THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT DURING EDUCATION BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS The Cabinet Room
1:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: In only 447 days, the 21st century begins, a century in which the education of our nation's children will matter more than ever before. Yet, far too many of our schools are not ready for that new century. We've all seen the news stories about teachers teaching classes in subjects they didn't major in in college, about schools so overcrowded they have trailers out back to handle the overflow, about classrooms with 35 or more students all vying for a minute of attention from the teachers, about schools so old they can't be connected to the Internet.
This can be changed, but we cannot afford to wait. And we are waiting for the Republican majority in Congress to bring this year's education investment bill to the floor. The delay must end. On education, Congress must choose progress over partisanship. We need a strong bipartisan bill.
Just a few days ago I had the honor of signing into law such a bill to open the doors wider to higher education. And in just the last two days, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to pass strong charter school and vocational education measures. And I'd like to thank Senator Jefford, Senator Kennedy, Senator Coats, Congressmen Goodling and Clay and Roemer for that. Now it's time once again for Congress to cross party lines and send me an education budget that I can sign that is worthy of our children and their future.
This bill must make the right investments in our children's future. It must include a strong down payment on my request for 100,000 teachers for smaller classes in the early grades. It must invest in academically enriched after-school and summer school programs to keep kids in school and out of trouble. It must invest in modernized schools for our children -- we cannot raise students up in buildings that are falling down. Any budget that does not do anything to help modernize our schools, to give our children safe and clean places to learn does not fully prepare them for the 21st century.
Tomorrow night, the funding to keep the government open expires again. Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt, the Democratic colleagues and I will work with the Republican majority to do the right thing for our country. We must pass a budget that is fiscally responsible, that honors our values, that invests in the education of our children. That is the most important thing we can do in this long running Congress.
Q Mr. President, the Republican leaders were saying this morning that if you were serious about reaching this budget deal that you would stay in Washington instead of going on to fundraisers tomorrow and the following day.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me first of all say that in the State of the Union in January, I sent a program to Congress to save the surplus until Social Security is fixed, to invest in education as I just described, to pass a patients' bill of rights, to keep our economy going amidst all this economic turmoil in the world. In February, I sent them a balanced budget with the same education program in it.
This is the first Congress in 24 years that did not pass a budget -- in 24 years. Now, they have turned their attention to this and we are making progress. And I worked on it yesterday, I am prepared to do whatever it takes to work with them now that they have turned their attention to this to get the job done. But in the end it is their votes. We are aggressively working with them to resolve this, but they have to decide that they will agree with us after this whole year that it is a priority, that we are going to do it and that we're going to do it now.
Q Mr. President, will you sign another continuing resolution if Congress passes one? Dick Armey said today that he felt one was needed.
THE PRESIDENT: You mean for a couple days?
Q That's right.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, sure, we're not going to shut the government down if we're working on this, of course. No one is interested in doing that. I just want to get this job done.
CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: Mr. President, can I add an answer? This Congress has been here probably less than most Congresses, but what I'm worried about is not when they're not here. What I'm worried about is when they are here -- they've killed campaign reform, they've killed the tobacco bill, they've killed all the education legislation the President has sent, they killed patients' bill of rights; they tried to spend the surplus on a tax cut, rather than saving it for Social Security.
They shouldn't be worried about whether the President is here or not -- the President is here, the President sent the bills. I'm worried about what they do when they are here. They kill everything that the American people want. And that's what they've got to get to work on, to do the things people want done.
Q Mr. President, you characterize this as a do-nothing Congress. Do you think, with the results of the upcoming election will it be a referendum on your presidency? You're going to run against this Congress, do you think the election results will be a referendum on your presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I'm not running. But what I do intend to do is to bring the issues to the American people. The American people will have to decide if they believe that Social Security should be saved before this surplus is spent for other things. The American people will have to decide whether they really want a patients' bill of rights that guarantees people in HMOs the right to see a specialist or go to the nearest emergency room or have their medical records private or finish a treatment for chemotherapy or pregnancy before they can be forced to change doctors.
These are the kinds of decisions the American people have to make about what they want for their future. What I'd like to see is this election to be about the American people and their future, not about Washington, D.C. -- just as I think this last year could have been and should have been about the people in America and not about Washington, D.C. That is the decision before them and I trust them. I think they'll make the right decision.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT