[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[February 22, 1995]
[Pages 243-250]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Business Council
February 22, 1995

    Thank you very much. Ed, you did such a good job, I was thinking 
there wasn't much more for me to say. I'll just--what if I say I agree 
and sit down and get a free meal? [Laughter] I'm delighted to be back 
here with this group, and I'm glad to see many old friends. I've tried 
to make a couple of the tables, and afterward, I want to go around to 
say hello to everybody I missed.
    I, more than anything else, want to say, too, I appreciate the 
receptivity that many, many members of this group have had to working

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with me and with the members of our administration. I have many members 
of the Cabinet here and sub-Cabinet members, and we've worked on a whole 
range of issues.
    As a gesture of good will, I left my golf clubs home tonight--
[laughter]--so none of you are in danger of being hit by errant balls. 
Actually, I didn't hit anybody last week, either. I didn't hit it far 
enough to hit anybody. I was trying, but I couldn't get the ball up in 
the air.
    I've given some thought to what we ought to talk about tonight. 
There are several issues I want to speak about. Maybe I should try to do 
pretty much what I did last year, which is to just give you an update as 
big stockholders in America on where I think we are and where we have to 
    I'd like to begin by thanking you for the work we've done together 
in trade, particularly, and the support many of you have given to our 
deficit reduction and budget control and Government reduction efforts 
over the last couple of years and the involvements we've had in building 
new and, in many ways, unprecedented partnerships with the private 
sector to try to promote American products and services around the 
    But even more fundamental than that, I'd like to say that perhaps 
the thing we have most in common is not that we run big operations. Some 
of you may have heard the story I've been telling about the college 
president who told me over New Year's that being president was like 
running a cemetery. You had a lot of people under you, but nobody was 
listening. [Laughter] And sometimes you may feel that way as well.
    But what we really have in common is that we've had the chance, each 
of us in our different ways, to live the American dream. We've had 
opportunities to do what we want to do, to live out the dreams of our 
childhood, to be rewarded for our labors in ways that very few people in 
this country and in this world have had. And it may be just because 
we're eminently deserving, but I'm sure we'd all admit we've been the 
beneficiaries of good fortune and a lot of help along the way as well. I 
know that I certainly feel that way.
    And I think we have a peculiar obligation at this moment in our 
country's history when there is so much change going on to try to make 
sure that we preserve the dream that we've lived for all the people that 
are coming after us. That's really the mission that I think we should 
all be on at the end of the 20th century.
    As you look ahead to the future, it is so full of excitement and 
opportunity and unimaginable benefits. But it is also full of a range of 
changes and challenges to ordinary people that are truly intimidating. 
And these challenges, these great opportunities that are sweeping across 
our country as we hurdle into the global economy of the 21st century are 
having very uneven impacts out there in America, even among people who 
are all trying to do the right thing as hard as they can. All the 
downsizing and rightsizing and changing all the challenges and all the 
rewards that come to people who meet the education premium of the 
knowledge society, they all have a different side which brings upheaval 
and uncertainty and insecurity to an awful lot of our folks.
    And at a time like this, it's very important that the people who are 
out there, trying to make sense of what's going on in the world as it 
affects their lives, at least know that those of us who are in positions 
of leadership and who have responsibility for capturing and keeping and 
preserving and passing on the American dream are doing our dead-level 
best to do that and to keep a world in which, if you're in this country 
and you're doing the right things, you've got a good chance to be 
rewarded for your efforts in making a successful career and raising a 
successful family.
    I ran for President because I thought we were running away from too 
many of our major challenges, because it was too easy to play the 
politics of the moment. There is, as we find repeatedly, a price for 
taking the long view and doing things that are difficult and unpopular, 
but nonetheless, that's work that has to be done.
    When I got here, we began by passing the biggest deficit reduction 
package in history, one that would reduce the deficit by $600 billion-
plus over 5 years. We cut or eliminated outright more than 300 programs, 
reduced the Federal Government already by over 100,000 positions and, if 
no new laws were passed by the new Congress, the size of the Federal 
Government would be shrunk by 272,000 now over 5 years, making it the 
smallest it's been since Mr. Kennedy was the President of the United 
    In that budget, we were able to give tax relief for working families 
with incomes of under $26,000 a year, increase the expensing provision

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for the small businesses of our country in ways that benefited large 
numbers of them, and of course, we've worked together to lower export 
barriers and to pass NAFTA and GATT, to get the APEC nations to agree to 
a free trade zone in Asia early in the next century, and at the Summit 
of the America's, we've agreed to work on a free trade zone here in our 
own back yard.
