THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, SENATOR TOM DASCHLE AND CONGRESSMAN DICK GEPHARDT AT DEMOCRATIC AGENDA EVENT The Rose Garden
3:10 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, on behalf of all of us, I want to apologize -- please be seated -- for keeping you waiting. But these are the closing hours of the congressional session, before the August recess. And Senator Daschle and Leader Gephardt and the other members of Congress have come here today to speak with one voice about our position. But Congress is packing up and preparing to adjourn for the summer recess and the two conventions. And I only wish we were late because they'd been out there passing our bills. (Laughter and applause.)
Let me say, we're here because we believe the congressional Republican leadership is leaving town with a trunk full of unfinished business vital to the health of our economy and the well being of our people. We spent the last seven years charting a course of fiscal discipline and investment in our people, and it has paid off, with the longest economic expansion in history, over 22 million new jobs, the lowest minority unemployment rate in our history, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years.
Instead of continuing on that path, in the last few weeks -- indeed, for the last year, the Republican majority has risked squandering our progress. They have passed reckless tax cut after reckless tax cut after reckless tax cut, to drain away our hard-earned surplus and put us back in the red. When you add them all up, this Congress has passed tax bills that would cost nearly $2 trillion over 10 years. Even by the most optimistic estimates, this wouldn't leave a dime for lengthening the life of Social Security or Medicare -- not one dime; not a dime for voluntary and affordable Medicare prescription drug benefits or for education and school construction. And it would make it impossible for us to get America out of debt by 2012.
There is a better way. We can do all the things I just mentioned and still give the American people needed, targeted tax relief. Let me be clear: we do support the right kind of tax cuts for working Americans. I have proposed a program of cuts that will give a middle-class American family substantially more benefits than the Republican plan at less than half the cost; two-thirds of the relief going to the middle 60 percent of our people, including our carefully-targeted marriage penalty relief.
The tax cuts will also help families save up to $2,800 a year on the cost of college by making tuition tax deductible; a $3,000 long-term care tax credit to help millions of Americans shoulder the enormous financial burden of caring for chronically ill family members. And a tax cut that will help millions of families pay up to $2,400 a year for child care; to expand the EITC, providing up to $1,100 of tax relief for millions of hard-working families.
Today, we have more evidence that our plan will help more of the people who really need it. We're releasing a state-by-state analysis, showing that the estate tax repeal, recently passed by the Republican majority, would benefit only about 2 percent of America's families -- the wealthiest 2 percent, of course -- providing them of an average tax cut of $800,000. And fully half those benefits would go to just one-tenth of 1 percent of all Americans.
Let me hasten to say the Democrats offered an alternative which would have taken two-thirds of the people subject to the estate tax out from under it, but would have left its progressive character, not repealed it entirely, and not cost the budget $100 billion over the first 10 years and $750 billion thereafter.
In contrast to these proposals, our Medicare prescription drug benefit would provide affordable coverage for 39 million seniors and people with disabilities, with average incomes of about $20,000 a year. This report clearly shows that our approach put the interest of American families first, and ensures that the nation's unprecedented prosperity benefits everyone.
Let me just mention one other thing -- I never want to talk about this without mentioning. We also have a report from the Council of Economic Advisors estimating that if our economic proposals are followed, as opposed to theirs, giving all this money away with the tax cuts, interest rates will be 1 percent lower over the next decade. That is the equivalent of a $250 billion tax cut for home mortgages. It's the equivalent of a $30 billion tax cut for lower car payments and college loan payments.
There is a huge difference here that the American people have to understand. I think the Republican majority ought to go to work in the time we have left this year on the people's business.
So when they go off on vacation, the congressional majority should take a long list of required summer reading, a list of what we need to get done when they come back to Washington: to strengthen and modernize Social Security and Medicare and add that prescription drug benefit; to stand up to special interest and pass a strong and enforceable patients' bill of rights; to pass common-sense gun legislation to close the gun show loophole, require child safety locks for all handguns, ban the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips; to raise the minimum wage by $1 over two years. (Applause.)
To continue hiring those hundred thousand teachers; to reduce class sizes in the early grades; to improve teacher quality; to modernize 6,000 of our schools that are literally falling apart, and repair another 5,000 a year; and to provide after-school programs and summer school programs for all the kids in this country who need it so that we can turn around those failing schools. And we need to stop the delay and pass strong hate crimes legislation.
This is not a list to be read; it's a list to be acted upon. (Applause.) Thank you. I hope when Congress comes back, they'll do it. Again, I want to thank all the members that are here, and another 40 or 50 or so that wanted to come, but because of the way the time table and the voting is unfolding, they can't.
I'm going to modify the program just a little bit and ask Senator Daschle to come forward, because he's got to get back to make sure we don't lose any more votes. Senator Daschle. (Applause.)
