Medicaid, education and the environment; that gives tax relief to working families, and that prepares our people for the 21st century. That is exactly what this budget does.

What is important about the agreement is not only what it does on a spreadsheet, but what it will do for our families and our future. It keeps our fundamental commitments to our parents, preserving and protecting Medicare for at least a decade, without steep premium increases. Because of this agreement, 5 million American children will have health care who do not have it today. The agreement protects our air, our water and our land for future generations.

I'm especially pleased that it includes the funds to clean up 500 of our most dangerous toxic waste sites and to go forward with our commitment to preserve and restore the Florida Everglades. It helps to move people from welfare to work by providing tax incentives to businesses to hire welfare recipients, and support for community service jobs in areas of high unemployment. It restores unwise cuts made last year and restores fair treatment to immigrants who legally come to America for the promise it provides. It gives middle class families tax relief to help sell a home, raise their children and send those children to college. In each of these ways it honors our values.

At the very heart of this agreement, however, is its historic investment in education. This agreement includes the most significant increase in education funding in 30 years. Even more important, it provides the largest single increase in higher education since the G.I. Bill in 1945, more than 50 years ago.

That landmark legislation gave opportunity to millions of Americans and gave birth to the American middle class. That was my goal for this budget: to dramatically expand opportunity through education and give all our children the tools they need to succeed in a new economy in a new century.

That is why I insisted that this balanced budget also be America's education budget. It not only puts our fiscal house in order, it opens the schoolhouse door wider than ever before -- with $35 billion in tax relief for higher education, including our HOPE Scholarship tuition tax credit to make two years of education after high school as universal as a high school education is today, and tax deductions for all the costs of tuitions after high school.

It includes the largest increase in Pell Grant scholarships for deserving students in three decades. It helps to raise standards in our schools. It funds our America Reads challenge to make sure every 8-year-old can read independently. It helps to bring the information age to our schools so that we can meet the goal that the Vice President has worked so hard for, to connect all of our schools and libraries to the Internet by the year 2000.

All across America last year, I said I wanted a nation in which every 8-year-old would be able to read, every 12-year-old could log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old could go to college, every adult could keep on learning for a lifetime. This balanced budget takes a major stride toward these goals.

This is not only the first balanced budget in a generation; it is an American balanced budget that protects our values for future generations.

So I say to all members of Congress of both parties, take this balanced budget agreement and write it into law. If we stay true to this historic agreement, if we have the courage to eliminate the deficit while dramatically expanding opportunity through education, we will enter the 21st century stronger and better prepared for the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, two weeks ago, we were told that there was a deal and there was much hoopla. We came to find out at that point that -- if I may use the egg analogy -- that the shell was relatively thin. How much thicker is the shell now, and can this egg still crack up, so to speak?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think we did have a deal two weeks ago. And I think the fact that we've reached agreement in writing on the details is evidence that there was one.

But when you agree on broad principles and you have long hours of negotiations, there's still some difficulties involved in writing the details of the agreement down, making sure everybody remembers it the same way, that you've got the kind of accord you need. So this is a huge step forward because now we have a much more detailed committed to writing.


Q Mr. President, I wonder now that the Senate has rejected Senate Daschle's compromise proposal on the late-term abortion procedure, I wonder if there is any way that you think language could be crafted that would avoid your having to veto Senator Santorum's legislation once again?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course. I have nothing to add to what I have said on this all along. What I need to do is to be convinced that no woman will be grievously harmed by this legislation, and that no woman will be put in the position, for example, of being so harmed that she will never be able to have further children because of this legislation. You know what my concerns are; I've made them abundantly clear.

I must say, I regret that Senator Daschle's legislation did not pass because it would have reduced the number of abortions by far, far more -- light-years more than the Santorum bill. The Santorum bill may not reduce the number of abortions by one.

So what we don't want to do is to, in effect, not reduce the number of abortions in the third trimester, which the Supreme Court permits us to do, and which I've invited the Congress to do ever since I got here, and at the same time put a lot of women's health at risk in a way that is unwise and unconstitutional.

Q Mr. President, what are you thoughts on Mobutu losing power in Zaire?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to make a couple of points on it. It does appear that he has left Kinshasa. The United States position is clear: We want to see a transition to a genuine democracy. The second point I want to make is that President Mandela of South Africa has done a superb job of exercising leadership in this area, and the United States is supporting him and his efforts. And I want the whole world to get behind the leadership that Nelson Mandela is showing there

and to do what we can to support Africa in taking one of the largest and most important nations in Africa and promoting a democratic transition. That is what I think is important.

Thank you very much.

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