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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 18, 1999
                     REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
                          The Roosevelt Room

11:45 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, please be seated. I'm going to make a statement while the rest of the press corps is here, and then we'll have an off-the-record exchange and I'll respond to the questions and comments that you might have.

I want to thank my friend and colleague, Ben Johnson, for introducing me and being the master of ceremonies here. He's heading up the President's initiative for One America and we've had a chance to work together quite extensively. I want to formally acknowledge Dorothy Leavell, President of the organization and publisher of the Chicago New Crusader. Hardy Brown, the first Vice President, a very important position in any organization -- (laughter) -- publisher of the Black Voice News. Terry Jones -- now, do you take over next year? Okay. Terry Jones, second Vice President of the Data News Weekly; and other distinguished guests. Thank you very much for coming. I'm looking forward to an exchange of views and we'll talk about a series of issues that are important to you and important to me.

Before I make some introductory comments related to those issues I'd like to say a brief word about an important new development in the Congress. For six years now, President Clinton and I have followed a brand new economic strategy for our country -- strict fiscal discipline which has led to a balanced budget for the first time in many decades, opening markets, targeting investments in our future and investing in our people, including in education and job training and health care. And this economic strategy is clearly working.

When we took over almost seven years ago now, this country was in deep trouble. We had the biggest deficit ever known in the history of humankind, we had high unemployment, high hopelessness; people felt like the country was moving in the wrong direction, because it was, and we turned that around and, boy, it was tough, too. We couldn't get a single Republican vote for the changes that were needed. And finally, though, we got it by the narrowest of margins in the House and then in the Senate. I cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate; I know how tough it was and how close it was.

But look at what's happened since that time. We've had tremendous economic growth, 18 million new jobs, practically zero inflation, very strong economic growth, the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment in the history of recorded statistics on unemployment, the lowest poverty rate for African Americans and Hispanic Americans in the history of those measurements, and overall, wages in every income group have been going up, incomes have been going up.

Now, there are sectors that are still hurting and we're addressing those problems. But there's no question that the economy has been doing great. And we're trying to make sure that no area is been left behind.

Well, after that kind of success, after we've seen that this new approach that the President and I have been taking worked so well, I was very disappointed to see the brand new Republican budget proposal, because it's not new at all. We've seen this kind of budget before. In fact, we've tried this kind of budget before and it nearly wrecked the United States. It drove our economy into the ditch. It created the deepest recession since the Great Depression. It threw tens of thousands of people out of work. It mounted up the red ink, and the deficits, to a higher level than anybody thought was imaginable. And why in the world anybody would want to go back to that kind of fictional, illusional, harmful, negative budgeting is just beyond me. I can't imagine it.

We don't need to go back, we need to go forward. We need to keep our prosperity going. We need to use our prosperity to address the problems that remain.

But let me just tell you a few facts about this Republican budget that has just been presented. Actually, I read an editorial in one of the national newspapers this morning -- I believe it was the Washington Post -- that just really tagged it pretty accurately, as far as I am concerned. Others have commented on this, as well.

But the Republican budget is fiscally irresponsible in the extreme. It pours hundreds of billions of dollars into open-ended, extremely risky tax schemes -- just sort of like a roulette table. And that means the cupboard is bare when it comes to saving Medicare. They take all that money and throw it at a risky tax scheme and they do not reserve it for the big challenges that need to be addressed. Our plan extends Medicare for more than a decade. The Republican plan does not guarantee a single penny to strengthen Medicare.

Second detail that's pretty significant. Our plan saves Social Security first and extends it for 23 years. The Republican plan puts risky tax schemes first and Social Security last. In fact, if you look at the Republican budget, it does not extend Social Security by a single day. This at a time when the whole nation is focused on how we can save Social Security first.

Now, finally, the Republican budget forces very deep cuts in Head Start, in job training, in toxic waste clean up, even in our nation's law enforcement and crime prevention programs. In fact, the only way to make their numbers add up is to cut deeply -- and I mean really deeply -- into everything from education to health care. Well, we don't need more Republican retronomics. We don't need to unravel the hard-won fiscal discipline within which we've balanced the budget and invested more in our people. We know what works. We know what is working. And we certainly don't need to turn a cold shoulder to Social Security and Medicare.

So I appeal to the Republican leadership to abandon this nostalgia for the recession of the past and this nostalgia for risky tax schemes and roulette-style economics and, instead, join with us to try to create a bipartisan approach, to work across party lines to keep America's prosperity going. Then let's use the prosperity to save Social Security and Medicare and invest more in our people. I urge all members of Congress: let's work together and let's craft a budget that is right for the American people.

Now, let me turn to this event here today, because I'm so delighted to welcome all of you to the White House, so many distinguished members of the Fourth Estate. I want to wish you a happy Black Press Week. I want to talk very briefly and then we'll open it up for a candid discussion.

END 11:54 A.M. EST