THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY IN RECEPTION FOR THE HEALTH CARE TASK FORCE The South Lawn
6:38 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me say how pleased I am that one of the things that even people who care about health care can't control -- the weather, cooperated with us today. (Laughter.) How delighted we are to have you here to just say a simple thank you for all the work you've done.
I have a few other things I want to say, but I think I should begin by introducing the First Lady, by way of saying that 10 years ago we tried this once before when I was governor of our state. And it was obvious that we needed to dramatically overhaul our education system and I asked her to chair this committee. And she looked at me as if I had lost my mind because we knew we had to make everybody in the state mad to do what needed to be done. And it turned out to be all right. We had to change a lot of things, but it was one of those remarkable moments in history when all the people were ahead of all the policy makers.
I think we may be there again with health care. And I think that if all of this works I will be once again indebted to my wonderful wife and all of you. And I just want you to know that she has sung your praises to the moon from the beginning of this. And so I hope that you think that she did as good a job as she thinks you did, because I think you were both pretty great. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
MRS. CLINTON: We are so pleased to have you all here, but you might have heard the first version of this -- it was going to be a reception indoors. And what we found out after we actually got the names of everyone is that contrary to the press reports, there are more than 1,000 people who have actually worked over the last several months in a regular way. So we had to move this reception outdoors and could not have asked for a more glorious day to do it.
This has been an extraordinary experience and still is; because our work is far from over. We have very much ahead of us in terms of hammering out final decisions and presenting those decisions to the President for him to make final decisions to present to the Congress and the people of this country. But I know that a number of you have to return to your real lives as of the end of this week, and I didn't want you to get away going back to agencies and to states and to practices and other work settings without our at least being able to thank those of you who have given so much, but who have to leave the permanent effort you've been involved in to become parttime soldiers on behalf of health care reform. But, also, to thank those of you who will continue to work as we finish the task before us.
It would have been very difficult for us to make the progress that we have made without the help of Tipper Gore. Tipper has been a tireless worker and campaigner on behalf of the needs of mental health, particularly as it affects children, but as it affects everyone. Because of her work and her commitment, mental health is now seen as a part of health care reform. And I want you to join me in thanking and welcoming Tipper Gore. (Applause.)
MRS. GORE: Thank you. I want to add my voice to the First Lady's to really express gratitude and appreciation to each and every one of you, especially those who worked very hard on the mental health working group, but everybody. You have been a part of history in the making and I think you should think of yourselves as being modern-day warriors in a peaceful revolution because that's what health care reform, which was mandated by this election, is all about.
It's an historic opportunity to make fundamental change and to make peoples' lives better and to end discrimination, to bring a system of rationality and fairness to health care and to the way we view medicine in this country and taking care of ourselves. I want to say I have never seen a First Lady work so hard on any issue, put in the hours that she has, met and listened to the people and been the leader of all of us as the most important volunteer who lets us feel her commitment and her compassion about fellow citizens in our country. And that's what health care reform is about. I'm proud to be a part of it with you. I'm proud of what you all have done. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MRS. CLINTON: I want to thank especially the cluster leaders, the people who pulled all of this together on all of the issue groups that we have worked on. I want to thank Ira Magaziner and Judy Feder for their leadership in this extraordinary effort. (Applause.)
And as Tipper said, there's been a lot of speculation about your efforts and our work together. And I guess there's never been anything quite like this in Washington, at least on the domestic front. Someone said to me the other day that the last thing like it was the planning for the Normandy invasion, in terms of the numbers of people involved.
But it really had been extraordinary. And I want to say a special word of appreciation to all the people who were the support staff for this extraordinary effort -- who found all the papers, who took all the phone calls, who opened all the letters. (Applause.) This would not have been possible without you.