    We've had the most active and aggressive efforts on behalf of 
American interests by the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private 
Investment Corporation, at least in all of my experience, and I think of 
that of most of yours. We've tried to harness the power of science and 
technology and the downsizing of the defense budget to make them 
opportunities for us to develop new commercial products that we can sell 
around the world.
    It is important in all these things to realize that we have made a 
fundamental choice as Americans, a choice we've been making now for many 
decades, and that is that we're going to compete and win in the world; 
we're not going to run away from it; we're not going to attempt to hide 
behind barriers; we're going to face the very vigorous challenges that 
global competition presents; and we're going to make them work for the 
American people and for our future.
    Not everyone believes that that's a course we should take. That has 
not only economic implications but also security implications. And so I 
ask that those of you who understand that support the decisions that we 
will have to make that may be unpopular in the short run.
    Many of you have already written to me or called me, supporting the 
action that I took with regard to the financial crisis in Mexico. I 
appreciate that. It is an important issue for the workers and the 
business interests of this country long-term and, as many of you know, 
not simply because of Mexico but because of Argentina and Brazil and all 
of Latin America and, indeed, the developing world at large. We have a 
stake in seeing that people who are committed to democracy and to free 
market economics and to open trade have a chance to succeed in a 
difficult world. And we should not be surprised when there are certain 
rocks in the road, when the path is uneasy and uneven. And so I hope 
that all of you believe that I did the right thing, but I do want to say 
for those of you who have expressed your support, I appreciate that.
    The second point I want to make is that this is not just an economic 
issue. The burdens of leadership, if we want to benefit from them, also 
require us to be involved in the world in foreign policy issues, require 
us to take the lead, for example, in trying to resolve the nuclear issue 
with North Korea, require us to do things that are wildly unpopular in 
the short term but are in our long-term interest, like restoring 
democracy in Haiti and require us to continue to support responsible 
operations in the United Nations.
    Now, in this new Congress, there will be many debates designed 
basically to try to withdraw the United States from a role of world 
leadership. And I understand why people who voted for both parties in 
the last congressional election are overwhelmingly preoccupied with 
their own problems at home. But what you understand is, we cannot solve 
our problems at home unless we remain a leader in the world. It is a 
false choice.
    And so, I urge you to engage the new Congress in a constructive 
debate from your perspective about our responsibilities to maintain the 
leadership of the United States in economic affairs, in support of 
freedom and free markets, and in security affairs. And the two things go 
hand in hand. We should be prudent. We should be restrained. We should 
not be involved in every conflict. We cannot solve every problem. But 
where we can make a difference, where it is plainly in the interest of 
the United States, we must be in a position to do so, in terms of our 
economic interests and our security interests. So that's the first 
request I would make of you in our common obligation to preserve the 
American dream into the next century.
    The second thing I'd like to say is that we have cut Government, and 
we've made it work better. We've tried to do things that other people 
talked about. We've deregulated much of the banking operations. We've 
deregulated intrastate trucking. We have lowered dramatically export 
controls on high-tech products. We've reformed the Federal procurement 
system, which was an unbelievable mess and which the Vice President 
liked because it got him on the David Letterman show, breaking up $10 
glass ashtrays. [Laughter]
    We cut the SBA loan form from an inch thick to a page long and the 
response time to nearly nothing. We did the same thing with FHA 
processing. We are working hard with this

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new Congress in many ways that I think all Americans support. I was glad 
to sign the law applying to Congress any requirements it imposes on 
private employers, and I think that will make the Congress think a while 
when they start passing laws that affect you, when they have to consider 
how it will affect them.
    We are working now to pass a bill that will reduce the burden of 
unfunded Federal mandates on State and local governments, and I think we 
should. We are trying to resolve the conflicts in Federal regulations 
that have often occurred between one agency and another, and we are 
making some specific progress there in getting the Labor Department and 
the EPA to work together.
    All of these things have been part of an economic strategy that, 
when combined with your remarkable efforts and those of American 
business people, large and small, and American workers all across this 
country, booming productivity, all these things together have given us 
the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation in 25 years, 
nearly 6 million new jobs, 93 percent of them in the private sector, the 
highest rate of private sector job growth in any recovery in the last 20 
years. For the first time in 9 years, last year our country's economy 
was voted the most productive in the world.
