THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS J.W. Marriott Washington, D. C.
12:31 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Bill, for the introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the invitation to come by again.
I can't help noting some satisfaction that the president of this organization is not only the editor of the Oregonian, which endorsed my candidacy in 1992 -- the first time it ever endorsed a Democrat for President. I hope they haven't had second thoughts. (Laughter.) He also spent the first eight years of his life in Arkansas, which didn't seem to do him too much harm. (Laughter.)
I am delighted to be here. I want to make a few remarks and then open the floor to questions. We probably have some things in common -- both of us battle, from time to time, with reporters. (Laughter.) And I recently did some light editing on my mother's autobiography, so I appreciate the difficulty of editing things. It was a little easier for me -- my mother, when she got very ill, I said, what are we going to do if you don't finish your book? She said, you finish it, don't touch anything I said about you -- (laughter); check the facts, don't let me be too hard on the living. So it was easier for me than it was for you.
But let me say I've been thinking about it a lot lately because it gave me a chance to relive a period in American history that spanned my mother's life, as well as my own, starting in the Depression. In many ways, like everybody's family, her life was unique. But it was in many ways like that of so many people who grew up in the Depression and World War II, and exemplified and made possible the rise of the American middle class.
Most of those people were obsessed with working hard and taking care of their families and building a better future for their children; and they never doubted they could do it. There's a reason, I think, we ought to think about that today -- and that is that there are a lot of people who doubt that we can continue to do it.
Our mission at this moment in history, I believe, is to ensure the American Dream for the next generation -- to bring the American people together; to move our country forward; to make sure the middle class grows and survives well into the 21st century.
My mother's generation knew what we are learning, and that is that the preservation of these kinds of dreams is not as simple as just talking about it. She had to leave home after she was widowed to further her education so she could make a good living. And my earliest memory as a child is of my grandmother taking me to see my mother in New Orleans when she was in school and then seeing her cry when I left the train station as a little child.
But our generation is full of parental stories about the sacrifices that were made for us so that we could do better. And all of us in this room have been exceedingly fortunate in that regard. The generation that our parents were a part of built the houses, the schools, educated the children that built the explosion of American energy and industry after the second world war.
Underneath the magnificent material mileposts, which left us with only 6 percent of the world's population then and 40 percent of the world's economic output was a set of values. They believed we had to work hard; that we had a duty to do right by our community and our neighbors; that we were obliged to take responsibility for ourselves and our families. Without those values, the successes would not have occurred, and nothing else passed on to us would amount to much for we would quickly squander whatever material benefits we had.
Most of my mother's generation, at least that I knew, would never have put it this way, but they lived by a creed that I was taught by a professor of western civilization at Georgetown, who told me that the great secret of Western Civilization in general, and the United States of America specifically was, that always at every moment in time, a majority of us had believed that the future could be better than the present, and that each of us had a personal, moral responsibility to make it so. In pursuit of that dream, the Americans in this century have made a solemn bargain with their government -- government should work to help those who help themselves.
Forty-nine years ago today, Harry Truman spent his first full day as President of the United States. No one ever did more to honor that solemn bargain. After World War II, our country chose the course of confidence not cynicism, building a stable world economy in which we could flourish -- with the Marshall Plan and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which we have just concluded the Uruguay Round.
We lifted a majority of our people into the middle class, not by giving them something for nothing, but by giving them the opportunity to work hard and succeed. In just two months, we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the G.I. Bill of Rights, which helped more than 20 million American veterans to get an education, and millions more to build businesses and homes.
These great achievements did not belong to any particular party. They were American decisions. They were not the reflection of a country pulled to the right or to the left, but a country always pushing forward. They reflected the vision and the values of leaders of both parties. After Truman, Eisenhower continued the tradition by building the interstate highway system and by investing in the space program and science and technology and in education. The tradition continued in the next administrations, all working toward greater prosperity but rooted in certain values that enabled us to go forward.
But the seeds of our new difficulties that we face in such stark reality today were sown beginning three decades ago, and changes in our social fabric, and two decades ago in changes in our general economic condition. We have seen the weakening slowly of the institutions and the values which built the middle class and the economic underpinnings which made it possible in theory, at least, for all Americans to achieve it.
