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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 15, 1999
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                             U.S. Capitol
                           Washington, D.C.

4:50 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: That was a speech of a man who is not running for re-election. (Laughter.) Since I'm not either, I can only hope to do as well. (Laughter.)

I would like to point out something, since we are here in the LBJ Room, named for President Johnson -- a room in which he worked for many causes as Senate Majority Leader. Thirty-five years ago, he said, "I am convinced that it is morally right, that it is socially just, that it is economically sensible, that it is administratively feasible to open the door of employment opportunity to Americans with disabilities."

Now, our country has done a lot on that road in the last 35 years, especially beginning with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1997, we dramatically strengthened the IDEA Act, and I'm very proud to have been a part of that with the people who are here. But the full promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act will never be realized until we pass this legislation.

I am profoundly indebted to all these senators who are here -- Senator Lott and Moynihan, and of course to Senators Jeffords and Kennedy -- but let me -- I know most of you here understand this. But let me just give you one, specific example. I think it's important to humanize this.

I had a town meeting about this issue in New Hampshire on February the 18th. And there was a man there who had been very badly injured in a skiing accident, and was paralyzed, basically, from the chest down. And because of the special opportunity he had, he actually was able to keep his health care and work. His health insurance -- his health care costs were $40,000 a year, just to maintain him. But he worked very productively and very successfully for about 75 percent of that. That was his salary. Now, if he were not working, he'd still get the $40,000 in health care, but he wouldn't be working -- he'd be much less happy, much less fulfilled. He wouldn't be paying income taxes to the Federal Government. He wouldn't be paying the other revenues through which we fund Medicare and Social Security; including, interestingly enough, the money from Social Security that goes to the disabled.

This is a crazy system that we have allowed to develop because you lose government health insurance if you go to work and you make a certain amount of money. That's what these fine people are trying to do. And I thought what Senator Kennedy said was great. I'd like it if it passed by Independence Day, but I'd like it, for sure, if we could get it up to the White House and have a signing ceremony by the 26th of July, which is the ninth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But I would like to ask all the members of the press that are here to make sure that our fellow Americans understand the practical impact. There are thousands of these stories. But with all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, you will never get the tens of thousands of people who could come into the work force -- maybe hundreds of thousands that aren't there -- without this bill. This is a profoundly important piece of legislation.

And I would like to make one last economic argument. There's a lot of discussion now about how our economy can continue to grow even more with unemployment as low as it is without inflation. The only way to do that is to find new markets and new workers. And as nearly as I can tell, there are only two or three options. You can sell more American products overseas, or you can put people to work in high unemployment areas in America -- in the urban and rural areas. Or you can reach the unreached population of Americans who are dying to go to work, which are the remaining people on welfare who want to work and an even larger number -- much larger number -- the American disability community, fully capable of working in thousands, and thousands, and thousands of jobs -- now, with them closed, because of the health care barrier.

We need to get this story out. The Senate is going to pass this bill. The House will have it and we'll have a great celebration on July the 4th, and again on July the 26th. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 4:55 P.M. EDT