    We've reduced our deficit to about half the percentage of our 
national income it was when I became President. And the Council of 
Economic Advisers gave me an interesting chart the other day which 
showed the annual deficit of the country, except for interest on the 
debt--to show you what a problem that is, you take away interest on the 
accumulated national debt--the last time we had an operating surplus in 
the Federal budget was in Lyndon Johnson's term, and it was tiny. In the 
Kennedy-Johnson term, it was larger. In our first 2 years, our operating 
surplus, without interest on the debt, is as large as it was in the 
Kennedy-Johnson term, the first time in 30 years that's been the case 
through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. So we have 
worked hard to control Government spending, but the accumulated burden 
of interest on the debt has changed the dynamics rather dramatically of 
managing that problem.
    We had to make some tough decisions to get to this point. They were 
characterized by our opponents in the last election in ways that 
benefited them politically and burdened us. People accused us of raising 
their taxes when we didn't and accused us of expanding the Government 
when we were contracting it.
    But the important thing is not the results of any particular 
election but that we did the right thing and that the country is moving 
in the right direction, and we must continue to do that and take on the 
jobs that are still ahead. We know we've got a lot more work to do in 
changing the way the Federal Government works. And I believe now more 
than anything else, we are in place and on the way to eliminating and 
consolidating any number of Government programs. In this new budget, we 
cut or eliminate another 400 and consolidate them.
    We've proposed the ``GI bill'' for America's workers, which I hope 
every one of you will support, which would consolidate 70 Federal 
training programs into one program and give an unemployed worker or a 
worker with a wage so low that he or she qualifies for Federal training 
funds the right to a $2,600 a year voucher to take to the nearest 
community college or to any other approved training program to get 
whatever training they need. So that instead of having all these 
piecemeal Federal programs of uncertain impact, we just put the money in 
a pot and use it to educate and retrain workers who are moving between 
jobs. That will increase the productivity of the work force, reduce the 
time of unemployment, and increase the earning capacity of a lot of 
    Those are the kinds of things we're working on. I think perhaps the 
most important thing we can do, to go back to something Ed said, is to 
try to change this sort of culture of regulation which has accumulated 
over the last 30 or 35 years in both Republican and Democratic 
administrations, unrelated to whether the objectives of the regulation 
are in conventional terms, if you will, liberal or conservative.
    We have regulators who have not wanted to be arbitrary, so they've 
tried to think of every conceivable circumstance that could happen in a 
certain area and then write rules with overwhelming precision, the 
impact of which was to be so incapable of understanding that the 
administration of them was as arbitrary as if you had written something 
very general.
    We have other rules which focus too much on the process rather than 
the end product. Instead of saying, ``This is the clean air standard 
that State X must meet,'' they say, ``Here are the 25 things you have to 
do because they will

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produce the clean air standard,'' whether they will or not.
    We have too many rules where the process of enforcing the rules is 
evaluated more than the results. We've found, for example, that we had 
Customs officials who were evaluated on their jobs based on how many 
shipments of imported toys they commandeered. Well, not surprisingly, we 
had more toys than other products in certain Customs places, because 
that's how you determine whether you were doing a good job, not whether 
there was anything wrong with the toys or not. We have other places 
where people are qualified and evaluated for promotions based on the 
volume, the number of fines that they write, not whether or not they 
eliminate the problem which causes people to get fined in the first 
    So this whole culture, it seems to me, needs a thorough 
reexamination. Yesterday, the Vice President and I made an appearance 
before all of the Federal regulators from all of the agencies and 
introduced some of our success stories, a banker from Oklahoma who came 
to talk about how the Comptroller of the Currency was dealing with banks 
from his point of view better than anybody had in decades. We also 
introduced some reminders of why we need regulation, a man whose wife 
was saved by air bags, a man whose son was lost to E. coli poisoning 
because the rule we now have in place on meat inspections was not there 
when his son ate contaminated food. And we talked about the changes we 
were going to try to make.
    I instructed these regulators to review every single regulation they 
have by June 1st and make a report to me by June 1st based on which ones 
they thought could be scrapped altogether, which ones could be modified, 
and whether any of the regulation could better be done at the State and 
local level or by some self-policing mechanism. I asked them to look for 
new measures of success that focused more on results as opposed to 
    Finally, the Vice President's conducting a review of all of the 
regulations covering food, health, the environment, worker safety, and 
financial institutions to make further recommendations for reforms in 
those areas.
