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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 19, 1998
                             TO THE NATION
                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I want to talk to you this morning about what I believe we must do to continue building a stronger America for our children and our grandchildren in the 21st century.

We're in a time of great prosperity, and even greater promise. For nearly six years I've done everything in my power to create the conditions for that prosperity and to make sure all Americans can share in it. Today, we have nearly 17 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 28 years, the lowest inflation in 32 years, the smallest percentage of our people on welfare in 29 years, the lowest crime rate in 25 years and the highest homeownership in history.

All Americans have a right to be proud of what together we have achieved. But we can't let these good times lull us into a dangerous complacency. The turmoil we see today in economies all around the world reminds us that things are changing at a rapid rate. We can't afford to relax. Instead, we must use our new prosperity, the resources it produces and the confidence it inspires to build a more prosperous future for all our people.

In just 12 days now we will have the first balanced budget and the first budget surplus since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. This remarkable achievement is the product of hard work by the American people, by lawmakers of both parties who put progress ahead of partisanship. We have waited 29 years for this moment. Now we must ask ourselves, what should we make of it.

Above all, I believe we must use this moment of prosperity to honor the duty across generations and strengthen Social Security for the 21st century. Seventy-five million baby boomers will be retiring over the next two decades. We must act now across party lines to make Social Security as strong for our children as it has been for our parents.

In my State of the Union address I said we should reserve every penny of that hard won surplus until we had taken the steps to save Social Security first. At the same time, I did propose tax cuts for education, for the environment, to help families pay for child care. But not a penny of these cuts comes out of the surplus. Every one is fully paid for in my balanced budget.

My plan also provides tax relief to families while preserving the strength of the Social Security system. That is very important. When all the baby boomers retire there will only be about two people working for every person drawing Social Security. We can make moderate changes now and make sure that those who retire will be able to retire in dignity, without imposing on, burdening or lowering the standard of living of their children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress have a different idea. The black ink in the budget hasn't even had a chance to dry -- indeed, it hasn't appeared yet. But they already want to drain the surplus to fund a tax plan before we make the most of our opportunity, our historic opportunity to save Social Security.

I've already made it clear that if Congress sends me a bill that squanders the surplus before we save Social Security, I will veto it. But Republicans in the House of Representatives are proceeding anyway, and will try to pass their tax bill next week. I believe strongly that this is the wrong way to give American families the tax relief they deserve, the wrong way to prepare our nation for the challenges of the future.

So today I say again to the Republican leadership: go back to the drawing board. Look at the targeted tax cuts for working families I proposed and we all passed last year: $500 per child; a HOPE Scholarship for the first two years of college and college credits thereafter; IRA incentives to save for children. They all take effect this year, they'll all be on your tax forms in April and all of them are fully paid for.

So I say to Congress send me a plan like that, a plan with targeted tax relief while preserving all the surplus until we have saved Social Security. Send me a plan that rebuilds our crumbling schools, that helps working families with child care, and supports small businesses in getting pension plans -- and pay for it.

Send me a tax cut that keeps us on the path of fiscal responsibility, that honors our obligations to our parents and our children. If Congress sends me a tax cut plan like that, I'll gladly sign it. This is a time of great hope for our nation but a time where continued global economic growth demands continued American economic leadership. Fiscal responsibility has created our prosperity, and fiscal irresponsibility would put it at risk.

Let's do the right thing to provide for the security of our parents and opportunity for our children into the 21st century.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:12 A.M. EDT