THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION The East Room
9:58 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. First, I want to welcome you back to the White House. For those of you who were here last night, Hillary and I enjoyed having you; it was a great dinner and we enjoyed the conversation and the entertainment and the fellowship.
There are two or three things I'd like to speak about this morning before turning the microphone over to Governor Dean and Governor Thompson and the Vice President. First, let me thank the executive committee for its vote yesterday on our stabilization measure for Mexico. And let me urge the NGA as a whole to support that executive committee recommendation.
The United States has a lot at stake in Mexico. We have hundreds of thousands of jobs that are tied to the success of the Mexican economy. It is now our third largest trading partner -- several billions of dollars a year. Our future cooperation and our ability to manage some very significant immigration problems could be affected by what is going on there, and the efforts that we are making to cooperate on the drug issue could obviously be affected by what is going on there.
I want to emphasize that the stabilization initiative is not a gift, not a loan, not a bailout; it is a loan guarantee. We are cosigning a note. We'll have good collateral. We're doing it because it's in the interest of the United States. I worked on it extensively this weekend, and I realize that it's not politically popular back home, it's a rather complex issue, but it is clearly in the interest of American workers, American businesses and the United States as a whole. So I thank the executive committee for your vote, and I hope the NGA as a whole will follow the recommendation of the executive committee.
The second thing I'd like to talk about is, very briefly, is the commitment that I made two years ago to have a better, stronger partnership with the states, to regulate less, to empower more, to try to push more responsibilities down to the state and local level. The Vice President will say a little more about that, and then tomorrow at the NGA I'll have a chance to speak in greater detail.
But we have worked not simply to reduce the size of the federal government -- although we have by over 100,000 already -- not just to reduce the burden of regulation, although we have in banking and interstate trucking and number of other areas; not just to reduce the cost, although we did; last year was the first time in 25 years when the Congress voted to reduce both domestic and defense spending, obviously, except for Social Security and the health care programs -- but also to try to move more responsibility to the states.
In the last two years, our administration, for example, granted more waivers in the area of health care and welfare reform than in the previous 12 years combined. And we want to do more of that. We also have worked very hard to try to help work through problems that have existed in the past with specific governmental agencies, and we want to do more of that. And as I said, the Vice President will have more to say about that.
We are strongly supporting the move to get unfunded mandates legislation passed in the Congress and are encouraged by the work that was done in the United States Senate where, as I remember, the bill passed 86-10 last week, after a really open and honest discussion of all appropriate amendments. The legislation is now moving through the House. I think there are about 100 amendments pending, but I think they will move through it in a fairly expeditious way, just as the Senate did.
With regard to the balanced budget amendment, it has passed the House, it is now in the Senate. I will say again what I've said all along here. It seems to me that the state legislators, the people and the governors have a right to know what is entailed in the time line if the effort is made. And I would hope that we would continue to take that right-to-know position. You have a right to know what happens, you have a right to know what happens if we protect Social Security, you have a right to know what happens if we protect Social Security and Medicare, you have a right to know what happens in the details of this.
We have cut $600 billion-plus off this deficit. I am going to give a budget in early February to the Congress which will take over $140 billion more in cuts. We have eliminated 100 programs, we have cut hundreds and hundreds of others. I want to keep bringing this deficit down, but I think we ought to all go into a change in the fundamental document of this country with our eyes wide open and knowing that the consequences are.
The third thing I'd like to talk about, briefly, is welfare reform. For those of you who were present at the Saturday meeting, I want to thank you again for being there. It reminded me very much of the process that we went through in 1987 and 1988 when we had a Republican president and a Democratic Congress, and a bipartisan group of governors. And we worked in '87 and '88 toward the passage of the Family Support Act.
I thought it worked then; I think it will work now, if we all work in good faith. We agreed that welfare has to be reformed; that the most important thing is to change it from a system which fosters dependence to one that fosters work and independence; that we ought to support education where it is needed; and that we ought to support responsible parenting.
We agreed that, as we try to put more of the operational decisions back to the state and local level, there must be some strong national steps taken on child support enforcement, because so many of those orders are multi-state in their impact, and because we are doing such a bad job as a country now, in collecting child support which should properly be paid to children.
We agreed that there must be more state and local flexibility; we agreed that there ought to be an effort to reduce teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, generally. Governor Carper gave a very moving presentation of what is going on in Delaware, and as you know, I announced in my State of the Union that we would make a national effort on this which we'll have more to say about in the next few days.
We did not reach final agreement on the questions of how the partnership should be structured; what the implications of a block grant would be; and what, in specific terms, the national interest is in preserving the welfare of the children of this country. I have to say that I basically am in favor, as I always have been, of maximum flexibility for the states; I was a strong supporter of the Community Development Block Grant Program, for example, when I served as a Governor. But we do have a national interest in protecting the welfare and the possibilities of our children.
In 1985, for the very first time in our history, at least since we've been keeping such statistics, the elderly became less poor than the rest of the population because of the cost of living adjustments and Social Security; because of supplemental security income; because of Medicare. That is something I think we're all proud of.
The flip side of that is that the poverty population itself has stayed the same, or has actually increased, and almost all the poor now are little children, and their not very well educated parents by in large. So we do have a national interest in the welfare of these children and in changing the welfare system so that it promotes responsibility and lifts people up, without punishing children who were not the cause of the problems that they face in life. That, it seems to me, is the dividing line that we have to be animated by as we try to forge this new partnership. I'm excited about it; I think we can do it.
We must pass welfare reform this year and it has got to be real, meaningful, different and better and broader than anything we've ever done before, and it ought to give you a great deal of flexibility out of -- if nothing else, out of a sense of sheer simple humility that no one has all the answers to deal with these difficult riddles that threaten the stability of our families and the future of our kids.
So I am encouraged by where we are, I thank you again for the Executive Committee resolution on Mexico. We are going to work with you to further the partnership between the states and the federal government, and we must pass welfare reform this year, but it ought to be the right kind with the right results.
END 10:06 A.M. EST