THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION
The Roosevelt Room
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I want to talk to you today about the New Covenant I discussed in the State of the Union. My mission as President is to restore the American Dream to all of our people. In the new economy of the 21st century, that requires a New Covenant between the people and their government, and among the people themselves.
This is something I've been talking about for many years, since I ran for President. The New Covenant is grounded in an old idea that all Americans have not just a right, but a responsibility to do the hard work needed to rise as far as their talents and determination can take them, and to give something back to their community and to their country in return.
Opportunity and responsibility -- they go hand in hand. We can't have one without the other; and we can't have a strong community without both. We've worked hard to create more economic opportunity for our people in the last two years, bringing the deficit down, investing in education and new technology, expanding trade. We've gotten more than 6 million -- or almost 6 million new jobs, the fastest growth in 10 years and the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation in 25 years. That's good news.
But America's still got a lot of problems. There are still interests of people and values of people that are not being furthered. And there's really no better example of the need for us to build a New Covenant together than the failed welfare system. Today's welfare system doesn't provide enough opportunity, and it certainly doesn't require enough responsibility. It's a system so badly broken that it undermines the very values -- work, family and responsibility -- people must have to put themselves back on track. We've got to return those values front and center.
Our job in government is to expand opportunity, not bureaucracy, and then to empower people to make the most of their own lives. We must not ask, and government should not provide, what we really must do for ourselves.
I've worked on this issue of welfare reform for a very long time now, since I first became governor of Arkansas over 15 years ago. I know there are a lot of different ideas about what we should do. But everyone agrees the system is broken and it needs to be fixed. I'm committed to making welfare what it was meant to be -- a second chance, not a way of life. I'm committed to making sure that the only goal of the welfare system is to help people get off of it, into a job where they can support themselves and their families. I believe we should give people the opportunity to move from dependence to independence, providing job training and child care if that's what they need for up to two years. At the same time, we must demand that people accept responsibility for themselves. After two years, anyone who can work must work. And if a parent doesn't pay child support, that person should be forced to pay. People who have children must be prepared to take responsibility for them.
We should require work and responsibility, but we shouldn't cut people off just because they're poor or young or unmarried. We should promote responsibility by requiring young mothers to live at home with their parents or in appropriate supervised settings, and to finish school; but we shouldn't put them and their children on the street. I don't believe we should punish people because they happen to be poor or because of past mistakes. And absolutely, we shouldn't punish children for their parents' mistakes. All of us have made our mistakes, and none of us can change our yesterdays. But every one of us can change our tomorrows. That's what welfare reform should be all about.
And one more thing -- Washington doesn't have all the answers. In fixing welfare, as on so many other issues, we have to shift resources and decision-making back to states and local communities. The welfare system shouldn't be centralized in Washington, dispensing services through large bureaucracies. We've got to shift more responsibilities back to the citizens of this country.
We've made a good start on this over the last two years. We've already given 23 states the right to slash through federal rules and regulations to reform their own welfare systems. Last year we introduced the most sweeping welfare reform plan ever presented by an administration. Today, at the White House, I'm hosting an all-day working session on welfare reform including governors, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, people on welfare and people who have worked their way off. I'm determined to work with all of them to pass welfare reform, and I hope we can make some progress today.
This is a complex and sometimes divisive issue. But if we put partisanship aside, we can come together and solve it around some simple and important values -- moving from dependence to independence; from welfare to work; from childbearing to responsible parenting. Let this be the year we end welfare as we know it. And let it also be the year we are all able to stop using this issue to divide America. That should be our commitment. The American people deserve nothing less.
Thanks for listening.