Three decades ago, in 1960, births outside of marriage were 5.3 percent of total children born. In 1980, the rate had risen to 18.4 percent; in 1990, to 28 percent. There are many of those who say, well, Mr. President, you're overstating the case because the birth rate among married couples has dropped so much. It may be. All I know is that those kids are our future, and the trends are inescapable and disturbing. And the rates for teen mothers in poverty and for all mothers without a high school education of outof -wedlock birth rates are far, far higher than the 28 percent that I just said.
The fear of violent crime has made neighbors seem like strangers. And as Senator Pat Moynihan of New York has said, Americans have begun to "define deviancy down." We're simply getting used to things that we never would have considered acceptable just a few years ago.
In the post-war economy, a high school diploma meant security. By the time of the 1990 census, it was clear that a high school diploma meant you'd probably be in a job where your income would not even keep up with inflation. Most middle-class families have to work longer hours to stay even. The average working family in 1992 was spending more hours on the job than it did in 1969. And in too many neighborhoods, the vacuum that has been created by the absence of work and community and family has been filled by crime and violence and drugs.
In the 1980s, the world continued to change dramatically economically. And I would argue that, in general, our collective response to it was wrong; even though many of our best companies made dramatic productivity gains which are benefitting us today. We reduced taxes for some Americans -- mostly the wealthy Americans -- and we increased the deficit. But increases in Social Security taxes and state and local taxes put further strains on middle-class incomes. From 1981 to 1993, our nation's debt quadrupled, while job creation and the general living standard of the wage-earning middle class stagnated or declined.
So we have these problems that, let's face it, brought me to the presidency in 1992 -- the abjective conditions that Americans were groping to come to grips with. You can be proud that so many newspapers have done so much to not only call attention to these problems but to make them really real in the lives of people and to cry out for new thinking.
In its remarkable series, "America: What Went Wrong," the Philadelphia Inquirer showed how the national government's policies had undermined the middle class already under stress by a global economy. Of all the facts cited by Donald Bartlett and James Steele, one stood out to me. In 1952 it took the average worker a day of work to pay the closing costs on a home in the Philadelphia suburbs. In the 1990s. it took 18 weeks.
The Chicago Tribune on its front page underscored the epidemic of violence killing so many of our children and robbing so many others of their childhood. The Los Angeles Times explored the loss of a sense of community that prompted the riots there two years ago. Recently when I was in Detroit for the jobs conference, the papers there talked about the changing job market and the state that was the automobile capital of the world -- the good and the bad dislocations that have occurred and what was working.
Recently in the Pulitzer Prizes, which were awarded yesterday, I noted that Bill Raspberry got a well-deserved Pulitzer for his commentaries on social and political subjects. And Isabel Wilkerson's report on children growing up in the inner city in New York -- The New York Times won.
Our administration owes a special debt to Eileen Welsome's series in the Albuquerque Tribune exposing secret governmental radiation experiments conducted decades ago which have consequences today. And I'm proud of the openness that the Secretary of Energy, Hazel O'Leary has brought to the Energy Department in dealing with this.
There are lots of other things I could mention -- the Akron Beacon Journal's examination of race relations there. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's editorial board hosted me the other day, and I had one of the most searching and rewarding discussions of the health care conditions in our country that I have had in a long time.
Every day, you are challenging us to think and to care through your newspapers. My job is to act. As I travel the country, I see that that is basically what people want us to do. They want us to be careful; they know we live in a cynical age and they're skeptical that the government would even mess up a one-car parade. But they want us to act.
The future of our American leadership depends upon what we do at home, but also what we do abroad. Last year among the most important developments were the trade agreements -- the NAFTA agreement, the GATT agreement, the historic meeting we had with the leaders of the Asian Pacific communities. But we have a lot of problems, too. By attempting to come to grips with them in a world increasingly disorderly, we hope to preserve an environment in which America can grow and Americans can flourish.