SENATOR DASCHLE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for having us back. And thank you for your extraordinary efforts these past few weeks to advance the causes of peace and prosperity here at home and throughout the world. From the Oval Office to Camp David, to Okinawa, we thank you, Mr. President, for the extraordinary leadership that you have given us time and time again. (Applause.) We are inspired by you and indebted to you for your tireless efforts to make the future better than the past.
Not everyone in government thinks that way. In Congress, instead of making the future better than our past, our Republican colleagues seem determined to recreate the past. We've finally gotten rid of the deficit, and they're hell-bent on bringing it back. (Applause.)
In the last two weeks, they passed two tax cuts that, together, would cost the American taxpayers more than $1 trillion in the decade after this one -- the same decade that the baby boomers start to retire. And if that's not bad enough, the Republican tax cuts give as much money to the wealthiest 1 percent as they do to the bottom 80 percent of Americans combined.
If you're among the richest 1 percent of Americans, under the Republican tax cut plan you get $16,000. But if you're like most Americans, you get about $200. The Republican tax cuts are also so irresponsible and so clearly tilted to favor the wealthy, that they're afraid to even send them to the President before the convention. They don't want anyone to look beyond the labels and see what the tax cuts really do; but the American people aren't going to be fooled.
America's families deserve better than what Republicans are offering them, and we can do better. We should cut taxes this year. Our economy is strong enough and the surplus is big enough. But there's a right way and a wrong way to cut taxes. The Republican tax cuts reward the few; our tax cuts invest in the future. Their tax cut plan benefits the wealthiest 1 or 2 percent; our plan helps the other 98 percent.
Listen to what we can do for less than what the Republican tax cuts would cost: we can eliminate the marriage penalty for working families who pay it. We can eliminate the estate tax for nearly all family-owned farms and businesses faster than the Republicans do under their plan. They do not remove even one farm from the estate tax rolls for 10 years. That's just the beginning.
We can also make up to $12,000 a year of college tuition tax-deductible. And we can help families put their children through college, or go back to school themselves and learn new skills so they can move ahead in today's rapidly-changing economy. We can help families care for the elderly or disabled family members by providing them with a $3,000 long-term care tax credit. We can make child care more affordable by more than doubling the tax credit for dependent children and providing additional tax relief for families with stay-at-home parents.
On top of that, we can help middle-class families save for retirement and increase the earned income tax credit, which Ronald Reagan called "the best job-creating, most pro-family tax plan ever passed in the Congress." We can also make the research and development tax credit permanent to spur innovation, and we can eliminate the phone tax and provide New Market initiatives that the President has so strongly provided leadership for, to help bring jobs and opportunities to America's poorest cities and rural communities.
We can do all of those things, every single one of those things that I've mentioned for less than the cost of the Republican tax cuts. So the question isn't: should we cut taxes? The question is: how should we cut taxes? Who should we help first? The 80 percent of America's families who are stretched to the limit trying to make a decent life for themselves, or the people at the top who have already got it made?
We think the answer is obvious. A year ago, Republicans passed a similar tax cut, then spent the month of August trying to sell their plan to the American people. Everywhere they went, people told them the same thing: read our lips. No new tax cuts for the rich. We need to pay down the debt, cut taxes for working families and invest in America's future.
Mr. President, we're here to tell you: we will support your veto of every single Republican tax bill. We make that pledge this afternoon. (Applause.)
But just as importantly, we will work with you and we will work with our Republican colleagues to pass tax cuts that will help America's families meet the challenges of the future, not repeat the mistakes of the past.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce someone who fights every day for working families, my partner in the House, Dick Gephardt. (Applause.)
CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: Thank you very much. First, let me add a comment to what Tom Daschle said about the President's work in the last weeks to try to bring about peace in the Middle East.
He didn't succeed in the end, but he tried very hard. And a lot of progress was made. And I believe with all my heart that before this President leaves office, he will achieve the peace in the Middle East that we all seek. (Applause.)
For these last years, President Clinton, with our support, has kept this great nation on the path of fiscal discipline, invested wisely in our people and helped produce the longest economic expansion in the history of the United States. As a nation, we have made a commitment to paying down the debt. And that, combined with the entrepreneurial energy of the American people, has led to the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years in this country.
More new jobs have been created in this administration than in any administration in our history. Homeownership is at its highest rate in history. Our poverty rate is at a 20-year low. And average families in this country squarely in the middle of the income scale are enjoying the lowest tax rate since 1978. (Applause.)
So the economic ground on which we stand has never been stronger. We have before us the opportunity now to do great things for the American people, to lift the tide for those who may not be riding so high on the wave of prosperity in our country. But this Republican led Congress has strived for mediocrity, not greatness. The mediocrity has brought them the praise of special interests, whose industries benefit from our failure, and the disappointment of a nation of people who've rightly become cynical about whose interests are being attended to in their Congress.
