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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (Quincy, Illinois)
For Immediate Release                                   January 29, 2000
                            TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Two nights ago, in my State of the Union Address, I asked the American people to heed the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt, at the dawn of the last century, and take "the long look ahead." The long look ahead to the great challenges we face and the great opportunities we can seize in the 21st century. That requires us to set new goals for our nation and take the right first steps to achieve them.

We must ensure that every child begins school ready to learn and graduates ready to succeed. We must help every family succeed at home and at work -- and that no child is raised in poverty. We must make America the world's safest big country; lead the world toward shared peace and prosperity, and to the far frontiers of science and technology. And we must do all of this while maintaining the fiscal discipline that brought us to this rare and promising moment we enjoy.

Seldom in our nation's history, and never in my lifetime, have we enjoyed at once so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis or so few external threats, with 20 million new jobs; the fastest economic growth in 30 years; the lowest unemployment in 30 years; the lowest poverty rates in 20 years; the lowest minority unemployment rates on record; the first back-to-back surpluses in 42 years. And next month, the longest economic growth in our history.

It's important to remember how this happened. It began in 1993 with a new economic plan that cut the deficit while making investments in our people and our future. When deficits fell, interest rates came down, mortgage payments came down, lower car and student loan payments resulted, there was greater business investment, more jobs, more economic growth. So this fiscal discipline has moved us from record budget deficits and high unemployment to record budget surpluses and unimagined economic strength. Now is not the time to change course.

In the well of the House of Representatives two nights ago, I challenged Congress to move forward on important priorities without giving up this fiscal discipline. If we will stay this course, we can pay the country's debt off for the first time since 1835, over the next few years.

Today, I am pleased to announce that congressional leaders from both parties and both houses of Congress have accepted my invitation to come to the White House next Tuesday to discuss how we can move forward together.

Let me say again -- first and foremost, I hope we can agree on my plan to pay down the debt entirely over the next 13 years and make America debt-free for the first time since Andrew Jackson was President in 1835, and then to use the benefits of debt reduction to preserve Social Security and Medicare; and specifically to make a bipartisan down payment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security Trust Fund. That will keep it strong and sound for 50 years, and take in the life span of the baby boom generation.

We also ought to agree to reserve a third of the surplus to further reduce the debt so we have the resources in the future to protect Medicare. I want to dedicate nearly $400 billion of this projected surplus to keep Medicare solvent past 2025 and to add a voluntary prescription drug benefit. And as I said a couple of nights ago, we can't forget the unfinished business of the last Congress. They need, still, to pass a real patients' bill of rights, common-sense gun safety legislation, campaign finance reform, hate crimes legislation, a raise in the minimum wage.

The state of our union is the strongest it's ever been. This gives us the opportunity and the responsibility of a lifetime to shape the future of our dreams for our children. Our chance to do good has never been so great. Let us join together to seize this moment.

Thanks for listening.