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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 11, 2000
                             TO THE NATION

The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In just a few days, Congress will begin to write the next year's budget. This is an important challenge we in Washington take up every year, with important consequences for the American people. Today, I want to talk to you about the outcome I seek for our families and our future.

I've always thought you could tell a lot about people's priorities by what they do first. For me, above all, that means maintaining the fiscal discipline that has brought us to this point of unprecedented prosperity -- with 21 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the longest economic expansion in history. It means staying on the path to make America debt-free by 2013. It means saving Social Security, strengthening Medicare, modernizing it with a voluntary prescription drug benefit that so many of our seniors need and too few can afford. And it means continuing to put the education of our children first, with higher standards, more and better trained teachers, after-school and summer school programs, modernizing our schools.

These are my first priorities. I think they're most Americans' first priorities. But it seems the congressional majority has hardly gives them a second thought. Before Republican leaders have put a single penny toward strengthening Social Security or Medicare; before they put a single penny toward a prescription drug benefit; before they put a single penny toward educating our children, they've allocated nearly half a trillion dollars to risky tax cuts. More than half our money already spent -- and not a penny on our most pressing priorities.

Unfortunately, the majority tried to take us down this road before. Last year, they went for one big tax cut with one big grab. This year, they're doing it piece by piece, one tax cut after another. Just this week, we saw Republican leaders attach special-interest tax breaks to what should have been a simple raise in the minimum wage. Now, all these cuts together add up to a serious threat to Social Security and Medicare. They would make it impossible to pay down the debt by 2013, or make vital investments in education, fighting crime, protecting public health and the environment, and other urgent national priorities.

As the budget process begins, I urge Republican leaders to change their course, and steer clear of a fiscal dead-end. It's wrong for America -- it was wrong last year, and it's wrong this year. Let's do first things first.

I urge Congress to write a budget that puts aside enough funds from our hard-won surplus to eliminate the debt by 2013; to write a budget that strengthens and modernizes Medicare with a prescription drug benefit; to write a budget that extends the solvency of Social Security; one that invests in education, extends health coverage to more American families and meets other pressing priorities.

Of course, Congress still has plenty of time to get its work done right, and get it done on time. I hope it will do so. If Congress takes care of first things first, we can also give targeted tax relief to America's families: a tax credit to help pay for college or save for retirement; a tax credit to help care for aging or ailing loved ones; a tax relief to reduce the marriage penalty; tax relief to reward work and family with an expanded earned income tax credit, an increased tax credit for child care expenses.

I will work with any member of either party to get these things done. We can get them done -- but only in the context of a realistic, responsible, balanced budget: one that maintains our fiscal discipline and makes the most of this great moment of prosperity. Now, that's a budget that makes sense. One that works for working Americans.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EST