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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 16, 1998
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AT BUSINESS COUNCIL DINNER
                            The Sheraton Hotel
                             Washington, D.C.

9:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Tom, Steve, Lynn, Terry. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here tonight, for your support for the Democratic Party and especially for the Business Council.

The two things that I really like that have kind of flowered in the last five years since I've been here for our party are this Democratic Business Council and the Women's Leadership Forum. And Hillary is in Georgia tonight at a WLF meeting. We really believe in what they have done to broaden the base of the Democratic Party -- not just the financial base, but also the political base of the party -- bringing people in and giving them a voice and giving them a chance to be heard and bringing in new areas of expertise that have made a real difference to us. And so I thank you for that.

I was sitting here tonight wondering what I ought to say. One of you gave me this little cup of coffee with my name on it -- a little cup. If this is the case, we won't have any small coffees at the White House. (Laughter.) I thought that was pretty funny. (Laughter.) Another one of you in the line said that your 96-year-old grandmother said to tell the President that he and that young man are doing a good job. I said, who's the young man? And she said, Al Gore. (Laughter.) That really hurt. (Laughter.)

Today I did two things that embody what I hope the next three years will be about. Namely, taking advantage of these good times: the first balanced budget in a generation; the lowest unemployment and the lowest crime rate in 24 years; the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years; the highest homeownership in history; the lowest inflation in 30 years. These good times, taking advantage of them, and preparing for the long-term prosperity and success of the American people, and trying to advance the cause of peace and freedom and prosperity throughout the world.

I started the day by going out to a high school in suburban Maryland and meeting with two dozen other people, including the superintendent of schools in New York City, the mayor of Los Angeles, the governors of West Virginia and Maryland, and any number of other experts who came together to sit and talk with me -- educational experts -- about a big part of one of our country's most profound challenges, and that is the low level of performance of our high school seniors on international math and science tests.

One example of the general problem, which is as follows. Everybody in this country and everybody in the world with an informed opinion would tell you that the United States is fortunate enough to have the best system of higher education in the world. No one with an informed opinion would assert that we have the best system of elementary and secondary education in the world. And yet we have a lot of wonderful people out there giving their careers to teaching. And we have example after example after example of schools that are succeeding against all the odds.

Now, this school that I visited in Maryland today had white and African American and Hispanic and Indian and Pakistani students and Arab American students. It was an amazing -- a lot of Asian American students -- it was an amazing myriad of our country just up the road in Maryland. And they have quite high levels of performance in math and science. So I went there to talk about it.

And two of the people on the panel were the teacher, a Japanese American, a physics teacher; and a student, a Hispanic, a young woman who was a student there. And we talked about what we could do to improve math and science education. And I talked about our plans to hook up every classroom and library in every school in America to the Internet by the year 2000. When we started in '94, only 34 percent of the schools were hooked up; today, 75 percent of the schools are hooked up. That's not every classroom in every school, but at least we've got some hookups to the Internet in 75 percent of the schools in America now. So we're moving.

We talked about the plan to certify 100,000 master teachers, to make absolutely sure that they are academically well qualified to the highest degree, and then to get those people paid more so we can put one master teacher in every school building in America to try to change the culture of learning and the standards of learning. We talked about the need to give teachers who are in the work force the ability to go back and train, get higher levels of training.

This is the only country in the world where you have large numbers of people teaching math and science courses that they did not major in or minor in in college, simply because of the shortage that exists. And if we don't do something it's likely to get worse. There are over 350,000 vacancies in information technology today in America, with an average starting salary of $48,000 a year. The average salary of all teachers, including the most senior, in America in the wealthiest school district -- the average salary is not close to $48,000 a year. So this is a formidable challenge.

But the good news is I had two dozen really smart Americans from all walks of life there in this wonderful American school. And we were working on it and we believe we can do something about it. We know we have to have more courses offered, we know we have to train the teachers better, we know we have to find more funds for these shortage areas. But I also told the students, with whom I spoke later -- and I actually didn't get booed when I said it -- that I thought they should be required to take chemistry and physics and calculus and trigonometry, and that they would all need it. And that we had opened the doors to college to everyone with the balanced budget plan, with the HOPE Scholarships and all the other incentives, they needed to -- have to do this.