Because we had hoped that you could have toured the White House today as part of our thanking you and the numbers would not permit that, we have arranged for a series of three special tours of the White House for you. And we have set aside three dates: May 12th, May 18th, and May 26th. If those dates are impossible for any one of you because you are travelling home and don't expect to be back, what we want you to do is to make arrangements for these tours through Marge Tarmey, whom I'm sure all of you know, and organizes Ira which is the most incredible task, as well as keeping all these balls in the air as we go forward. Marge will be helping to sign you up for these special tours and we are really looking forward to your being able to enjoy the White House.
We will also in the next few weeks be sending out certificates of appreciation to each of you individually as a small token of the thanks that certainly Tipper and I and the President feel, and that we believe the American people feel as well. And, as I mentioned to some of you, we have refreshments, obviously, on the lawn. And as you leave, we have some other kind of souvenirs for you, particularly those of you with children in your families who wonder where you've been -- (laughter) -- as you have pulled these all-nighters and not left the Old Executive Building for days and days on end. I cannot tell you how many calls from spouses and children we have handled. Are they really still there at 11:00 p.m. at night? (Laughter.) And we've given all of you the blanket okay that that's where, as far as we knew, you all were. (Laughter and applause.)
None of this obviously would be possible -- none of the work that you have done, none of the work you are still doing, none of the work you will continue to do in the weeks and months ahead without a President who believes with all his heart that health care reform is the right thing for this country to do, both as a matter of human decency and dignity, and as an economic imperative. And he believes that the time for the changes that many of you have seen and talked about and worried about is now.
So, really, the person who made all of this possible and has really lifted our expectations about what we can achieve together on behalf of health care, is the President, whom I now present to all of you, with our appreciation.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. You know, I wish there were something more I could do for all of you. I think you deserve a medal just for putting up with Ira's toll gates. (Laughter.) I can't believe Ira's hiding back there. He's probably sharpening darts or something. (Laughter.)
I want to say a special word of thanks to Tipper Gore for her involvement and for the work that she's done to personally sensitize me to a lot of the mental health issues that I think all Americans need to know more about.
I want to say, too, that the Vice President is not here tonight because he is on an errand for our administration in Florida and could not be here. But he sat in all those meetings with me, that we had -- long hours -- trying to make sure that we understood the implications of every issue and understood all the incredible work that all of you have done.
I want to say a special word of thanks to Ira. Hillary and I have known Ira a long time. Ira and I were at Oxford together back in the late '60s, and we always used to say when Ira walked into a room he doubled the IQ of whoever was in there, however many people were in there. (Laughter.) I don't know how many of his brain cells he has departed forever in this endeavor, but -- (laughter) -- I hope that part of this endeavor will lead some of you encourage him to take more care of his health. I don't think he's had any sleep since this whole thing started. He's really been a champ, and Hillary and I are very grateful for his efforts.
I want to say, too, that there are a lot of people who said, well -- I mean, I never could believe this -- for years and years and years we all complained of gridlock and do-nothing and nothing ever got done. And the last five days, I see all these articles complaining that I'm trying to do too much. (Laughter.) I plead guilty to that. (Applause.)
But the overwhelming focus of this administration has been on the economy, jobs, deficit reduction and investment in our people, and on health care. That's what we have focused on -- the things that will lift this country up again and bring this country together again, and give people some measure of security, even as they go out in the highly changed and charged world that we're moving toward.
I wish I could write a book. I wish I could even remember all the incredible stories I heard along this last year and a half when we were out on the campaign trail related to health care.
I'll never forget the woman I met in Columbus, Ohio who had six or seven kids and had to give up a $50,000 a year job because one of her children was so sick, and the only way she could get any care was to become Medicaid eligible.
The farmers that I met along the way who couldn't get health insurance; or if they did, it took up the whole profit from the farms in the average year. The small businessperson I met who had only four employees and was chagrined because of the exploding cost of insurance in his small group; he had to go to a $2,500 deductible and how badly he felt for his own employees. The big businesses that told me about their inability to compete in a global economy because they had to spot their competitors so much. The doctors that I know who wanted to be good doctors and wanted to reach out to people who were spending more and more of their time and money on paperwork and regulation, and on and on and on.
