THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
RADIO ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION
The Oval Office
10:06 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Last week I spoke to you about the need for Congress to pass reforms to end welfare as we know it. I want Congress to send me a bill that requires work, demands responsibility, and provides the child care people need to move from welfare to work.
This issue is now before the U.S. Senate. The truth is Republicans and Democrats alike know what's needed to get this job done. A majority of senators in both parties agree with me that welfare reform must require everyone who can work to go to work. We agree on the need for the toughest possible child support enforcement. And we agree that no one who can work should be able to stay on welfare forever. So we are close.
Congress could put a bill on my desk, a good bill, within the next few weeks. After a generation of debate, we have a chance, finally, to do what's right for the taxpayers who pay for a failed welfare system, and for the people who are trapped by it. But in recent days we've seen unsettling signs that progress could fall to gridlock. This week, Republican leaders said that a threat from the far right in their own party could keep them from passing a welfare reform bill this year. A handful of senators are threatening to hold welfare reform hostage to their own political views. They're threatening to block a vote on any bill that doesn't cut off all help to children whose mothers are poor, young and unmarried.
I believe their position is wrong. Republican and Democratic governors also strongly oppose Washington telling them to throw children off the rolls simply because their parents are under 18 and unmarried. And the Catholic Church has taken a very strong position on this, fearing that to cut young people under 18 and their children off welfare would lead to more abortions.
This approach also would punish the innocent children of unmarried teenagers for the mistakes of their parents. This might cut spending on welfare, but it wouldn't reform welfare to promote work and responsible parenting. That's why so many Republicans and Democrats oppose it.
The threat of the senators to take this extreme position and block this welfare reform effort is just wrong. We've come a long way in the welfare reform debate in the last few years. Not so very long ago, many liberals opposed requiring all welfare recipients who can work to do so. And not so long ago, most conservatives thought the government shouldn't spend money on child care to give welfare mothers a chance to go to work and still be good parents. Now we have a broad consensus from both. We should do both, and we shouldn't allow welfare reform to be held prisoner to ideological political debates.
I ran for President to bring new opportunity to the American people and demand more responsibility in return. That's what I call the New Covenant. And welfare reform is a crucial part of this effort. We are now at an historic moment. The failure to pass welfare reform this year would be a disservice to the American people. It shouldn't become another victim to the politics of gridlock. Republicans and Democrats alike have a real responsibility to bring real change to Washington, and a bipartisan majority in the Senate is prepared to vote for a welfare reform bill with time limits and real work requirements, and without moralistic dictates that will do more harm than good.
A few days ago, in a speech at Georgetown University, I said our leaders have to stop looking only for political advantage and start looking for common ground. I challenged our leaders to do four things:
First, we need more conversation and less combat. So let's settle our differences on welfare reform without resorting to legislative trench warfare designed to stop real reform at any cost.
Second, when we do differ, we ought to offer an alternative. When the vast majority of Americans and members of Congress agree on an issue like welfare reform, a small minority shouldn't be able to get away with "just say no" politics.
Third, we ought to look at our problems with a view toward the long-term. Moving people from welfare to work will save a lot more money in the long run than throwing children off the rolls. They'll be in trouble and they'll cost us a lot of money in the long run, and a lot of our national life as well. We are never going to end welfare unless people have the training and child care to be good workers and good parents.
And, finally, we shouldn't just berate the worst in America, we ought to spend more time concentrating on the best. That's what I have done, by giving 29 states the freedom from burdensome federal government regulations so they can lead the way in helping to find new ways to end welfare.
The only way our country can meet the profound challenges of the 21st century and the global economy is if we all pull together and we all look forward. We don't have a person to waste. That's why welfare reform is so critical. We can't afford to filibuster away our future.
So I say to those in Congress who have joined me in demanding responsibility from people on welfare, you have a responsibility, too. Don't place pride of partisanship ahead of our national pride. Don't pander to the partisan extremes. Let's not let politics stand in the way of making work and responsibility a way of life for the next generation.
Thanks for listening.
END 10:11 A.M. EDT