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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 5, 1998
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT,
                        ON LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

                             The South Lawn

3:17 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. From the beginning of our efforts to create the economic renaissance America now enjoys, Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle have been tireless in working for that change. Especially in these last few weeks as the congressional session has entered its crucial final stage and the political season has intensified, these two leaders have stood above the crowd in their constant efforts to elevate progress over partisanship.

I realize that the calendar says the election is just a month away. The calendar also says it is now eight months since I sent the Congress a budget, five months since the legal deadline for Congress to pass a budget resolution. And, as all of you know, the fiscal year ended last week. Yet, so far, Congress has sent me only two of 13 appropriations bills necessary to keep our government running. On Friday the temporary spending measure I signed will run out. I want to work with Congress to get this important work done. There is still time for real achievement, still time for progress over partisanship.

That is why today I stand with Representative Gephardt and Senator Daschle to call on the congressional majority. Time is running short. Congress has important work left to do. Pass the necessary spending bills to keep the government running. Save Social Security for future generations. Insure a quality education for all our children. Protect America from the global economic turmoil.

These are the priorities of the American people, and they must be the priorities of Congress in these last days before the election. First, we must save Social Security first. Last week I was privileged to announce the first budget surplus in a generation. Congress must not lose this spirit of fiscal discipline. I have proposed tax cuts, but they're fully paid for. If the Congress sends me a tax plan that drains billions from the surplus before saving Social Security, I will veto it. We've worked too hard for too long to abandon fiscal discipline and our economic strength and to weaken our commitment to Social Security just because it's election time.

Second, we must act to protect our prosperity in this turbulent international economy by meeting our obligations to the International Monetary Fund. The world is waiting -- literally, the world is waiting -- for Congress to step up to America's responsibility, provide funds to the IMF, and give us the tools we need to pull teetering economies back from the brink, and to keep America's economic prosperity going. It would be unacceptable for Congress to leave Washington before acting.

Third, we must continue to invest in education. As the leaders here with me and about 50 other members of Congress asked last week, we seek just one day for Congress to consider the education measures I have proposed, to pass a plan to provide our schools with the tools they need -- with 100,000 teachers so we can have smaller classes in the early grades; with after-school and summer school programs to help students achieve higher academic standards; for thousands of modernized schools for the 21st century.

And, fourth, in these last few days, Congress must act to protect, not gut, the environment. Republicans in Congress have sought to slip unacceptable provisions into unrelated bills that would cripple wildlife protection, force over-cutting of our national forests, deny taxpayers a fair return on oil leasing, thwart commonsense efforts to address global warming. If they insist on sending these anti-environmental riders to my desk, again I will veto them.

Fifth, Congress must act to address a range of pressing emergencies that simply cannot wait for a new congressional session -- emergencies including supporting our troops in Bosnia, maintaining our military readiness worldwide, providing assistance to our farmers who are in real crisis out there, protecting American citizens from terrorism, and providing resources to address the year 2000 computer problem.

For two administrations the budget rules under which both parties have operated have accommodated such emergencies. Troops in the field and citizens in crisis should never be subject to partisan wrangling. This is what we ought to do. We ought to save Social Security first, pass the education program, protect our own economy, and do what we should do to lead the world away from world financial crisis, pass the patients' bill of rights, avoid these environmentally destructive riders. There is still time for us to put the people of our country ahead of politics, and I hope we'll do it.

Now I'd like to ask Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt to say a word.

SENATOR DASCHLE: Mr. President and Congressman Gephardt and I have had the opportunity in the last couple of hours now to talk again about the critical nature of this remaining week of our session. Everyone understands that adjournment is scheduled at week's end. Our Republican leaders have failed to meet their responsibilities on an array of issues that the President has just outlined, but there is still time.

Republicans have not produced a budget for the first time in 24 years, but there is still time. The Republicans have no coherent appropriations strategy. As the President noted, only two of the 13 appropriations bills have passed. Republicans have failed in that responsibility, but there is still time.

There is no domestic agenda. The President noted that they blocked HMO reform. They blocked the opportunity to provide smaller classrooms and school modernization. They blocked teen smoking prohibitions. They blocked minimum wage. They blocked campaign finance reform. But on some of these issues, perhaps not all, there is still time.

There is no vision for the future among Republican leaders. They intend to raid Social Security to finance election-year tax cuts, but we believe on that score time has run out. Democrats will stand united in our determination not to allow Social Security to be raided for tax cuts. So Republicans need to get to work in the seven days that remain, stop playing politics, pass legislation, and let's make some progress.

It was wrong to shut the Senate down to avoid a patients' bill of rights debate. It was wrong to shut down our agenda for public schools. It was wrong to kill teen smoking and campaign finance reform. And it would also be wrong to shut the government down now. No one will be to blame but the Republican leadership if that were to happen.

What we're announcing again this afternoon is our sincere desire to work with Republican leaders to ensure that that doesn't happen. We're prepared to work overtime. We're prepared to work a second shift if necessary. Republicans need to throw out the partisan playbook and put people's needs ahead of political gain. It's time for them to meet their responsibilities. There is still time for that.

REPRESENTATIVE GEPHARDT: Mr. President and Senator Daschle, we are working our way toward our target for adjournment. And as we do that, I think it's very unfortunate that the Senate Republican Leader has decided to play show-down politics over a government shut-down. The President and congressional Democrats have time and time again asked the Republicans in Congress to complete their work by passing a responsible budget to fund the government, but Republicans have wasted the entire year and have left the heavy lifting until the last week. There are six days left.

In my view this is the worst Congress that has ever sat in the United States Capitol, that has achieved less than any Congress that we've ever had. This Congress, for the first time in 24 years, has not passed a budget since the Budget Act was passed in 1974. This Congress would have made the Congress that Harry Truman called the "do-nothing Congress" look energetic and good.

We began this session with great promise and high hopes, reforming our health care system with a patients' bill of rights, improving our public schools with 100,000 new teachers, repairing school buildings, after-school programs, pre-school programs, computers in schools, saving Social Security first, keeping our kids from smoking, reforming our campaign system. Sadly, we have accomplished very little for the American people beyond naming airports.

The beginning of the fiscal year was last Thursday. The Republicans passed the stay of execution shutting down the government to keep it running through this Friday, and there are still nine appropriation bills to be completed in the next five days.

Can the Republican leadership rein in the right wing, the far right wing of the Republican Party so we can avoid a shut-down? The test of the GOP leadership is this: Can they set aside their partisan political agenda in order to advance the real interests of the nation? If this Congress is unsuccessful in enacting all 13 appropriation bills to keep the government running through next October, it will be a failure of one group in one part of our government and one part only, and that is the Republican leadership of the Congress.

Democrats are committed, as Tom said, to meet day and night to do whatever is necessary, to do everything we can to keep the government open and to finally begin to address some of these urgent priorities that we feel we should have been talking about and working on over the last year or year and a half.

Thank you very much.

Q Will there be a government shut-down? And how will it affect the November elections?

REPRESENTATIVE GEPHARDT: As I just said, I really believe if we have a shut-down, just like the last shut-down, it will be the responsibility of the Republican leadership in the Congress. Thank you very much.

END 3:29 P.M. EDT