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Office of the Vice President


Remarks of the Vice President
(As Prepared for Delivery)
DLC National Conversation Speech
Watergate Hotel, Friday, July 18, 1997

I want to begin by thanking Al From, the true guiding light of the DLC. Al has done an enormous amount to change the debate in our party, through the sheer force of his ideas, and through his tireless commitment to moving past the old labels and categories to find what really works in American government.

I'm also grateful to Will Marshall, who has served as a true conscience of the New Democratic movement, and who has made the Progressive Policy Institute one of the most vital centers of ideas and action in this country.

My fellow New Democrats: we hold this national conversation at a time of change and choices. Change because the world around us is being transformed faster than ever before in our history. Choices because we, as a party and as a nation, must now decide whether we will embrace that change, with all the promise and possibility it brings, or fight vainly against it.

This question may be new for our generation -- but it's one that our party and country have faced at every critical turning point in our history. And the Democratic Party has survived for more than two centuries because at almost all those crucial moments, we've had the courage to embrace change -- to meet new challenges in bold and creative ways, while staying true to the core values that have always sustained us, and given us hope and strength.

We are, and always will be, the party of Thomas Jefferson -- proclaiming that every person is equal in the eyes of our creator. We are, and always will be, the party of Franklin Roosevelt -- bringing hope, opportunity, and economic prosperity to the nation. We are, and always will be, the party of John Kennedy -- summoning new generations to service, and citizenship, and a deep responsibility to one another.

And thanks to many in this room, we are, and always will be, the party of William Jefferson Clinton -- giving people the tools to make the most of their own lives; balancing the rights of citizenship with its profound responsibilities; defending our oldest, deepest values of work, family, and community as we move into a new economy and century.

Make no mistake: to be a New Democrat is to stand in the broad sweep of our party's proudest history and best traditions. President Franklin Roosevelt said it best: "It shall be the task of our party to break with foolish traditions."

Starting in 1993, we broke with plenty of foolish traditions -- of the Republican Party, and of our own. In doing so, we began to forge strong and sensible new traditions -- and they are serving this nation well.

Today, we're not only a party of change, we're a changed party. Think back to the agenda we set out back in Cleveland six years ago -- a package of impossible dreams, on the brink of an unwinnable election. But now, those dreams have become reality for millions of Americans:

Cutting taxes through the Earned Income Tax Credit, to lift hard-working families out of poverty -- a DLC idea, now law. Creating AmeriCorps, to include service among the obligations of citizenship -- a DLC idea, now law. Making welfare a second chance, not a way of life -- a DLC idea, now law. The toughest child support enforcement ever, to demand the responsibility that comes with parenthood -- a DLC idea, now law. Community policing, so police officers become part of the neighborhood, and stop crime before it starts -- a DLC idea, now law. Family and Medical Leave, so parents can succeed both at home and at work -- a DLC idea, now law. More than 200 free and fair trade agreements, to give our workers more markets in which to shine. Reinventing Government so it works better and costs less. Both DLC ideas -- both making a powerful impact on our government and our economy. Together, we have turned this country around -- and made an enormous difference to our families and our future.

These ideas are changing not only America, but increasingly, nations around the world -- because these are ideas that don't just win at the polls, they work for the people. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Blair and New Labor have taken up the mantle of opportunity, responsibility, and community -- renewing their country, just as we renewed our own. Throughout Europe, and in many other parts of the world, progressive parties are embracing DLC ideas, and putting them into practice. Let there be no doubt: this isn't an interest group -- it's a movement.

As we all know, none of this happened overnight -- and none of it happened without a fight. For decades, this town was used to recycling tired old proposals, and then pointing fingers when they failed. Bill Clinton and I offered a new approach. Our message, crafted with your considerable help, was simple: let's take what works, junk what doesn't, and then get the job done. It was an approach worth fighting for.

Our first big fight was about the economy. We knew we couldn't even begin to prepare for the future until we'd cleaned up the economic mess created by previous administrations that passed the buck when they should have been passing tough, responsible budgets. They left us deficits of $300 billion a year, a quadrupled national debt, and a triple-dip recession -- with rising unemployment and crime, and declining investment and hope for the future. We changed all that in 1993, despite powerful, organized opposition. Our economic plan, based on the thinking of many in this room, merged three elements that had never been combined before: real fiscal responsibility, targeted investments in our people, and an unprecedented push for free and fair trade.

