[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[January 27, 1995]
[Pages 104-108]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors
January 27, 1995

    Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here. I see that half of 
the Cabinet is here. I guess they've already answered all your 
questions, solved all your problems. Now they can come solve ours. 
    Mayor Ashe and distinguished members of the organization, I'm 
delighted to see all of you. Is Mayor Grant from East Providence here? 
Your wife told me this was your birthday. Happy birthday, happy 
birthday. Just wanted you to know I was checking up on you. [Laughter]
    Let me begin by saying congratulations to all of you on the 
overwhelming passage of the unfunded mandate legislation by the Senate 
today, 86 to 10 the bill passed. I have not had a chance to look at the 
final version of the Senate bill. It just passed a little while ago. But 
I know some very good amendments were added, and I want to congratulate 
Senator Glenn and Senator Kempthorne. We worked very hard on this bill 
last year, and I was sorry we didn't pass it then. Both of them did 
very, very good work. And I believe the bill is a very strong one as it 
goes to the House. But I have not seen its final form, but I heard it 
was in good shape. And it must have been pretty good if it passed 86 to 
10. And I think that should be reassuring to you; it certainly is to me.
    I want to thank you for the resolution you passed on the baseball 
strike and the action

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we are taking. We will work very hard on that. I know how important it 
is to you. I sometimes think that the full economic implications of this 
whole thing have not been evaluated, not just for the cities that have 
major league teams but also for the cities that host spring training. 
This is a big deal, and we're working on it.
    I want to thank your international committee for the vote you took 
on the Mexican stabilization package that we have offered. As you know, 
this is not the most popular issue in America today, but it's important. 
And I thank you for your support. It's in the interest of our working 
people and our economy. And it's not a gift; it's not foreign aid; it's 
not even a loan. It's cosigning a note with good collateral. So it's in 
our interests, and I thank you for that.
    When I came here 2 years ago with a mission to restore the American 
dream for all of the people of this country and to make sure we moved to 
the next century still the strongest force in the world for freedom and 
democracy and peace and prosperity, I said then and had said all during 
my campaign that I wanted a new partnership for the American people. I 
called it a New Covenant of more opportunity and more responsibility, 
recognizing that unless we had more of both, we could not hope to do the 
things that have to be done.
    I have sought to essentially focus on three things that I think are 
critical to making sure we succeed in this new economy: empowering our 
people to make the most of their own lives, expanding opportunity but 
shrinking the Federal Government bureaucracy, giving more authority to 
State and local governments and to the private sector. And I have sought 
to enhance the security of our people at home and abroad. In all those 
things you have been very helpful and supportive, both of the specific 
initiatives of this administration and of your own efforts which fit so 
well into that framework.
    As all of you know, in the last 2 years we've had a lot of 
successes. We now have the figures in on 1994's growth rate. We know it 
was the best economic year our country had since 1984. We know that the 
combined rates of unemployment and inflation are the lowest they have 
been in 30 years. We know that we have inflation at a 30-year low. We 
know that, among other things, the African-American unemployment rate 
went into single digits for the first time in 20 years.
    So there is a lot--[applause]--we've tried to expand more authority 
to our States and to our cities, and we're bringing the Federal 
Government down in size and reach where it's appropriate. We already 
have 100,000 fewer people working for the National Government than we 
did when I became President. And if nothing else is done, it will shrink 
by another 170,000. And of course, in terms of security, the most 
important things we did were to pass the Brady bill and the crime bill, 
which you were active in and supportive of, and I thank you for all 
    As we look ahead in this year, which promises to be somewhat 
unpredictable but exciting and I think could be very productive for our 
country--and I must say this passage of this bill today and the 
reasonable deliberation in the Senate and the way the amendments were 
debated in good faith is quite encouraging to me--there are some things 
that I think we have to do. In terms of empowering our people to meet 
the challenges of this age, we have to realize our job is still to 
expand the middle class and to shrink the under class. And the two main 
initiatives our administration has this year are the middle class bill 
of rights and raising the minimum wage.
    We want to pass this middle class bill of rights, not only to give 
tax relief to middle class people who have been working harder for lower 
wages, or for at least no wage increases, but to do it in a way that 
will raise incomes in the short term and in the long term. That's why 
the focus is on a tax deduction for all educational expenses after high 
school and an IRA with tax-free withdrawal for education expenses or for 
health care expenses or for the care of a parent or purchasing a first-
time home, and why we seek to consolidate the 70 various training 
programs into one huge block and let people get directly a voucher that 
they can use if they're unemployed or, if they have a low-wage job and 
they're eligible for training, to take to the local community college or 
wherever else they wish to take it to get the education and training of 
their choice.
    I think it's important to raise the minimum wage because if we 
don't, next year the buying power of the minimum wage will be at a 40-
year low. And the evidence is clear that if you raise the minimum wage a 
modest amount, it doesn't cause increased unemployed and indeed may 
bring people back into the job market who