Whether it is in addressing North Korea's nuclear program, which protects not only our troops on the Peninsula, but ultimately the interests of all Americans; or supporting reforms in the Soviet Union, which helps to destroy missiles once aimed at us and to create new market opportunities for the future; or by harnessing NATO's power and the service of diplomacy in troubled Bosnia, which will help to prevent a wider war and contain a flood of refugees. Our efforts to stop the shelling of Sarajevo and the attacks on Gorazde, to bring the Serbs back to the negotiating table, to build on the agreement made by the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims, enhanced both Europe's security and our own.
Here at home, for the past 15 months, we have focused on starting the engines of upward mobility -- to try to make sure we can remember the values of the so-called "forgotten middle class" with an economic plan that is fair -- with cuts that are real, investments that are smart, a declining deficit and growing jobs.
Last year, our budget cut 340 programs, including most major entitlements. This year, the budget calls for cutting 379 programs, including the outright elimination of a hundred of them. As we cut unneeded programs, we're investing more in education, in medical research, in the technologies of tomorrow that create jobs now -- whether in defense conversion or in environmental sciences.
We're fighting for a revitalized Clean Water Act -- a safe drinking water act, a reformed superfund program. All of them will clean the environment, but they will also create the jobs of tomorrow, everybody from engineers to pipefitters.
As April 15th approaches, people will see that I did tell the truth last year about our economic program -- 1.2 percent of Americans will pay more in income taxes, including me and some others in this room. All that money will go to reduce the deficit. Onesixth of America's workers will get an income tax cut this year because they are working hard and raising children but hovering around the poverty line. And we are attempting to reward work over welfare, and to prove that people even in this tough, competitive environment can be successful workers and successful parents. That's why the Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded so much. I believe it was the right thing to do.
The economic plan creates new opportunities to send people to college by lowering the interest rates and broadening the eligibility for college loans and then changing the terms of repayment so that young people can pay them back as a percentage of their earnings regardless of how much they borrow.
There is in this economic plan a new business capital gains tax rewarding investments to the long-term people who make new investments for five years or more will get a 50 percent tax cut in the tax rate. And a 70 percent increase in the small business expensing provision -- something that's been almost entirely overlooked -- which makes 90 percent of the small businesses in the United States of America -- those with taxable incomes of under $100,000 -- eligible for an income tax cut.
The economy has generated a 20 percent increase in auto sales and 2.5 million new jobs -- 90 percent of these new jobs are in the private sector. That's a far higher percentage than the new jobs of the '80s.
The combination of declining deficits -- which will amount to three years in a row if this budget is adopted -- we'll have three years of reclining deficits in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was the President of the United States. And it has produced steady growth and low inflation, leading many of our most respected economists, from the Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, to Alan Sinai, to say that our economy and its fundamentals has the best prospects it's had in two to three decades. Inflation is projected to be lower this year than last year. We've come a long way.
But there's a long way to go. There's still too many people out of work; too many people working for low wages; too many people who know that they can work harder and harder and harder and they still won't have the opportunity of doing better. And there are too many people who are left out altogether, living in environments that are, at worst, downright dangerous.
Our country is more than an economy; it is a community of shared values -- values which have to be strengthened. This year, we are working on things that will both strengthen the economy and strengthen our community. We're working on a welfare system which will continue to reward work and family and encourage people and, in some cases, require people to move from welfare to work through welfare reform.
We are working on lobbying and campaign forms which, if the Congress will pass them, and I believe they will, will help us to change the culture of Washington in a very positive way. The National Service program this year will have 20,000 young people earning money for their college educations by solving the problems of this country in a grass roots fashion in their communities or in others all across America. And the year after next we'll have 100,000 young people doing that.
The Vice President's reinventing government program has been a dramatic example of giving us a government that will work better for less by slashing paperwork and Regulation; and, again, if this budget is adopted -- thanks to the work already done by the Congress -- will lead us, in a five-year period, to a reduction of the federal government by 252,000 workers; in a six-year period, by 272,000 period; so that in the end of five years, we will have the smallest federal government since the 1960s -- the early '60s. I'll tell you what we're going to do with the money in a minute.
