THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION The Roosevelt Room
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week we celebrated the creation of four million new jobs in America since I became President on a platform to renew the American Dream by restoring our economy, empowering individual Americans to compete and win in it, making government work for ordinary citizens and rebuilding our communities.
Since we started our national economic strategy, our private sector is creating jobs nearly eight times faster than it was four years ago. It hasn't been easy to make these changes. We had to make some tough decisions to put our economic house in order. We had to break the bad habits that led to mismanagement of our economy and the explosion of our deficit for more than a decade. And we had to break through all of the partisan barriers and political rhetoric that too often keeps us from doing the right thing for the American people here in Washington, D.C.
Today I want to talk with you about two other historic decisions that call on us to break through partisan barriers and political rhetoric again. For, very soon, Congress will vote on both health care reform and the crime bill -- two issues crucial to our mission of renewing the American Dream.
I want to talk to you about two young Americans whose stories are the best arguments I've heard for why we have to fix what's wrong with our health care system and make our country safer again for all Americans.
One of those young people is Amanda Stewart from Keyes, Oklahoma. This week, I gave awards to four young people who have done heroic deeds or performed remarkable public service. Amanda was one of them. She was injured in a car wreck in 1990 and paralyzed from the chest down. This wonderful young lady could have given up on life. Instead of becoming bitter or defeated, she's devoted herself to educating other young people not to drink and drive, not to ride with people who do, and to always use seat belts. She's helping others to avoid what happened to her.
I met Amanda's family. Her father is a hard-working farmer in western Oklahoma. She has a lovely mother and a wonderful younger sister. She hasn't had any significant medical costs since just after her accident four years ago. The Stewarts have been paying $3,400 a year for a limited health insurance policy with a high deductible. But recently they were told that this month their insurance premiums were going to be raised to $9,600 a year.
Now, Amanda's father happens to be not only a farmer, but a Republican. He's in a different party from me and he made it clear to me that he doesn't want the national government to give him anything. But he's got a family to raise and he has no idea how he's going to keep paying for their health insurance. He said to me that if he couldn't take care of his family as hard as he was working, something was wrong in this country.
People like Amanda and her family are the reason we have to guarantee private, not government, health insurance for every American. Insurance that's always there. It's time to do what's right by those people. We're going in the wrong direction now. There are five million Americans just like Amanda's family who had insurance five years ago who don't have it today. Almost every one of them are working people and their children. We can do better, and we must.
It's also time we do what's right for young people like James Darby, the nine-year-old boy from New Orleans who wrote me last April. He asked me to do something about the crime rate. He asked me to stop the killing, because he was afraid that someone might kill him. And just nine days later, walking home from a Mother's Day picnic, little James Darby was shot in the head and killed.
Well, nine days ago, after six years of delay, a bipartisan committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives reconciled their differences on the smartest, toughest crime bill in the history of this country, and sent the bill back to be voted on for final passage in both Houses of Congress. It took a lot of work. It's a bipartisan effort and has been every step of the way. Both Democrats and Republicans have voted for every part of it. Three strikes and you're out, and tougher punishments for other tough criminals. A hundred thousand new police officers on our street. That's a 20 percent increase all across America. A ban on deadly assault weapons. A law that makes it illegal for minors to own and possess handguns. New prisons to keep hardened criminals in. And billions for new, effective prevention programs to give our young people something to say yes to, not just something to say no to.
Nine days ago when the bill was sent to both Houses for final passage, I thought it would pass quickly and be sent to my desk for signing. But it still hasn't happened. Here's the one last hurdle: You see, before the House of Representatives can vote on a bill, it must agree on the rules for debate about the bill. There are 435 members of the House and they have to have some rules to limit debate. In shorthand, this is called "the rule." "The rule" is purely a procedural matter, but it must be voted on before the final bill can pass.
Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association, which is opposed to the assault weapons ban in the bill, and some other interests are trying to keep the crime bill from passing by defeating "the rule." They're putting pressure on members of Congress to kill the crime bill in a trick maneuver, because they know that once the bill itself gets to a vote, it will surely pass.
You know, we had a tough fight with the NRA over the ban on assault weapons. And those of us who think they should be banned won by only two votes. But we won fair and square. No parliamentary trick should reverse that result and put the rest of that important crime bill in peril.
Now, some members of Congress honestly oppose the crime bill. They're against the assault weapons ban or they're against the capital punishment provisions of the bill, or they're against spending money on prevention programs to give our kids a better future. Well, let them vote against the bill. Let them vote their conscience. But the NRA and the others should come out of the shadows. They ought to fight this bill on the merits.
If they really want a shootout, we really ought to have it at broad daylight and high noon, not in the shadows of parliamentary maneuvering. No one should play any more political games with our nation's safety.
Nine days after nine-year-old James Darby wrote me saying he was worrying about his safety and pleading with his President to help, he was shot dead. Nine days ago, the House and the Senate got the crime bill. There are lots of other little James Darbys out there, and they've waited long enough.
For Amanda Stewart and her fine family, for James Darby, for every American child and for all of their families and their futures, let's stop playing games with these two important issues. Let's get the job done.
Thanks for listening.