THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION MEETING
9:50 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Governor Miller, Governor Voinovich; good morning to all the governors who are here. It was wonderful to see all of you last night, and I'm glad to welcome you back to the White House.
This is an unusual opportunity for our country and for every state. The nation is strong; we are at peace; we have extraordinary prosperity. But we know we're living through a time of great change in the way we work, in the way we live, the way we relate to each other; that there are significant challenges which if not faced will have destructive consequences for our nation in the years ahead.
So as we stand on the edge of this new century and this profoundly new era, we have a unique opportunity and a common responsibility which is to take action together to try to prepare this country not just for the next four years, but for the next 50 years.
In the State of the Union Address tomorrow night I'm going to lay out the challenges that I see not only for the President and the Congress, but also for the states and local communities and private citizens. Because there will be a great deal in that speech about the states and the issues of education and welfare reform and other issues of common concern, I want to invite any of you who can stay to stay tomorrow night and to come into the chamber of the Capitol and sit as a group, as many as would like to stay, and be there at the State of the Union Address.
I know that many of you have concerns about welfare reform or Medicare spending or education or the environment, transportation. I'm looking forward to addressing those concerns, beginning today at this meeting, but also every day for the next four years. I want every one of you to feel that you can always call this White House and you will have someone, even if we don't always agree, who understands your concerns and will do his best to address them. And I thank you.
GOVERNOR MILLER: Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, for having us over to discuss the issues and concerns of the moment. And we, again, appreciated last night's dinner, and the fact that we're back here today indicates that you haven't completed the inventory on missing silverware. (Laughter.)
I want to also thank you for the wonderful weather that we're seeing here -- it has not been true in parts of the country, especially in the western part, where I'm from. As you know, we've had the worst floods in the history of Nevada some months ago. We were delighted with the response from Mr. Witt and FEMA. I think they are a landmark of what cooperation should be between federal agencies and state and local government. And I very much appreciated your personal phone call assuring me that you would build bridges for people to cross. However, I think we will be dry again before the 21st century, so that part might not be necessary.
The relationship between the states and the federal government I think has been reexamined very carefully by yourself and your administration the last four years. And much of the obstacles that faced the states four years ago are no longer as paramount as they were because of your leadership. The dramatic improvement in the operation of FEMA is perhaps a premiere example, granting waivers to individuals with Medicare, empowering the states to move forward in what has now been successful welfare reform, and other imbalances are issues that we feel are critical in discussion with you and we would like to discuss all of those.
But, as you will recall, last March you attended with us an education summit in Palisades, New York, in which we set a tone for what we believe is critical to the future of this country, and that is enhancement in the quality of education, from standards, assessments, and accountability. We intend to continue to pursue that, look forward to your leadership and working with you on those issues. And in this particular conference, we intend to expand that scope to include the earliest years of life and a recognition that in those first several years, from zero to three, or by some accounts, four or five, there are many components of involvement that we are lacking at this point in time, and I think is part of the picture of raising the next generation, which I know is of concern to you.
So we thank you for your time, your interest, and the open dialogue you always provide us.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
GOVERNOR VOINOVICH: Yes, thank you, Mr. President. We're pleased to be here again, and I was thinking last night -- thank you for the wonderful evening -- that when I first came here in '91 you were the governor of Arkansas and Bush was President, and your party controlled both the House and the Senate, and we had 17 Republican governors. And today, you're the President, we have 32 Republican governors, and our party controls the House and the Senate. And I think that the real question that --
THE PRESIDENT: Most Democrats would think that was a bad swap. (Laughter.)
GOVERNOR VOINOVICH: Bob Miller said earlier that he thought it was pretty good. (Laughter.)
But I think the question really is, can we work together and find common ground to move things ahead. I think that all of us recognize that if we're going to be successful, we have to work together, that we do have a symbiotic relationship with each other.
This organization has some very specific goals that we want to achieve in our Governors Agenda for the 105th Congress we talk about government that works harder and smarter and invests in the future, is one that demands efficiency in delivering services, ensures that benefits of federal programs out-weigh the costs, restores public confidence in government by devolving more responsibility to the states and making programs better fit diverse communities; and last, protects long-term investments critical of the future of our country such as programs that promote children's healthy development and school readiness and an effective national transportation system.
Now, we can't get that done without you. Yesterday your Chief of Staff was in talking to us about your eight goals and what you want to achieve. And it was very interesting -- the first two dealt with our deficiency or financial deficit, and the other was the human deficit. And all the other ones kind of fit in to those two things -- human and financial deficits. And I just listened and I thought to myself, you can't get what you want done unless we cooperate with you.
And one of the things that all of us are concerned about is that we've got some 600 categorical programs today on the federal level that serve basically the same people, and isn't there a way that we can deliver services to those people in a better way? Can we rationalize, can we consolidate, and do this not just in the environment of budget deficit reduction, but perhaps maybe sitting down with you and some task force and start going through these things? And can we do this over a period of time so we can do a better job of keeping our costs down and delivering services to the people that we all represent?
And I really believe, Mr. President, that if we could do that during the next four years that that could be the most significant legacy that you could leave this country, and perhaps maybe the most significant domestic legacy that any President has accomplished this century. And I just want you to know that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, want to work with you to see if we can achieve our mutual goals and thereby help our fellow citizens.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mr. President, Governor Miller, Governor Voinovich, governors, members of the Cabinet and the key members of the President's staff: I'll be speaking to the governors this afternoon on behalf of the President, and so I will not do anything other than make a brief point here this morning.
These meetings, as those of you who have been here during the last four years know, are really unusual compared to those conducted by any other President in my memory. And those of us who work closely with President Clinton have come to believe that when all of you all come to town and come in here and sit around this table, he relives his time as governor of Arkansas and gets completely back into the perspective of a chief executive of a state.
In any event, it is that perspective that has been brought to bear in our work on reinvention. And, Governor Voinovich, you mentioned the need for further reinvention. We wholeheartedly agree. Governor Miller, you were kind enough to cite FEMA as an example of some of the reinvention that has already taken place. In the budget that the President is going to present in his State of the Union, he will find an acceleration of the reinvention agenda. I just wanted to briefly say this morning that it is going to be pursued, pursuant to the President's instructions, in a way that does not limit the flexibility that you have as governors to proceed with the reinvention efforts that you have underway.
There are difficulties, because never before has the federal government downsized in anything like the way it has during these last four years -- 285,000 fewer people on the federal payroll. That downsizing will continue. And there will be significant additions to it -- the elimination and consolidation of more than a hundred lower-priority programs and offices and agencies, and that will continue.
In any event, we look forward to working closely with you in all of these matters, and I look forward to hearing the President lead this discussion that will commence right now.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
END 10:02 A.M. EST