But we are moving in the right direction. The health care reform debate is a big part of that. I know there's a lot of good in our health care system -- we don't want to mess with it, we want to fix what's wrong. But nobody who has seriously analyzed it can doubt that we have the worst and the most inefficient system of financing health care of any of the advanced countries. No other country spends more than 10 percent of its economy on health care -- we spend 14.5 percent of our income. Part of that's because we're more violent; part of it's because we have high rates of AIDS; part of it's for good reasons -- we spend more on medical research and technology, and we wish to continue to do that. No one would give up that premium. It's an important part of our world leadership and our global economy. Indeed, we need to find ways to do more in some of these areas -- in biotechnology, for example.
But a part of it stems from the fact that we have a system which is plainly inefficient; and which, in paperwork burdens alone, may cost as much as a dime on the dollar more than any other system in the world. We are also the only advanced country in the world that has not figured out how to provide health care to all its citizens. Everybody else has figured out how to do it. The result of that is that almost all of you work for companies that pay too much for your health care; because when people who don't have health insurance get real sick, they tend to get health care when it's too late, too expensive, at the emergency room; and they pass the cost on to the rest of you in higher premiums. If you live in rural areas where the costs can't be passed along, the cost is passed along in another way -- in lower quality of health care when the hospital closes or the clinic close or the last doctor moves away.
Eighty one million Americans live in families with someone with a preexisting condition, who's been sick before; so that they pay too much for insurance, can't get it, or can never change jobs. This is an important part of rebuilding a faith in the middle class. It's no accident that the First Lady and I have received a million letters that people -- telling us their personal stories. They aren't pikers, they're people who have paid their dues, who work hard, who want to make something of themselves in this country. And because of the way we finance health care, they haven't been able to do it.
The education initiatives of our administration are important in this regard. The Goals 2000 bill I just signed for the first time in American history sets national standards of world class excellence in education and encourages schools to use grass roots reforms to achieve them. The student loan reforms will open college education to more young people than ever before.
And finally this year we're going to try to change the unemployment system into a reemployment system. All of you as employers pay unemployment taxes into a system that is fundamentally broken. The average person when laid off was called back after a period to his or her old job when the unemployment system was created. And the unemployment system was just sort of a fair way for the employer to contribute to the maintenance of that person at a lower wage level while on unemployment. But today most people don't get called back to their old jobs. Instead they have to find new ones. And we should no longer ask people to pay for a system that leaves people idle for a period of months after which they're out of work with no training, no skill and not a good prospect for the future. So we believe from the day a person is unemployed, he or she should be involved in a retraining and a new job placement program immediately. It will cut the period of unemployment; it will increase the national income; and it will certainly honor the values of the American middle class if we change this system.
For all of this, there is still a lot of things -- maybe the most important things about America -- that government can't do. Nothing has reminded me more of that than the headlines in today's Washington Post. I'm sure you saw the story. Two 10-year-old boys were taken into custody yesterday in an elementary school not far from here just across the line in Maryland. They were charged with planning to sell crack cocaine found in one of their school bags. Even in this jaded age, most everybody, including the school officials at the school, were shocked.
We can do a lot of things to put this country back where it belongs. We can and must pass the crime bill to deal with a lot of these problems. It's a good crime bill -- 100,000 more police officers; a ban on 28 kinds of assault weapons; the most innovative prevention programs we have ever supported at the national level to try to keep young kids out of trouble and give them something to say yes to as well as things to say no to; tougher punishment in what I think are sensible ways. And how are we going to pay for it -- $22 billion over five years? With a $250,000 reduction in the federal work force, not with a tax increase.
But even if you do that, we cannot live the lives of children for them. So every one of us -- every parent, every teacher, every person has to somehow find a way to reach these kids before it's too late. Somehow the young people who make it know that they're important; they understand that their lives matter; they understand that there can be a future; they think about the future in terms of what happens five or 10 years or 20 years from now instead of what happens five or 10 minutes from now. They understand that they have to fight to find ways other than violence to solve their problems or deal with their frustrations. They have to come to understand that children having children is just wrong, and can't lead to anything good for them; that drugs will ruin their lives. We've got a lot of kids now who are beginning to creep back into drug use just because they think it's hopeless out there. We have to change that, and we have to help them change that. And a government program, alone, cannot do it. We have to do it with the kinds of things you do with these special reportings in your newspaper, and galvanizing and organizing people all over this country, community by community.