    I want to work with the Republicans in this area to try to help to 
break and change a culture of regulation that makes people hate the 
Federal Government when they think it is grinding on them in ways that 
don't make sense and which don't necessarily--the culture often doesn't 
necessarily give us better regulation and better results. And I hope 
that we can work together to do this, but I don't think we ought to roll 
back or wreck things that do work or walk away from our obligation to 
elevate the quality of life in this country.
    One of the reasons our economy is strong, in my judgment, is that we 
have found a way to pursue economic growth and pursue environmental 
protection. We have found a way to pursue increasing productivity, and 
we have seen a reduction in injuries in the workplace.
    So I don't think most people believe we ought to walk away from our 
obligation to have safe food or safe toys or clean air or clean water. I 
don't believe that it's wrong to make sure that our cars are safe or 
that mammograms are accurate. I think that these safeguards really work. 
The question is, how can we change them in ways that really make sense?
    I find that a lot of the things we have to do, like a lot of the 
things you have to do, are not particularly sexy, flashy changes; they 
require hard work. And the impact of them accumulates over time. It's 
just like these 102,000 employees that don't work for the Federal 
Government anymore. A lot of people are genuinely surprised because they 
didn't see any of them leaving on the news at night. And they didn't, 
because we managed the process in a very disciplined way to try to 
minimize disruption in people's lives, the same way you would manage the 
    Now, the temptation is always to try to do something that will make 
a statement that will pierce the public consciousness even if it's not 
the right remedy. That's what we're facing on regulation now, from my 
point of view. Some of the people in the Republican Congress are 
proposing that we freeze all Federal regulations for an extended period 
of time in a way that would override every single pending health and 
safety law on the books. To me, that's not acceptable. And there are a 
whole lot of pending regulations that we have people in this room who 
want to go through. And it will create unimaginable headaches. The last 
time we did it, every single analysis was that it cost more money than 
it saved, that it led to lawsuits, that it turned out to be a headache.
    I know we need to change the way the Federal Government regulates. 
We have already done it in some areas. We have not done nearly

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what we need to do. We have a process in place that we've been working 
on for months to do it. But I ask you to help us do it in the right way. 
I also hope that when we get into this whole budget, we will be able to 
proceed in the right and responsible way.
    A lot of you here, for example, have argued in the past and have 
testified in the Congress for expanding Head Start, for the Women, 
Infant, and Children program, for continuing to invest in the education 
and training of our people. We know that the only way to raise incomes 
in America and the global economy is to improve the education and 
training of the work force and to improve the overall productivity and 
wealth-generating capacity of the economic system itself. We clearly 
have an obligation there. And so, I would hope that the second thing I 
would ask you--the third thing, after the regulatory issue--support 
regulatory reform, insist on it, demand on it, demand it, give us your 
ideas, but let's don't do something that looks good that will have a 
perverse impact.
    And the third thing I would ask is that you would support an 
investment budget for the Federal Government that gives people the 
chance to make the most of their own lives. It gives people the chance 
to get the education and training they need.
    You know, one of the best things we've done is this direct student 
loan program. When I ran for President--and I had been a Governor for a 
dozen years; I had listened to students who dropped out of college; I 
listened to people who couldn't go to college; I listened to older 
people who wanted to go back. And one of the things I kept hearing 
complaints about was the loan program and how a lot of people wouldn't 
go to school or would drop out because they didn't want to borrow so 
much money and they didn't think they could pay it back. So under our 
system now, people who borrow money, number one, get it at lower cost 
and, number two, have the option of paying the money back as a 
percentage of their income, so that if they get out of school and take a 
modestly paying job, they can still pay their loans back no matter what 
the burden is.
    And believe it or not, because we went to direct loans and got out 
of the middle-man system where we essentially guaranteed student loans 
to banks who made them so that there was no risk and very little 
incentive on collecting and no incentive to go to court to collect, 
because we were going to pay anyway, we actually have cut the cost of 
the student loan program by over $5 billion over a 5-year period and 
increased the volume of loans and lowered its cost.
    These are the kinds of things, it seems to me, we ought to be doing. 
And by the way, every now and then the Government does something right. 
When I became President, you were paying out $2.8 billion a year in tax 
money because of loan defaults. We've cut that to $1 billion a year. 
