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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 17, 1997
                            TO THE NATION

The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: This morning, I want to talk about our new balanced budget agreement, and the way it expands opportunity through education so that we can keep the American Dream alive for all our children.

When I took office four and a half years ago, America faced growing deficits as far as the eye could see. It was a time of economic stagnation and rising unemployment. We moved quickly to put in place a policy of invest and grow -- cutting the deficit, investing in our people and opening new markets around the world through tough trade agreements. And the results of that strategy are now clear: 12 million new jobs, the highest economic growth in a decade, the lowest unemployment in 24 years, the lowest inflation of any administration in 30 years, the largest decline in income inequality since the 1960s.

We proved that we make the tough decisions to put our fiscal house in order, while still protecting America's values, especially through education. Even while we were cutting the deficit by 77 percent, we were expanding Head Start, increasing scholarships and student loans, and lowering the cost of paying back those loans.

To keep our economy strong we must keep that strategy in place. That is why I am so proud that we have reached a bipartisan agreement to balance the federal budget for the first time since President Johnson was in the White House. It brings the deficit down to zero over the next five years, but it also reflects our values -- preserving and protecting Medicare and Medicaid, expanding health coverage to five million uninsured children, protecting the environment, and helping move people from welfare to work, providing tax relief for families.

All of those values are important. But, to me, the very heart of this balanced budget agreement is its historic investment in education. This agreement includes the most significant increase in education funding in 30 years. Even more important, it provides the single largest increase in higher education since the G.I. Bill in 1945, the landmark legislation that gave opportunity to millions of Americans and gave birth to our great middle class. That was my goal for this budget -- to dramatically expand opportunity through education, to give all our children the tools to succeed.

Education has always been the heart of opportunity in this country. And it is the embodiment of everything we must do to prepare for the 21st century. Nothing will do more to open the doors of opportunity to every American and prepare them for unimagined new work and careers. Nothing will do more to instill a sense of responsibility in every American as they work to make the most of their education. And nothing will do more to build a strong, united community of all Americans -- for if we all have the tools to succeed, we can move forward together, as one America.

That is why I insisted that America's balanced budget also be an education budget. I am pleased to say that it meets that test. While it puts our fiscal house in order, this agreement opens the schoolhouse door wider than ever before. If Congress holds firm to the basic agreement we have reached -- the details of which are already moving through Congress at an expedited pace -- we will go a long way toward preparing our children for the 21st century.

The balanced budget agreement will fund our America Reads challenge, which will mobilize one million volunteer reading tutors to ensure that every 8-year-old can pick up a book and say, "I can read it myself." It includes our Technology Literacy Initiative, which will help us finish the job of wiring every classroom and school library to the Internet by the year 2000, so that children in the poorest inner-city school districts and in the most remote rural schools have access to the same vast store of knowledge.

It includes $35 billion in tax relief for higher education -- including our HOPE Scholarship tuition tax credit and our $10,000 education tax deduction. It includes the largest increase in Pell Grant scholarships for deserving students in three decades. At the same time, it expands Head Start, increases job training, and preserves our commitment to school-to-work initiatives, to help give young people the skills they need to succeed when they finish school.

The bipartisan agreement we have reached not only gives us the first balanced budget in a generation, it also helps millions of children learn to read; it gives millions of American tax cuts to pay for college; it gives hundreds of thousands more students Pell Grant scholarships, and it helps tens of thousands of schools wire their classrooms to the Internet.

Now I urge Congress: pass the biggest and best education bill in America's history; pass the balanced budget. If both parties stay true to this historic agreement -- if we have the courage to eliminate the deficit, while significantly expanding education -- we will enter the 21st century stronger, and better-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

For the first time in decades, we are strong enough to truly prepare ourselves for the 21st century -- to help our children achieve the full promise of the global economy, the Information Age, and life-enhancing new technology.

The key is education, and this balanced budget agreement provides it. Now let's seize this historic opportunity, and shape the future we deserve.

Thanks for listening.