Because we were willing to fight for our new ideas -- because Americans worked hard and shed old ways of thinking -- our economy is now the strongest in a generation, and a model for the rest of the world. Indeed, Fortune magazine says that it's not only the best economy in a generation, it's "stronger than it's ever been before." Whether that praise is justified or not, here are the facts: 12.5 million new jobs. The highest economic growth in a decade. The greatest consumer confidence in 28 years. Incomes that are finally increasing across the board, after a long and painful decline. A stock market that has increased 150%. More small businesses in each of the last four years than in any years in American history. The lowest African-American unemployment in history. Unemployment that has fallen to historic lows -- all without a single trace of inflation.

With this economic strategy, we've done much, much more than just clean up the mess of the previous 12 years. We've really laid the foundation for the new economy -- an economy that's not just better and stronger than the old one, but very different as well. It's an economy driven by information, research, and technology. The new economy values the productivity and creativity of our people above all else. The new economy is connected to the global marketplace, where we zap dollars, deutschemarks, and data around the world at the speed of light.

Of course, when we talk about this new economy, we're not just talking about high-speed data, or mind-boggling technology, or unprecedented opportunities to sell our wares on every continent. We're really talking about our children and our families, right here at home -- what will give them the best future, and the greatest chance to reach their potential and make the most of their lives. We're talking about renewing the American dream itself -- to make certain that the promise of America is always available to those willing to shoulder the responsibilities of Americans.

To strengthen those old values in a new economy, we once again need new thinking. From Jefferson to Jackson, from FDR to JFK, our party has always been at its best when it has met the challenge of change. That is the reason that we meet here today as the Democratic Leadership Council -- and not the Whig Leadership Council.

There are some who will fight us as we embrace change once again, just as they did when the agricultural age gave way to the industrial age. But today, on the eve of the new century, it is time to recognize that virtually all Americans -- whether they work on farms, or on factory floors, or in high-tech labs -- are, in one way or another, part of the new, knowledge economy, relying on new skills and technology to be more innovative and productive. That is why the critical task for our party is to make sure that in this new economy, everyone has the tools they need to succeed -- if they're willing to work for it.

More and more, the women and men of this new economy understand and harness the power of technology for our nation's future. They're in Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle, of course. But they're also the unionized mechanics and engineers who work on the airplanes of the future. They're the nurses who rely on computers to monitor their patients. They're the bank tellers who use computer terminals to handle transactions. Their numbers are rising rapidly in every state. Take one example: in California, knowledge workers now comprise more than half the entire workforce.

The Institute for the New California and Morley Winograd, who is here today, have taught us even more about today's knowledge workers. They work in unstructured teams rather than top-down hierarchies. They are empowered to make crucial decisions for themselves. Powerful computers and new technology give them more freedom and flexibility on the job -- but these workers also show greater teamwork, and a greater sense of community -- because they are forced to solve new problems together, and work and think in new and creative ways.

There's an important lesson to be learned here. Just as the new workplace creates an environment where people can make the most of their own potential, we need a government that creates that same kind of opportunity, and embodies those same values: no heavy-handed, top-down solutions; more choice; more teamwork; more responsibility for oneself, and for others; more emphasis on giving people the tools to work together and solve their own problems.

This was the vision of government we set forth in 1993, the vision we fought to preserve in 1995. Today, the lines of battle are being drawn again. Listen carefully and you'll hear the huffing and puffing of out-of-shape and out-of-date dogmas trying to keep up with the dynamism of the new economy. The new economy has trumped old politics time and time again. And Americans are better off because of it.

Here are some of the steps we are taking to fulfill our vision, and build a 21st Century government. Balancing the budget is the first step -- not because it's a totem to worship, but because after decades of sheer fiscal recklessness, we Americans need to reaffirm our capacity for self-discipline, our competence in the art of self-government, our ability to control our own destiny and redeem the promise of representative democracy.

You think that's not an important signal to send? Forget the gold standard -- the new economy operates on the information standard. Financial markets around the world make decisions about a government's fiscal policies every day through millions of transactions. If investors think you're playing games with the budget, interest rates climb almost instantly. The future implications of policy changes are judged and acted upon in the present -- so reducing the deficit is the most potent way of keeping interest rates in check and freeing capital for new enterprises. Every year the budget is out of balance, our national debt increases. Every dollar we waste through the budget deficit is a dollar that could have been spent preparing this country for the 21st century. We can simply no longer afford policies based on second-hand smoke and rear-view mirrors.

Now, some say that the economy is so strong, we can just sit on our hands and let the budget balance itself -- or that "almost" should count for budgets as well as horseshoes. But let's not kid ourselves. If we're really serious about restoring people's basic faith in their government, and showing that we can get a job done -- if we are really serious about leading the nations of the world into an era of fiscal discipline and responsibility -- then we cannot be satisfied until the deficit is brought down to zero. Would we be satisfied if the Pathfinder had almost made it to Mars? This year, both parties must work to give America its first balanced budget in thirty years -- and this year, we have to go the distance.