The human dimension of this issue is utterly enormous. The economic dimension is also very great. We're here, struggling to really be serious about reducing the government's deficit, and under every scenario we can cut it quite a bit in the next five years, and then it starts to go right up again because of health care costs. So there has rarely been a time in the history of this country when an economic issue and a social issue, when an issue that affects all the big people and all the little people and all the people in between has been so tightly joined, as this health care issue.
I know there are those who say, well, we shouldn't try to deal with this; it ought to be enough just to have a fundamental budget that dramatically changes the priorities of America. But if you want to get rid of the deficit and have any money left to invest in your children and your education, your economy and your future, we have to do both.
And so I just want to reaffirm to you that all of your efforts have not been in vain, and I'm going to do my best to give us a health care reform package that can pass the Congress this year, and I'm going to do my best to fight for it, and I hope you will, too. (Applause.)
It may be that we can only do one thing at a time in this town; that may be. But I'm not prepared to acknowledge that. Congress has worked out smaller bills, but they're all different. I mean, they've got an agreement on the family and medical leave, and now they're apparently going to send me the motor voter bill I've been working on. And today, they voted for a modified line-item veto in the House, which I thought was remarkable; the first bill we've had with real bipartisan support.
I think we can do more than one thing. And I think if people understand that you have to do both of these things -- have a new budget and a new direction and a new approach to health care to get control of our deficit and our financial future and to have something left to invest in our people, our economy and our own future, I think we can do it.
And I just have to ask all of you to be committed now to be agents of change. You've done all this work on this program. And, you know, the final thing we come out with, none of you will agree with all of it. I won't agree with all of it. We're going to do the best we can to put something together that's good for America and that we can get through the United States Congress. And we're going to do our best to continue to reach out to both Democrats and Republicans as we have throughout this entire process, to try to make this an American effort, not a Bill Clinton effort, not a Democratic effort, not a Republican effort, but an American effort. America needs this.
And I'll say this: You know, when this group began to get together, I kept reading all this stuff about secrecy. And, you know, shoot, I've read more about everything you've done in the press than anything else I've seen. (Laughter.) If you can't keep a secret in Washington with two people, you sure can't keep a secret with 1,000. (Laughter.)
I think you've been great. I want to ask you to commit now to do what you can. A lot of you don't come from here. A lot of you live out in the country where a lot of these problems are being grappled with. When you go home, try to mobilize your friends to tell your members of Congress that the time is now. The time is now to deal with this. And if you do live here and you have even more contacts on the Hill or with others that can influence this process, use your time now to pass it. Don't let all your work have been in vain. This is a magic moment in the history of this issue. People have been working for decades just to have the circumstances which exist now. And I hardly see anybody who doesn't admit that the time has come to do something, to do something bold and do something substantial, to do something we can live with from years to come that will really make our country better off, our people more secure, healthier and happier.
We're going to have enough insecurity as it is in America; and everybody is, with all the changes that are going on in this world. The least we can do is to join the mainstream of the world in taking care of our people better, providing a comprehensive, affordable, good, quality health care system. And it's good for the economy. If we can get that idea across we can prevail.
I need your help now to carry the fight to the floors of the Congress, both chambers and both parties. And let's lift this issue up, let's keep it high in America's mind and heart, and let's make sure that all this work you have done will be rewarded for generations to come.
This is a real moment in the history of this country. We can be a part of it. Now the time has come to bring it home.
Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, does this reconvening of the peace talks take the pressure off you at all, sir? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let's see what happens there. Let's see what happens. Let's see how serious they are. You know, they've said things before and not meant it. If they mean it now, so much the better. I'll see.
Q How are you going to know if they mean it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: We will know them by their deeds, not their words.
END6:55 P.M. EDT