And once I assured the seniors that didn't mean they had to stay another year in high school -- (laughter) -- I got a pretty high level of support for this proposition. I think part of it is sibling malice: they liked the idea that their younger brothers and sisters might have a bigger burden than they did. (Laughter.) But, seriously, it was a very good thing. And I thought, this is what we ought to be doing. While we have the national self-confidence and the emotional room, we ought to be thinking about these big problems down the road and we ought to be moving on them.

And tonight before I came over here I began -- true to my dear ancestors, I began what will be about a 30-hour marathon effort to close as many gaps as I can in the Irish peace process, because all the major players in the Irish peace process are coming to America for St. Patrick's Day, which will be tomorrow. (Applause.) And it's very good -- my Cassidy relatives in Ireland sent my daughter an Irish cross, my wife an Irish pin, sent me green cufflinks to wear tomorrow and two green ties. I have to chide them; the two green ties were made in Italy, but they're beautiful nonetheless. (Laughter.)

And I thought to myself, this is what we ought to be doing. Because the United States is fortunate that at the end of the Cold War we don't feel our security immediately threatened, we need to be able to stand up for the long term. We need to imagine what Europe can be like if the Irish are at peace. What Europe can be like if the Bosnian peace process works. What Europe can be like if the difficulties in Kosovo are not allowed to engulf the Balkans in a new controversy. And we have the capacity to effect this.

Hillary and I are leaving on Sunday to go to Africa. It will be the first time an American President, a serving American President has ever made a tour of sub-Saharan Africa. President Carter and President Reagan made brief stops in one country. No American President has been to these five countries where I'm going, in the way I'm going. The House of Representatives in a bipartisan fashion passed the Africa Trade Initiative a few days ago, and I hope the Senate will pass it soon. A big part of our future will be caught up in what happens in Africa. If Africa succeeds in developing stable, market-oriented democracies, then it's a big market opportunity for the United States. If Africa should become convulsed again in a whole round of political turmoil, civil war, economic degradation, there will be consequences that we will feel here.

So I thought to myself as we were preparing for that today, this is what we ought to be doing. I met last week, late last week with the Medicare Commission. We are now meeting for a year. We've got a commission that I've appointed, along with congressional leaders, to try to look at the long-run health and viability of the Medicare program. Tomorrow, Senator Moynihan and I and others are going to announce his support for our Medicare legislation, to let people between the ages of 55 and 65 who don't have health insurance buy into Medicare if they can do it without burdening the trust fund. These are the kinds of things we ought to be doing.

I say this just to tell you that there is a direct connection between your support through this Business Council of our party and what we are doing that will change the lives of the future of the American people. That's what you have to understand.

Lois Capps just won this great race in California, an unbelievable victory. Now, in Washington, people tend to see every victory or defeat in great national terms. I basically spent enough time out there in the country to know that that's almost always wrong. It's against my self-interest to say it, probably, but it's wrong. She won because she's a magnificent person, because her late husband was a wonderful man, because she ran a great grass-roots campaign.

But the important thing is that the issues she ran on and won on are the issues that were embodied in the State of the Union, are the issues that are embodied in the message of our party and the future we're trying to build for America. Don't squander the surplus until you save Social Security first. Pass the Patient's Bill of Rights. Focus on education. Focus on the environment. Focus on the long-run challenges of the country. That's what we are doing here. That's what you are a part of. That's what we want you to be a part of.

So when you go home tonight, you ought to ask yourself --- and make sure you can give an answer -- why did I go to that dinner tonight? Why did I write that check? You should know that because of your support your country is stronger, we're moving in the right direction, and we're thinking about tomorrow.

Thank you very much. God bless you. (Applause.)

END 9:17 P.M. EST