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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 23, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                           Private Residence
                            Washington, D.C.

8:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. Let me say first, I'm delighted to be here in Ellen and Katherine's home, with so many of Ellen's family and her friends. And I think we have three members of Congress here. I think Representative Thurman from Florida; Representative Dooley from California; Representative Hoyer from Maryland are here. (Applause.) And if they're not, I gave them credit for being, anyway.

I appreciate what Ellen said about running for a third term. I'd like to, but I understand that the salary is insufficient to support a member of Congress. (Laughter.) So I suppose I'll have to do something else for a living next year. (Laughter.)

Let me say to all of you, we've had a pretty good few days here. Several days ago, I signed the bill to open America's markets more, to increase trade and investment in Africa and the Caribbean basin in Central America, which I think is very important. (Applause.) And I've been working, I might add, with pharmaceutical companies and others to lower the costs of life-saving drugs to those places, and to try to hasten the day when we can develop vaccines for AIDS and TB and malaria. And we've got a lot of bipartisan support and a lot of public-private partnership there.

Today, with the Speaker of the House, we had an astonishing bipartisan announcement in the Roosevelt Room at the White House -- that we have actually reached agreement, which I think will produce 350 or 400 votes in the House, on what could be the most significant anti-poverty initiative in the last 35 years. It's called, for us, the New Markets Initiative; the Republicans have a different name for theirs. But the point is, we put them together.

You know, we usually -- for years, I've been watching Washington say, one side says, I've got an idea, and the other side says, I've got an idea. And then they say, good, let's fight. (Laughter.) And instead -- you know, there really was a feeling in Washington this year that there are still people and places that haven't participated fully in this economic recovery. those of you from Northern California, for example, know that ironically, in East Palo Alto there's still a terrible unemployment problem, a lot of people who aren't even part of the digital economy.

I was in the Navajo Indian reservation at Shiprock in northern New Mexico not very long ago -- one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The only thing I've ever seen in America that looks sort of like Ayers Rock in Australia; you just come up on it. It's just breathtaking. But the unemployment rate's 58 percent, and 70 percent of the people don't even have telephones. And of course, I come from the Mississippi Delta, which is one of the poorest places in America.

And the whole idea behind this legislation is that we ought to give people like those of you who can afford to come to this fundraiser tonight -- (laughter) -- the same incentives to invest in developing areas in America that we give you to invest in developing areas overseas, in Latin America, and Africa, and Asia. It's a terrific idea. (Applause.)

And if this bill passes, we will not only create a total of 40 empowerment zones -- a program I've been working on for over seven years, now, that's been managed brilliantly by the Vice President -- but we'll create 40 enterprise zones that the Republican Party wanted in poor areas that have zero capital gains rate; ours has a different set of incentives. But all over America, in areas of high unemployment or high poverty, people who invest in financing devices to create new businesses will get a 30 percent tax credit, and people who borrow money will be able to get -- if they put up one-third equity, they'll be able to get two-thirds in money fully guaranteed by government guarantees, which will cut the interest rates dramatically.

So what we're saying is, America as a whole will share the risk with you, if you'll give these people a chance to go to work and make a living. And at a time of very tight labor markets, I think it has the promise of really proving that we can bring free enterprise to the poorest parts of America.

By and large, the people who live there are just as smart and just as hard-working as people anywhere else. They're not always as well-educated. But mostly they stay there because they don't want to leave, especially in these rural areas. Their kids, maybe their neighbor's kids, may go to Silicon Valley, or Silicon Alley in New York, or someplace else. They may go to Dallas to make video games. But most of these people want to keep living where they are.

And what we're trying to do is to create an investment climate that will help that. But the main thing is, there were like 30 members of Congress there today, roughly equally divided between both parties. I thought I needed to go to the optometrist to make sure my eyes were working. It was wonderful. (Laughter.)

And tomorrow, I believe -- although I never count my chickens before they hatch, and I don't have -- I'm only counting the votes on our side, not their side -- I think we're going to make this PNTR vote with China. And I think it's important. (Applause.)