Finally, let me just say this. A couple of nights ago, we marked the end of the year honoring the 250th birthday of Thomas Jefferson. For you as journalists, of course, his commitment to freedom of expression was his greatest gift to us. I don't know how many journalists I've had quote Jefferson's famous line that if he had to choose a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter. My response is always, he said that before he became President. (Laughter.)
But there's a line, or a lesson, that we often overlook. Jefferson was also a slaveholder, even though he wrote three or four times in various places attempts to limit slavery, or do away with it. If you go to the Jefferson Memorial, you find that wonderful quote when he says, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and his justice cannot sleep forever." He knew it was wrong, but he couldn't change it.
But Jefferson's great legacy, in some ways, was the advocacy of relentless change. He said that we'd have to change our whole way of doing things once every generation or so. He said the Earth belongs to the living. In other words, the great power of the idea that change and progress is possible if rooted in fixed principles is really the idea we need to bring to American life today.
We all share the responsibility in achieving that kind of change and progress. I think we have got to get together. We've got to go on with the work before us. We cannot afford to be diverted or divided in this town. We cannot afford to ignore the urgent tasks at hand. And we cannot afford to ignore the possibility that we can really make a difference; that we can ensure for the next generation of children the values and the life that were given to us by the generation which preceded us. And that, I submit to you, is the job of the President and the job of the American people in 1994.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q The President has agreed to take questions, but I want you to remember the ground rules for ASNE. You must be a member of this organization. And you must identify yourself and the newspaper with which you represent or the company. We have three mikes on the floor, and I will start over to my right.
Q Mr. President -- could it be that our abused children and youth delinquency and crime is merely a symptom? And if it is a symptom of an epidemic of adult delinquency and abuse, when can we really get to the problem of addressing the disease instead of the symptom?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- in some ways I think it is a symptom. I think it is the outgrowth -- if you think about what makes all societies work -- basically what makes societies work, what makes them function, what guarantees a healthy environment -- it is basically a devotion to the family unit; a devotion to the idea that everybody ought to have some useful work to perform; and an understanding that while the rights of individuals are important, the interest of the community at large are important, too; and that all of us find most personal fulfillment when we live in a community that itself is succeeding. So we have obligations to a larger community.
If you go to the places that are in the worst trouble in America today, all three of those things are in deep distress -- not very much sense of community, not very much work, and families in ruins.
And what I'm trying to do, sir, is to try to create an environment in which we support family, work and community, both with incentives for people to do the right thing, like giving a tax break to working people so they won't feel that they'd be better off on welfare -- they're hovering at the poverty line; to dealing with the kinds of things that Secretary Cisneros dealt with when he spent the night in the Robert Taylor Homes Project of Chicago the other night -- trying to find ways for the people who live in public housing to be secure, to build their own communities, take control of their own destiny and to be safe from that.
But I agree with you, I think a lot of these problems we identify are the consequences of the fundamental stress on those three things -- work, family and community.
Q Mr. President -- we know if truth be told that presidents tend to think of the press as an interest group on bad days -- self-absorbed and self-interested. But from this side of the velvet rope, we like to think of ourselves as guardians of the public interest and watchdogs, and it's in that spirit that I ask this question.
I'd like to know what more can be done, from your point of view, to open up the government to the people? And specifically, what can be done with the new technologies of FOIA, Freedom of Information Act, which is now -- government records are now electronic, and we need access to those records in order to do our jobs to tell the people how you are conducting your affairs.
And furthermore, we know problems in the world will not go away. Our soldiers will be involved and our press must go with them. We've seen some deterioration in Pentagon policies over access. In keeping with the needs of military security, what can you do to further democracy and to put yourself behind the idea of an open government that is responsive to press needs?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think I mentioned one example in my opening remarks. And that is, I think that the Energy Department is doing quite a good job in dealing with the whole radiation issue. We also have under the review all the sort of, the secrecy rules of government; and we expect to change them and make available a lot more records than have been available in the past.