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otherwise are not willing to come in and go to work. So I would hope you 
would support both of those things.
    In the area of expanding opportunity and shrinking the bureaucracy, 
we're coming back with a second round of reinventing Government 
proposals--and perhaps Secretary Cisneros has already talked to you 
about what we're proposing for HUD--to collapse the 60 programs into 3. 
I want to emphasize that we're doing this to strengthen the mission of 
HUD and to strengthen the partnership that we have with the cities of 
this country, not to gut the Department's partnership or its capacity to 
help you do your job. And so I hope that you will help us as we debate 
this on both parts, say that you want to support a reduction in the size 
of the Federal bureaucracy but you do not want to see the mission of HUD 
as carried out by the mayors of this country undermined and weakened 
because you have a job to do.
    Finally, let me say some things about the crime bill. I very much 
hope that we will be able to work through, in this session of Congress, 
a good faith carrying forward of the crime bill that was passed last 
year. It became unfortunately embroiled in politics; you know that 
better than I do. And I think you also know that the prevention programs 
that were passed were programs that were recommended to us in the 
strongest possible terms not only by mayors, not only by community 
leaders but by the leaders of the law enforcement community and that a 
lot of those prevention programs that were later labeled as pork were 
cosponsored, the first time they came up, by people who later said they 
were pork.
    Well, all that's behind us now, and the only thing that matters now 
is, what is the best thing for the people of this country? What will 
keep our streets safer? What will reduce the crime rate more? What is 
the most likely approach to actually make the American people feel more 
secure? We must enhance our security at home. At the end of the cold 
war, I think it's fair to say that most Americans put their children to 
bed at night more worried about their security concerns at home than 
    So what we should seek to do, without regard to party or region of 
the country, is that which is most likely to make us most safe and to 
lower the crime rate. Many of you--I'll bet even a majority of you 
here--have recorded declines in the crime rate in the last year or so 
because of the strategies that mayors are adopting with community 
policing, with prevention programs, with using citizens to work with law 
enforcement to do things that will reach people in ways that will 
prevent crime as well as catch criminals more quickly. We have to take 
these lessons into account.
    So as we enter into a second round of debate about the crime bill, I 
would say there are two or three things that we ought to keep in mind. 
First, as I said in my State of the Union Address, we should not repeal 
the assault weapons ban. We should not do that. [Applause] This issue, 
as you can hear from the response, is not a Republican-Democratic issue, 
it is not a liberal-conservative issue, it is overwhelmingly an urban-
nonurban issue. And what we have to do is to convince all the people I 
grew up with--[laughter]--that we don't--we don't want to fool with 
anybody's hunting rifles. We don't want to stop anybody from going to 
shooting contests. We don't want to interfere with anybody's legitimate 
pursuit of happiness in the exercise of their right to keep and bear 
arms. But there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents us from 
exercising common sense. And people who live in urban settings know that 
the mortality rate in the emergency rooms of urban hospitals from 
gunshot wounds has gone up dramatically in the last 15 years because the 
average body has more bullets in it when it's wheeled into the emergency 
room. You do not have to be a genius to figure out what's happening.
    And so I hope that we can put an end to this war. This is a phony 
war among the American people. And those of us that respect people's 
right to hunt and to engage in other appropriate conduct, those of us 
that enjoy it ourselves, we ought to be able to ask each other again: 
What's best for America? And what good is it to pretend that it's a 
matter of principle to maintain the right of a bunch of teenagers to 
have Uzis on the streets of our cities.
    So I hope you will talk about this in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical 
way and realize this is one of those cultural problems that's gripping 
America. We got too many of them. They're keeping us apart. But we need 
to say to the nonurban folks in our society, this is something that--
we've got to work this out. This is a fair deal. This is a balanced 
bill. There are 650 weapons enumerated in this bill that cannot be 
infringed on by the Government in any way, shape, or