Now, that brings me to the point of why I'm here tonight. Obviously, I'm interested in the economics of the agreement I made with the Chinese. We had a good agreement in April, but I wanted to make it better, and we did. And I think one thing that is widely misunderstood among the American electorate is, most people think this is a trade agreement. It is not; it's a membership agreement. That's why it's basically, from a trade point of view, a one-way street. That is, China lowers its tariffs and its other restrictions on our investments and our sales in return for membership in the WTO.

So it's a very good economic deal for the United States -- in that sense, relatively speaking, the best one we've ever negotiated. And I know that's why most people lobby it.

But you know -- I never thought I'd say this, but I'm beginning to feel old and creaky, and I've only got about eight months or so left to serve. And I want you to know, the real reason I'm for it -- even though I'm proud of the economic terms, and I'm glad of what we negotiated -- the real reason I'm for it is I think it will hasten the day of freedom and honoring the rule of law in China. And I think that's why all these -- the President of Taiwan, and Martin Lee, the Hong Kong democracy leader; a lot of dissidents in China today -- have asked us to vote for this.

And you know, in the last 50 years, we've fought three wars in Asia. And I can't say we won't fight another one in the next 50 years. I can't even promise you that what I think will happen in China will happen if we pass this tomorrow.

But I can promise you this: if we turn it down, we will dramatically increase the chances of irresponsible behavior, and conflict.

And so to me, the most important thing is, I don't want my daughter's generation to have to go through what our parents' generation did in World War II and Korea, and what our generation did in Vietnam. And I think we've got a good chance -- not a guarantee; they have to make all the decisions about how they conduct themselves -- but we've got a good chance to have a very different future than the past 50 years.

And that's basically why I really wanted to come here tonight. I don't think -- you know, you probably couldn't beat Ellen Tauscher with a stick of dynamite out there. (Laughter and applause.)

But I want you to know, I'm here, number one, because nothing we've achieved in the last eight years would have been possible without the support of members of Congress like her. Number two, she really is sort of my philosophical soul mate, and my personal friend, and I love her.

But most important, it's very important to me, as I look forward to an election, the first election since 1974, when I haven't been on somebody's ballot somewhere, that we vote for people who understand the future, and are prepared to do what it takes to make the most of it. That's really, to me, what this is about.

People ask me all the time, who's going to win the presidential race? Will the Democrats win the House? Who's going to win this or that Senate race? I tell them it all depends on what the American people think the question is when they go into the voting booth.

You just think about that. It depends on what you think the question is. Many, many times, if it's any kind of a competitive election, what you think the question is will determine who you believe should be elected.

I think the question is, what are we going to do with this incredible moment of prosperity, and social progress, and national self-confidence, and enormous responsibility throughout the world?

And you know, we've got some very difficult decisions to make. Are we going to continue to be the world leader for disarmament? Or are we going to throw away the treaties that have protected us for generations, and refuse to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, after I was the first President in the world to sign the thing? The American people will decide that in the next election. Most of them don't know it yet, but they will. And so they have to decide, because that will determine the shape of the future.

Are we going to squander this surplus in ways that risk going back to deficit spending, higher interest rates, and will certainly bring a quicker end to our recovery? Or will we have a tax cut we can afford, in the context of paying the debt down and dealing with the retirement of the baby boom generation, and our plain obligation to continue to invest in the education of our children in science and technology?

Are we going to prove that we can grow the economy and improve the environment? Or are we going to keep our heads stuck in the sand and say, global warming is a plot to undermine the strength of free enterprise, and what does it matter if we burn up the atmosphere? Big issue. One of the things that will be decided in this election.

Those are just a few issues. Do we believe we can balance work and family? If we do, we're going to have to do more with family leave; we're going to have to do more with child care; we're going to have to do more with flexible work hours. We're going to have to do a lot of it out of the private sector, but some of it's going to have to be negotiated with the government so it's fair to all employers, and nobody's at a significant disadvantage. Huge issue.

And let me just say one other thing about this vote tomorrow. this is a difficult -- this has been a personally painful vote for me, because a lot of the labor guys who are on the other side of this are good friends of mine. They worked for me in '92; they worked for me in '96. And I basically have been the best friend they've had in the White House, I think, since LBJ. But I believe strongly that -- you know, going back to Roosevelt, our party has been the party of engagement and partnership with the rest of the world.