You made a specific comment about technology, and whether technology can be used to facilitate this. And we do have a couple people at the White House -- and unfortunately, I'm not one of them -- who know a whole lot about this. And we've tried to use things like E-mail more, and things like that. But I have -- that's one of the things that I've asked our people to study, is how we can use this so-called information superhighway to hook the news media of the country into the government more for things that are plainly available anyway, and whether that could be facilitated. Just the technological transfers, I think, would make a big difference.
On the fourth question, I can't give you a satisfactory answer because I haven't made up my own mind yet, and I don't think I know enough to make a decision; and that is, the relationship of the press to our military operations in time of combat. I'm not rebuffing you, I'm just telling you I have not thought it through, and I don't know what my options are.
But on the other three things, I think we're in accord, and I will try to do a little more work on the whole issue of technology transfer and interconnection. And I think we are moving forward to open more records.
Q Mr. President -- two years ago this week while you were in Peoria, walking the picket lines at Catepillar, Inc., you called upon President Bush to bring the conflicting parties to the White House, to the Oval Office, to try to resolve the conflict. You said that it was the appropriate thing for the President to do. The conflict remains unresolved and another strike may be imminent. I wonder whether you think presidential intervention is still appropriate, and what form that might take?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have worked hard through the Executive Branch to resolve other labor disputes, as you know, including the one involving the airlines recently. So I am not averse to that. But if you'll remember, at the time I said that there was an actual strike in place that was of significant duration for a company -- Caterpillar -- that is very important to this whole country. A lot of you may not know this -- Caterpillar has as much as 80 percent of the Japanese market for some of its products. It's a very, very important company.
And so, I guess what I have to tell you is if the strike occurs and if it is of significant duration, and if there is something that I think we can do about it, I would be glad to look into that. But what I have tried to do on all labor disputes is not to prematurely intervene -- there is no strike at this moment -- not to prematurely intervene, and to take it on a case by case basis depending on what the national interest is, and whether or not there is a positive role we could play. In the case of the airlines, there was; and one or two other cases -- a railroad issue, and several others -- there have been something we could do. And, if it happens, you can be sure that I will look into very closely.
Q Many columnists and editorial writers graded your administration after your first year in office. Turnabout is fair play; therefore what grades to you give the press for one -- it's performance in covering your administration generally; and, two, it's coverage of Whitewater, in particular. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me first of all say, the grade that they gave me is not as important to me as the grade, sort of objective criteria, that many of the journals here went through -- just how much did we get done last year as compared with previous first-year presidencies. And all the objective analysis concluded that we had the best first year in a generation, in 30 years or more; just in terms of the volume and significance and difficulty of legislative achievements and advances. So I felt quite good about that, and that's how I measured my own.
Secondly, if I could grade the press, I wouldn't. (Laughter.) Especially not now. (Laughter.) But let me just say -- let me make three points very quickly about it -- either in general or on Whitewater. If you have any doubts about it, then that's good because you ought to be having doubts about things like this. But I want to make three points. One is, you can't generalize about the press today. You probably never could generalize about the press. But, believe me, it is far harder to generalize about it than ever before. There is no way you can do that.
Secondly, I think it is -- the press, at least in this town, is very different from most of the press outside this town in terms of what -- how they work and what's important and all of that. But they are under more competitive and other pressures today than ever before. I said last night at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner that the Founding Fathers had two points of untrammeled freedom in our set-up. One was given to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts -- that is, they had lifetime jobs. And they got that because somebody had to make a final decision. They have limited power, but ultimate freedom. So they have to be careful not to abuse their freedom. The other was the press, because nobody could think of any practical way to limit the press. And, in fact, the limits have become less, not more, with the weakening of the libel laws over time.
And I just think that always, any kind of unrestricted freedom imposes great responsibility on people. And what happens here is, when you've got -- for example, you've got all these different new outlets; you've got all these channels; you've got all this time to fill; you have all this competition now from the tabloids; you have the highly-motivated political outlets posing as news media, but not really, trying to affect what the news media do. It is more difficult to be responsible now than ever before. It is a bigger challenge than ever before.