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form. And so let's let this alone and go on about the business of the 
    I also think we ought to emphasize that at least the Attorney 
General is doing her dead-level best to make sure that the 
administration of the crime bill that passed is nonbureaucratic, 
nonpolitical, and efficient. If you look at what's happened so far, in 
October, not even 2 weeks into the new fiscal year, we had already 
funded 392 policing grants that went unfunded last year. Last month, at 
your recommendation, we gave 631 larger cities the go-ahead to begin 
recruiting and training more than 4,600 new officers. So they know the 
money will be there when their applications are handed in.
    For the smaller cities, we've streamlined the application process, 
allowing them to apply more quickly for police with a simple one-page 
application. I don't know how many one-page applications we've got in 
the Government now, but I know you can ask for an SBA loan or a 
policeman with one page. You ought to be able to do more things with one 
    This COPS program has now helped more than 1,000 communities to put 
more than 10,000 more police officers on the street in all 50 States. 
Within a week, when the announcement is made of the winners of the COPS 
FAST program, that total will be close to 15,000, well on the way to the 
100,000 goal of the crime bill. That would be a 20 percent increase in 
the strength on the streets.
    Now, the crime bills now being considered in Congress have some 
things that I think may be superficially appealing but need to be 
thought through. If you scrap the $8.8 billion COPS initiative, as some 
suggest, and replace it with a $10 billion block grant which also has to 
include prevention programs, the good news is you'll have a block grant. 
The bad news is there'll be a lot less money in it than was provided 
    And keep in mind, to all those who say it wasn't funded, we did not 
raise one red cent in taxes to pay for the crime bill. We did not take 
one red cent away from any other program. We simply dedicated all the 
savings to be gained from reducing the size of the Federal bureaucracy 
to giving it back to local communities to use to fund the crime bill. 
That's what was done.
    Now, to make matters worse, some have suggested that the $10 billion 
block grant to fund police and prevention could only be funded if we 
first fund $10 billion in new prisons. So that's a decision that some 
would make against the unanimous advice of every police officer in the 
country who has testified. If we make that decision, that would be like 
people saying, ``We don't care what lowers crime; we don't care what 
makes people safer; we don't care what people in law enforcement who 
vote Republican and Democrat say. This is what we're going to do. It 
will make us feel better, and we can claim that it was the best thing to 
    We should not do that. This ought not to become a political issue. 
That crime bill had a balance of police and prevention and prisons. We 
shouldn't take all the prevention money away through the back door and 
put it into prisons. And we shouldn't say that the prisons are more 
important than the police and the prevention. I had no objection to 
getting into the business of helping States with their prison 
construction, even though it was totally unprecedented, but there is no 
evidence that that is the way to lower the crime rate. The American 
people want to be safer at night; they want their kids to be safer on 
the streets and at school. And we ought to be driven by what is best for 
the American people.
    I would also say, just parenthetically, that even last year I was 
concerned when the crime bill passed that the conditions on getting that 
Federal money for prison construction were so restrictive and required 
such a large State match that a lot of that money might never be used. 
We cannot permit a cruel hoax to then be written into the law saying, 
well, you can get this block grant for police and prevention but only 
after the prison money is spent and then have conditions on spending the 
prison money so strict that it will never be spent in the first place.
    So I urge you to just go up there without regard to your party or 
region and say, look, let's do what will lower the crime rate; let's do 
what will keep people safer. The American people will figure that out. 
They will trust their local leaders; they will trust their local law 
enforcement people; they will trust them. We can share responsibility 
now. There need be no characterization that is negative when this 
process is over. There need be no name-calling. There needs to be no 
anything. We just need to do what is right to lower the crime rate. And 
all of us have worked so hard on this.
    Again, I would say this is like the assault weapons issue. We've got 
big issues to deal with.

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This unfunded mandates is one. Welfare reform is another. How we're 
going to lower the deficit and provide tax relief is another. There are 
major positive issues that we're going to have to face. We don't need to 
reopen an issue and make it worse. So I ask you to help us on that.
    Now, let me say one final thing about the baseball strike, if I 
might. I asked Bill Usery, the Federal mediator, to get the sides back 
together and report to me by February 6th. Anybody know what February 
6th is? It's Babe Ruth's 100th birthday. So it struck me as a good day 
to settle the baseball strike. I identify with Babe Ruth. He's a little 
overweight. [Laughter] And he struck out a lot--[laughter]--but he hit a 
lot of home runs because he went to bat. You are the people in this 
country who go to bat. You have to deal directly with people. You have 
to be accountable, not only for the rhetoric of your speeches but the 
reality of your actions.
    And so I ask you to take this opportunity to join with us, and let's 
make the decision the American people made last November a good decision 
by making it one of shared responsibility. Let's move what we can back 
to the State and local level. Let's work to empower people. Let's reduce 
the burden of Government and increase the opportunity it creates. We can 
do these things, but it is very important that we not fix what ain't 
broke and that we not become diverted by issues that can only divide us 
when there is so much we can do that will bring us together.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:36 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive 
Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Victor Ashe of 
Knoxville, TN, president, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Mayor Rolland 
R. Grant of East Providence, RI.