Now, having said that, a lot of people are against this who don't even know what the details are. A lot of people are against our efforts because they have this generalized sense of unease about the globalized world into which we're moving, and they're afraid that even if they see somebody else flitting around on an airplane or living in a big house, they're somehow going to be left behind -- that somehow the rules are going to work against them, and all this change is going to leave them totally disoriented and at sea. And a lot of these people are our friends and our natural allies.

So I think one of the big questions that will occupy the United States for at least another decade is how to put a human face on the global economy. It is inconceivable to me that we can globalize the economy without trying to develop some sort of consensus about what kind of global society we will live in -- what our mutual responsibilities are to the planet; what our mutual responsibilities are to stand up against child labor, prison labor, female slavery, other abusive labor conditions.

And it's inconceivable to me that the World Trade Organization -- which I supported bringing into being, which I have labored to protect and expand -- but they're going to have to open their proceedings. They can't continue -- the WTO cannot continue to be the private preserve of politicians and CEOs -- in other words, people like those of us in this room. (Laughter.) It's not just us. We're fooling with people's lives out there with these decisions, and, you know, sooner or later, you keep making enough decisions that affect someone else, and you're going to listen to them one way or the other.

So while I think that that is a poor excuse, all these things, to vote against this bill, and we must never be in the position of making the perfect the enemy of the good, we should remember that for another decade America will have to be about the business of putting a human face on the global economy -- of trying to make it advance our values as well as our pocketbooks.

And when I think of those big questions, and I think about the handful of people that I know in this town that I feel most comfortable making those decisions, she's one of them. (Applause.) And I also like to make her blush. (Laughter.)

And this is the last thing I want to say to you. This is -- you know, on the one hand, I hope the American people will be more relaxed about this election than sometimes I fear they are when you see all these hysterical ads -- and some of the things that happened, particularly in the other party's primary, just sent me around the bend. (Laughter.) But I hope they will also be more serious.

I mean, I'd like to see -- you know, Governor Bush made a serious proposal today about what he thought ought to be done on missile defense and other stuff. And Al Gore's got a serious proposal. How will the American people that don't think about this all the time know what to do unless they get together and discuss it? They made different proposals on Social Security and Medicare. They ought to get together and talk about it.

But the thing I want to say to you is, in addition to being here for Ellen -- because a lot of you come from other parts of the country -- you need to make sure that everybody you talk to understands that the consequences of this election are just as significant as they were in '92, when the country was in the doldrums, or in '96, when they had to decide whether to ratify the direction we were taking.

And sometimes it is a sterner test of character to make the far-sighted decision when times are good than when they're bad. When times are bad, you don't have to be a genius to know you've got to do something different. (Laughter.) You don't have to be smart as a tree full of owls to know that you've got to figure out what in the world you're going to do, and go forward. (Laughter.)

When times are good, you know, people just sort of drift off and say, well, that sounds nice and that sounds nice, or maybe I'll stay home and do something else. I'm telling you, this is a big deal.

Once in a lifetime, a country finds itself in the position we're in now. And I do want you to be relaxed and have a good time, but you've got to understand, if we squander this opportunity, you have no earthly idea how long America will have to wait for it to come back around again. No earthly idea how long you'll have to wait for members of Congress like Ellen and Steny and Karen and Cal to be able to go there and debate how to build the future of our dreams for our children, instead of how to throw the water out of a leaking, sinking boat.

And there's not a soul here over 30 years old that can't cite one time in your life when you have made a serious personal or professional mistake, not because things were so terrible, but because things were so good you thought there were no consequences to breaking your concentration.

So that's the other thing I want to say. Every day between now and November, if you talk to somebody about anything like this, you remind them: this is a big deal. This is not just the first election of the millennium in calendar terms. It is the first election in psychological and political terms as well.

We have not been in this shape in my lifetime. We may not get here again, and we'd better make the most of it. Your being here for her shows that you've got a big head start on that.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END 8:31 P.M. EDT