View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                       (Los Angeles, California)

For Immediate Release May 21, 1994


                       Acosta Sports Center
                     Los Angeles, California

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Hillary and I join our nation in mourning the loss of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She inspired all of us with her grace and courage. She loved art and culture, all the things that express the better angels of our nature.

She and President Kennedy made people believe that change for the better is possible, that public service is a noble calling, and that we ought to be about the business of building our country up, not tearing it down or pulling it apart.

This is a time of considerably more cynicism and pessimism, when harsh rhetoric and division and distraction and outright destruction sometimes dominates discussion of public issues. But it is well today to remember the examples of President and Mrs. Kennedy. They changed our lives for the better because they helped us to believe we could change for the better. That is still true. It is ultimately pointless and self-defeating to believe any other way.

Today I want to talk about two things we can all do to change our future for the better -- improving our economy and solving the health care crisis in America.

Although we're still in the dawn of our economic recovery, we've clearly begun to turn the economy around, to set the stage for long-term and sustainable economic growth. The deficit is down. Inflation and unemployment are down. Growth, the stock market, jobs and consumer confidence are all up.

In the first 15 months of our administration nearly 3 million jobs were created, over 90 percent of them in the private sector, more than in the previous four years combined.

When Congress passes our budget this year we'll have three years of declining deficits for the first time since Harry Truman was President. With our effort to reinvent the government to do more with less, we're reducing the size of the federal payroll by over 250,000 people. And when it's done, we'll have the smallest federal government in over 30 years, since Kennedy was President. And all the savings will go into pay for the crime bill for safer streets, for more punishment, 100,000 more police officers on our street, and an aggressive prevention strategy to give our young people something to say yes to, to turn away from a life of violence. We're investing in new technologies and in new trade opportunities for all the things Americans make.

What's most important to me is that inside these statistics there's good news about real people -- an entrepreneur hanging out a shingle for the first time; a worker getting a raise for the first time in years; a person finding a new job after having been out of work for months and months; a parent finally able to buy toys for a baby. Economic security is our first major battle, one we're still fighting in places like California where too many communities have not yet tasted the fruits of recovery.

But the economic battle will never be fully won until we face our second great crisis, reforming a health care system that costs too much and does too little. Health care now is the only part of our federal budget that is really contributing to the deficit. And still millions are trapped in a system that offers them no coverage or because of previous illnesses, costs them too much or means that they can never change jobs.

After 60 years of fits and starts, of roadblocks and dead-ends, we're finally making real progress toward comprehensive health care reform. This week, for the first time ever, the relevant committees of Congress in both Houses have begun to review and modify our proposal to guarantee all Americans private health insurance; to give small businesses, farmers and self-employed people the ability to buy insurance like big business and government can today.

Their action follows more than a year and a half of debate and discussion in town hall meetings, in doctors offices, hospitals and around kitchen tables. There have been twists and turns along the way. There are not doubt more ahead. But steadily our country is moving closer to a goal, passing major health care reform legislation this year. And as with the economy, the victory of passing health care reform will be a victory for America's families.

As I've traveled our country, I've heard firsthand from some of the more than 1 million people who have written to Hillary and to me, describing their problems with the current health care system. Each of these letters is a little different, but the message is always the same: Do something, and do it soon. Some people say we should wait awhile and study the issue further. To them I say, we've studied it quite a lot already. Many members of Congress have studied it for years. And you ought to come to the White House and read these letters if you want to wait.

Read the letter from the mother who was forced to sell her home and go on welfare just to provide medical benefits to a sick son; the letter from a nurse who had to leave the bedside of a cancer patient to attend a meeting on how to fill out even new insurance forms; the one from a little boy who was afraid to tell his parents he felt sick because he knew they couldn't afford a visit to the doctor; the thousands of letters about people who have been sick or had someone in their family sick so they can't get insurance or they have to pay more than they can afford, or they can never change jobs; and the hundreds of letters from small businesspeople who are paying 35 percent to 40 percent more than they ought to be paying for coverage that's inadequate.

Now, for 60 years presidents of both parties have tried to do something to fix this health care system, to solve its problems without hurting what's best about our health care system. We don't need to wait any longer. The committees in Congress are well on the way to passing a bill that will make the health care nightmares detailed in these letters a thing of the past.

Of course, there will be obstacles ahead. There are genuine disagreements. It's a complicated subject. But we can surmount these obstacles. We know there are models today that are like what we're trying to do -- models of managed competition in places like Minnesota, where 91 percent of the people have coverage, it's of high quality, and the cost increases are much lower than they are in the rest of the country. Or models like the new small business cooperative in California, where over 2,300 small businesses, representing 40,000 employees, have joined together to buy health insurance that's lower in cost for the same or better coverage for everyone.

In 1935, Congress passed Social Security after much of the same debate we read about today in the press -- people saying that it would wreck the economy; that it would be terrible; that it was not the right thing to do. But from that day forward, older Americans knew they could face retirement in old age with dignity.

In 1965, Congress passed Medicare, guaranteeing that people over 65 would never again be bankrupted by medical bills they couldn't pay. Again, there were those who said it would just be a terrible thing for the country. Now we're all proud of the fact that older Americans are less poor than the rest of us and don't have to worry about their health care.

We're closer than ever before to making 1994 the year that Congress makes history once again by guaranteeing Americans private health insurance that can never be taken away.

Let's work together now to tone down the divisive rhetoric, to stop the shouting, to starting talking with each other, listening to each other, and working with our sleeves rolled up and our heads and hearts engaged in the job.

We can get this done this year. We will get it done this year with your help. Tell the Congress to move and move now. We can do it. America needs it.

Thanks for listening.