The third thing I would say is, while I am in no position to comment on this, you ought to read what Garrison Keillor said last night at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. It was a stunning speech. I have never heard anyone speak that way to a group of media people. He obviously was from the heart and he said some very thoughtful things. And I -- if you really care about the issue, I would urge you to read what he said. I could not add anything to what he said last night.
Q That's an A-plus answer. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
Q Mr. President, the people in my readership area seem to believe that health care is in need of reform, but nobody can seem to agree on just how to reform it. I'd like to -- a veteran wrote in to us, and I'd like to ask this question on behalf of that veteran. He said if you ever want to see an example of why government should not run the health care system, look at the way the Veterans Administration runs its hospitals. Could you respond to that veteran?
THE PRESIDENT: That's why we don't recommend a government run the health care system. But there are -- I have two responses to that. First of all, our plan does not provide for government-run health care. In fact, that's very rare in the world. The British system is the only one where the government actually delivers the health care, just about. There are some other systems, like the Canadian system, where the government finances it all. We have government-financed health care through the Medicare program. Most people think it's pretty good who are on it. But it's all --you know, if you are on Medicare, you get to choose your own doctor; it's all private care -- all private.
The veterans hospital system worked quite well, sir, for a while, but it doesn't work now because the government can't run it without its being able to compete. I mean, what basically what happened is, there are fewer and fewer veterans who choose to use the veterans hospital network. They have other options for pay -- they're eligible for Medicare; they have private insurance or whatever. The veterans hospital can't take that kind of pay, so it becomes more underfunded while the population it's treating goes down; and those difficulties feed on itself.
I think we've got a -- basically, we have proposed to give the veterans hospital network the chance to compete and do well, but when those Veterans Hospitals are in trouble, that's why they're in trouble. What I propose to do instead is to have guaranteed private insurance; and all I want the government to do is to require guaranteed private insurance for the employed uninsured; give organized approval to give discounts to small businesses so they won't go broke providing the insurance; and then organized buyers coops, so small business, farmers and self-employed people, can buy insurance on the same terms that big business employees and government employees can. And I don't want the federal government to do that, I just want it set up so that can be done at the state level.
But I certainly don't think we ought to have a government-run health care system. I think the government could create an environment in which everybody can get health insurance; we can bring cost in line with inflation -- the right economic incentives for managed care are there; and the little folks have the same chance as the big folks to get affordable care. That's all I want to do.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. Not long ago, I was watching television with my daughter and you were explaining some of the events that had gone on 15 years ago, or so, in Arkansas. And you said something about you remembered that there were -- you'd lent $20,000 to your mother and so on. Essentially, new things were coming out and changing. And my daughter turned to me and said, "Dad, you know the problem? He sounds just like me when I'm trying to explain why I don't have my homework." And I'm wondering, sir, other than perhaps suggesting to my daughter that she has a future in politics, what should I tell her?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you, let me give you an example. I'll just say one thing. Garrison Keillor said last night, he said, you know, all I know about Whitewater is what I read in the papers, so I don't understand it. (Laughter.) But he said -- he said I -- and let me -- he made two statements; I'm just repeating what he said. He said, I really wasn't going to talk about Whitewater tonight, but I was afraid if I didn't say anything, you'd think I know something about it. (Laughter.) Then he said, I suppose I ought to tell you that I've never been to Arkansas. But, he said, I'm reluctant to tell you that, because then you will attack me for not telling you that 30 days ago. (Laughter.)
All I can tell you, sir, is I have done my best to answer the questions asked of me. Maybe you have total and complete recollection of every question that might be -- not is -- might be asked of you at any moment of things that happened to you 12, 13, 14 years ago. Maybe you could give your tax records up for 17 years and, at the moment, answer any question. Or maybe, instead, you want to go back to the hallmark question -- you think I should have shut the whole federal government down and done nothing but study these things for the last two months.
I would remind you that I was asked early on by the press and the Republicans to have a special counsel look into this on the grounds that then everyone could forget about it, and let the special counsel do his job, and I could go on and be President. I could give all the records up, and then when he had a question in his document search, he could ask me, we could work it out, and the issue could be resolved. So I said, sure, even though the criteria for appointing a special counsel weren't met -- no one had accused me of any wrongdoing; certainly nothing connected with my presidency or my campaign for the presidency -- I said, let's do it so I can go back to work. And that is what I have tried to do.