We must also face up to the fact that without a balanced budget today, there may be no progressive, activist government tomorrow. If we don't rein in the runaway debt and rising interest rates that failure to balance the budget will surely bring -- if we allow the red ink to continue spilling right as the generational deficit threatens to engulf our budget in the first decade of the next century -- then how can we possibly afford to meet America's challenges in years to come? Balancing the budget isn't just the prudent thing to do -- it's really the progressive thing to do as well.

This administration has shown how America can have a budget that is both progressive and responsible. Because of the success of our 1993 economic strategy and all the growth that has followed -- because of all the money we've saved by slashing the deficit 77% and shredding red tape and bureaucracy all across the government -- we are in the fortunate position of being able to balance the budget while still investing in our people -- investing in more education, a cleaner environment, more jobs and opportunities for families, a strong national defense, and more safety and security all across America.

We're going to start with education -- our number-one priority. How can we be serious about preparing for the knowledge economy if we don't do more to expand the knowledge of all our people? Education is about equipping people for the high-paying jobs of the future, but it's also about our values. It's about the opportunity that has always been at the heart of the American dream. It's about bringing everyone to the starting gate of the new economy, and letting them rise as high as their hard work can carry them. That is why the President was so insistent that the balanced budget agreement include the largest education increase in three decades -- and the largest higher education increase since the G.I. Bill that gave birth to our vast middle class.

We are fighting for world-class standards for all our children -- but that does not mean cookie-cutter schools. We have to support the charter school movement and pioneers like Yvonne Chan from the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, who is here today. We need to bring market forces to our school system by encouraging more public school choice.

In the area of higher education, the President's plan makes at least two years of college as universal as high school is today, with HOPE Scholarships to pay for those years and a tax deduction to pay for any kind of education and training. Because so many of today's jobs require workers to constantly upgrade their skills, our plan makes employer-provided education and training tax-free -- and we are pushing for our G.I. Bill for Workers, to collapse the confusing tangle of federal job training programs into a single skill grant that goes right into workers' hands.

We will balance the budget in a way that protects our environment -- to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we put on the dining room table -- and to preserve our precious natural resources for our children, and our children's children. To me, the environment is about more than clean air and green spaces -- it's also about our sense of community -- realizing that we have an obligation to each other, and to future generations, to share and protect God's earth. And we now know that to protect the environment, we don't have to slow the economy; in fact, it's a way to keep the economy growing. We must continue to encourage environmental technology exports. Through Project XL, we have replaced environmental conflict with environmental cooperation. With our program of emissions trading, we have shown that government can replace the old model of command and control with new market-based strategies.

We will balance the budget and lift up our cities. That's why our tax plan includes incentives to clean up contaminated waste sites called brownfields. And it's why we must embrace metropolitan strategies that stop treating cities as islands and bring sustainable development -- eliminating subsidies that encourage duplication in cornfields and pastures of infrastructure cities already have, building links between businesses that need workers and people who need jobs, and eliminating the mindset that says for cities to win, suburbs must lose and replacing it with a mindset that makes everyone a winner. Our plan also calls for expanding Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities -- and creating new incentives for community development banks, which are bringing the new economy to our oldest neighborhoods.

We will balance the budget and continue to transform the federal government -- to create a government that reflects the choice, quality, and efficiency of the new knowledge economy. Today's government must focus on results, not red tape. All around America, employers and employees are moving beyond "business as usual." And in the past four years and a half years, this Administration has stopped doing "government as usual." We have cut 300,000 government employees from the federal workforce and are getting rid of 16,000 pages of unnecessary regulations. But even more importantly, we have changed the way government views its role. We're listening to federal employees and following their ideas. Once the focus was on filling out paperwork and making sure forms were done in triplicate -- today the focus is on serving the customer and offering them choices.

As some of you know, the money we saved by reinventing government went right into another critical DLC priority -- the 100,000 community police we fought for, and won, as part of our 1994 Crime Bill. Like our economic plan the year before, the Crime Bill was another stake in the heart of the tired old Washington orthodoxies. Unlike previous crime bills -- and there had been many -- this one combined everything that worked -- punishment and prevention; more prisons and the innovative new law enforcement strategy we call community policing. Like our economic plan, a lot of people didn't like that combination of approaches -- they didn't know how to react to a crime bill that was both tough and smart -- so they fought it, tooth and nail. But like our economic plan, we won and they lost -- and the American people have reaped enormous benefits these past three years.