Accomplishment in Washington has become an acronym for blocking progress. Republican chest beating and self-congratulation aside, a legislative accomplishment is not an accomplishment, by definition, until President Clinton signs it into law. The Republicans today who claim great achievement have sent President Clinton only 78 bills this year. One out of four of those bills named post offices and buildings -- not exactly the most important matters that are before us. Most involve little debate, most pass by a voice vote.
The few true accomplishments, bills the President actually signed -- repealing the Social Security earnings test, which was greatly needed; the E-signatures bill, and requiring disclosure by so-called 527s, secret campaign organizations were done because of a genuine bipartisan effort to pass those bills.
Progress and accomplishment doesn't come easily in a Congress that's as closely divided as ours. Real progress, real, meaningful change can only come through truly bipartisan consensual efforts. There is no way around it. That has not happened this year, and it hasn't happened for a reason. Protecting the interest of the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical companies and the National Rifle Association has been a full-time job for the Republican leadership. (Applause.)
Now, we've come agonizingly close to real achievement on a patients' bill of rights. And I hope we can get one this year. On providing a prescription drug benefit for our senior citizens. And I still hope we can get one this year. On passing effective gun safety legislation, and I hope we can get that done this year. And campaign finance reform -- finally, let us be able to get campaign finance reform this year.
But all of it has been frustrated by powerful, special interests who haven't wanted these bills to go through -- and the Republican leaders' sworn allegiance to their efforts.
The American people have a bottom line that's measured in their own reality: are they safer? Are their families healthier? Are their families more secure by result of what we do here in Washington? By that measure, this Congress has failed miserably to live up to our expectations. A review of what we've been doing is instructive. As Tom said, while Republicans have put forward a series of tax cuts that total nearly $2 trillion, Democrats join with the President to push for targeted tax relief for middle-income families, coupled with an agenda that pays down the debt, strengthens Social Security and Medicare and provides a real prescription drug benefit for our seniors.
Democrats proposed an affordable, reliable prescription drug benefit for our senior citizens. We said that if you're elderly and having trouble paying for your medicine, you need a benefit now -- not next year, not the year after that -- you need it this year and we need to get it done. (Applause.)
We need to modernize our schools. We need more teachers. We need better qualified teachers. We need teachers who are ready to walk in the classroom and excite and motivate our children, and make sure that every child in this society is a productive, law abiding citizen of this country. That's not too much to ask of this Congress. We have not been able to get them off the dime to do the things this President has asked them to do for buildings and teachers and computers and pre-school and after-school and summer school and what we need to do to save the children of this country. We need it now. (Applause.)
We fought for sensible gun safety legislation. How many more children do we need to lose in our streets before we put safety locks on the guns and before we do something to stop this gun show loophole once and for all? (Applause.) But the NRA didn't want it, so we don't have it.
And then there is the matter of the minimum wage. How cruel is it to have some family out there trying to live on the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour -- and there are millions of people stuck on that minimum wage. But the Chamber of Commerce didn't want it, and so the Republican leaders won't go forward with it. And the HMOs didn't want the patients' bill of rights and the insurance companies don't want it. And so we have patients out there today -- and let me tell you something, if you're a patient and you're not getting the care that you paid for, you don't need to wait until next year, you need it now if somebody in your family is sick. (Applause.)
Well, Mr. President, when we come back in September, we're going to have three weeks left. Three weeks is not a lot of time, but it's enough time if the Republican leadership will finally come to the table with you, stop sending you bills that you're just vetoing because they're too big and too wrong, and sit down with you and work out a compromise and get a consensus to move this country in the right direction. I pray that they do that.
I'm often asked, gee, wouldn't that blow up your political plan for the fall. Well, let me tell you something, I didn't come here to concoct political plans. All these members came here to do something meaningful for the people they represent. That is what is in our hearts and minds. And, Mr. President, we will work with you every day in September and we'll go into the middle or end of October if we can get these bills done for the American people. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Debbie, I want to ask your parents and all your siblings and family members to stand -- everybody that is here from Debbie's family, stand up. (Applause.) Isn't that great? Bless you.
I just want to make a couple of points in closing. If the Congress passed only our college opportunity tax cut, it would be worth ten times as much to families like Debbie's as the entire Republican tax cut.
The second thing I want to say is, if interest rates rise 1 percent higher than they otherwise would be because we spend the entire surplus on tax cuts, it will cost the average family $270 a year, which is more than they'll get in a tax cut.
The final thing I want to say is this: even if you don't think you'll get any benefits out of any of these tax cuts we've proposed -- keep in mind, all this proposed surplus that they want to spend is just that, it's estimated. We don't have a dollar of it yet.
Now, if you got one of those letters in the mail from Ed McMahon -- (laughter) -- that said, you may have won $10 million, would you go out and spend $10 million the next day? If you would, you should support their plan. (Applause.) But if you wouldn't, you better stick with us and keep the prosperity going and help people like Debbie. (Applause.)
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 3:37 P.M. EDT