Since then, the same people who asked for the special counsel so that these issues could be resolved in an appropriate and disciplined way and I could go back to work, have decided they were kidding. And they wanted to continue for us to deal with this. Well, I'm sorry, I'm doing the best I can while I do the job I was hired by the American people to do.
I have been as candid and as forthright as possible. Sam Dash, the Watergate special prosecutor, said this is a very different administration than previous ones. These people have resisted no subpoenas. They have claimed no executive privilege. They have cooperated. They have turned all the documents over. I have done everything I know to do.
But can I answer every question that anybody might ever ask me about something that happened 10, 15, 17 years ago on the spur of the moment and have total recall of all of that while trying to be President? No, sir, I cannot. But the special counsel has a process for dealing with that which would permit us to focus on the truly relevant questions and deal with it. And I have cooperated very well. I will continue to do that.
I will also do my best to give information to the press. But I would just like to point out that the people who asked for the special counsel asked for it and said, the president ought to do this so we can clear the air and he can go on and be president. Now the suggestion is, the implication of your remark, sir, is that instead of that, I should stop being president and do my homework on this issue.
Q All I was asking is what I should tell my daughter for her response, and I think the response was wonderful. And I thank you very much for it.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
Q We have time for one more question right here.
Q Mr. President, I'm Tom Dearmore (phonetic), retired from the San Francisco Examiner and a native of your home state.
THE PRESIDENT: Mountain Home (phonetic), Arkansas.
Q who used to long ago stir up lots of trouble in Arkansas.
THE PRESIDENT: You're still legendary down there, Mr. Dearmore (phonetic). (Laughter.)
Q My father helped run your campaign for Congress 20 years ago --
THE PRESIDENT: He sure did. And I'm grateful to him.
Q in northern county. But I'm leaping a long way from the Ozarks having leapt to Washington and San Francisco since then. I'm going to ask a question related to foreign affairs which is also a highly controversial matter domestically. And, as you probably know, the United Nations Commission right now is trying to formulate a 20-year plan for the spending of money the U.N. receives for population control. And as presently written, the plan calls for the use of abortion funds it receives only in cases of rape or incest.
The Associated Press reported last week that our State Department had protested that and wants it liberalized so that it can be used more or less across the board for population control. And I wonder if your administration really favors the unrestricted use by foreign countries of U.S. money that goes abroad for population control, for the unrestricted use for abortion, as in the case of some countries that perform these, of course, far into the third trimester? Do you favor any limitation at all on the use of American taxpayers' money for abortion --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. I do, and let me say first of all, I have asked -- I did about two days ago -- I saw a story on this, and I received a couple of letters about it. And I have asked to see the language that we are advocating and the language that it's in the present draft so that I can personally review it.
My position on this, I think, is pretty clear. I think at a minimum that we should not fund abortions when the child is capable of living outside the mother's womb. That's what we permit to be criminalized in America today under Roe against Wade. And, secondly, we should not, in any way, shape or form fund abortions if they are enforced on citizens by the government -- if they're against people's will.
There may be other restrictions I would favor, but I can just tell you that on the front end, I think that those are the two places where I would not support our funding going in. And so I think that we ought to be very careful in how we do this.
On the other hand, I don't necessarily think that we ought to write the Hyde Amendment into international law, because there are a lot of countries who have a very different view of this and whose religious traditions treat it differently.
So I think that there is some room between the original draft and where -- it appears, from the news reports, some folks in the State Department may be going to write a policy that most Americans can support. But I'm glad you brought it up.
I, myself, did not know about this until just a few days ago; and I have asked for a report, and I've asked to see the documents myself so I can get involved in it and at least try to have some influence on what happens. Of course, it's an international conference; we don't know exactly how it will come out in the end, and there will be countries and cultures that have widely clashing views on this.
But, anyway, I've answered you what I think.
Q Thank you.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much. (Applause.) We're looking forward to a more informal gathering with you Friday night.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm looking forward to it, too. Thank you. (Applause.)
END1:27 P.M. EDT