Serious crime is down five years in a row, and we have just had the largest drop in violent crime in 35 years. And thanks to the Brady Law, we've kept 186,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers from buying handguns. But we know the job is not yet done. According to a report by the Justice Department's juvenile division, unless we act now, the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes will more than double by the year 2010. That means we must launch a full-scale assault on juvenile crime. Congress must pass our Juvenile Justice Act -- to target teen gangs, get guns out of the hands of violent juveniles, and do more to prevent crime before it starts.

It is especially important that we focus on positive alternatives to crime and drugs -- which means not only giving children something to say yes to, but also giving families the opportunities they need to build better futures. In fact, one of the ways we must finish balancing the budget is by continuing the dynamic relationship between more jobs, growth, and opportunity on one hand, and the deficit reduction that keeps our economy humming on the other. That's why we must create more opportunity for families -- and that's why we must make work pay.

One DLC idea that has been a central part of our economic strategy is the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has cut taxes for 15 million working families. Together with our minimum wage increase, it has ensured that no parent working full-time has to raise their children in poverty. How dare the Republicans describe the Earned Income Tax Credit as welfare.

We want to continue to cut taxes for working families, to help them raise their children -- and that is why we have pushed so hard for a $500 per child tax credit. This is an idea that is very near and dear to me. It was at the Cleveland meeting of the DLC back in 1991 that I talked about honoring middle class families by giving them this kind of tax break.

And quite frankly, there is some concern about the fate of real, middle-class tax cuts for those who deserve them the most in this budget deal -- and it's not because of the Democrats. Democrats are united in the belief that we need tax cuts, and we need them for the middle class. We are united in our belief that those tax cuts must be focussed on families and on education. And we are united in our sincere hope that Republicans will join us in forging a bipartisan compromise to meet those critical needs.

As we make work pay, we are also making work and responsibility a way of life for those who had been on welfare. With your help and with the help of the states, we tore down the old welfare system. Thanks to a roaring economy and the state waivers we granted, the welfare rolls have dropped by 3.1 million in the past 4 years -- more than they increased in the program's first quarter-century. Now comes the hardest part -- making sure the jobs are there so those who had been on welfare can become permanent members of the workforce. Our welfare-to-work tax credit will help by providing incentives for employers to hire people off welfare; many of America's leading companies have joined us in this effort. At the request of President Clinton, I am spearheading an effort by the federal government to hire 10,000 welfare recipients into available jobs in the next few years, even as we continue downsizing the government. But we all have to do our share.

Once we eliminate the budget deficit, we must address the generational deficit. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our parents and children to pass reforms in the entitlement system -- to make it work better, and to make sure it is solvent and secure for our children. The President has made it clear that we will not shrink from the tough but necessary choices when it comes to reforming entitlements.

And let there be no doubt -- neither will we turn away from expanding free and fair trade. That means President Clinton needs the same authority that every modern President has had to negotiate fast-track agreements. With 95% of the world's consumers living outside of our borders, how can we cut ourselves off from the world? We know that the future of American prosperity lies in free and fair trade. The trade deficit may rise and fall from month to month, but that shouldn't stop us from tearing down walls and building bridges -- and doing it in a way that protects the environment and workers' rights. Without fast track, the President's hands are tied behind his back. With it, we can create more jobs and opportunities in this country, and strengthen the democratic and free market movement that is sweeping the world, especially in South America. So I hope that you will all work with us to win the fast track vote. It's going to be another big fight -- but I believe it is a critical one.

As you can see, we've done a lot together -- but we have a lot more to do. We've won a lot of tough fights, but some of the toughest still lie ahead.

Together, we have created a new vision of government that works in a new economy. And now we must choose: do we move forward, or turn back? Our renewed and revitalized Democratic Party has won two Presidential elections after a long march through the desert of defeat. The middle class is coming home. People of all races are streaming into the party -- based not on an appeal to special interests but on what Franklin Roosevelt called the "concert of common interest." This is no time for us to give up, or give in, or turn back. The stakes are too high -- and the progress we've made is far too great.

The fact is, being a New Democrat is a journey, not a destination. Change and progress are battles that must be fought and won each and every day. We can't say whether today's approaches will be the right ones in our children's day, or in their children's day. But we know that to meet even today's challenges, we must continue to modernize and renew ourselves -- to constantly look for new paths to the oldest truths -- to find ways to meet the challenges of change without changing what is so fundamental in our party, in our families, and in ourselves.

Together, let's continue the journey of hope and progress that the Democratic Leadership Council has done so much to guide. Let's build a Democratic Party that does not live in the past, but builds on it -- that does not merely reside in history, but continues to make it.

Thank you for listening -- and thank you for doing so much for our party and country.