We've cut it by almost two-thirds, the costs.
    So these are the things, it seems to me, we ought to be doing. And 
so I would say to you that on this last point--this is very important--
it's not only important for us to say what the Government should not be 
doing--and I will support this new Congress, as I said, in many ways; 
we're going to have a big fight on the line-item veto, and a lot of 
people in my party aren't for it, but I am strong for it; I think we 
ought to have it; I will support it--but there are some things we should 
be doing, things that we do right. And I hope that you, of all people, 
who understand the critical importance of education and training for a 
lifetime, will support a responsible Federal role here.
    Let me just tell you that this is not an idle discussion I'm having. 
Just today, just for example, the chairman of the relevant House 
committee introduced a bill that would eliminate the Federal commitment 
to food and nutrition for children, throw the money into two block 
grants and send it to the States and freeze the money, which will 
effectively mean the end of the School Lunch Program. Now, that has been 
a remarkable success. It feeds 25 million kids every day. It has a low 
administrative overhead, and we are in the process of simplifying the 
ability of the schools to participate in the program, cutting their 
costs, cutting their hassles.
    We have done everything we could, by the way, to make flexibility 
the order of the day for States. We've granted more waivers in welfare 
reform and health care reform than the two previous administrations put 
together, so that States who were serious about changing their own 
systems could get around all these Federal rules. But doing away with 
the School Lunch Program is not my idea of reinventing Government or 
saving tax money.
    When I was growing up, a conservative was somebody who said, ``If it 
ain't broke, don't fix

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it.'' And now we've got lots of folks in Washington--there are all these 
things that are broken we ought to be fixing, and they're running right 
by them, trying to fix things that are working just fine. The School 
Lunch Program does not need to be destroyed in our common lust to reduce 
the Federal Government where it has to be reduced.
    In 1991, as I said, there were five major CEO's who appeared before 
Congress to say that the WIC program, the Women, Infants and Children, 
was a good idea. Three of them are here tonight: Bob Allen, John 
Clendenin, and Bob Winters. They said WIC was, I quote, ``a triple-A 
rated investment in the future.'' They were right then; they're right 
now. At that time, a bipartisan group in the Senate, led by Senator 
Leahy and Senator Dole, helped to save that program. We have expanded 
that program, and we're going to have healthier children and a stronger 
future as a result. So I ask you please to stand up for that.
    Lastly, let me say that a lot of you supported, a lot of you 
opposed, and a lot of you sat on the sideline and scratched your head 
when we had the big health care debate last year. I want to put this 
issue before you. As has always been the case, at least since President 
Nixon first tried to do it in '72--I don't know what happened when Harry 
Truman did it; I know what happened to him, but I don't know what 
happened to health care costs--but there was a dramatic moderation of 
health care costs last year. More people are going into managed care 
plans. But there are still serious problems with it.
    The only part of the Federal budget that's going up at faster than 
the rate of inflation are Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt. 
We've now had 2 years in a row where we have reduced both defense and 
domestic discretionary spending and produced what I said before, an 
operating surplus, except for interest on the debt.
    The only responsible way to deal with the entitlements problem over 
the long run is to keep working to help to solve the health care 
problem. And in spite of the moderation in health care costs, you should 
know that another million Americans in working families lost their 
health insurance last year. We're the only country in the world with an 
advanced economy that has a smaller percentage of people under 65 with 
health insurance today than had it 10 years ago. And most of you 
represent companies that are paying for that, because these people do 
get health care when they're too sick and it's too late and they show up 
at the emergency room, and you get the bill in indirect costs. You know 
    So as I have said in the State of the Union Address, we bit off more 
than we could chew last time. We tried to do too much. But piece by 
piece, we need to have some insurance reforms. We need to think about 
people whose families are without insurance when they're unemployed. We 
need to think about what we can do to put some pieces in place that will 
stop the cost-shifting and allow some long-term reform of this system 
and bring the Medicare and Medicaid programs within line of inflation 
without having even more costs passed along to you.
    Those are things that I can report to you, this country's in better 
shape than it was 2 years ago, but these are things that we need to work 
on. We need to maintain America's economic and security leadership in 
the world. We need to continue to work to downsize the Government and to 
change the culture of regulation in the right way. We need to stand up 
for what is necessary and appropriate from our National Government in 
terms of preserving the quality of life and, more important than 
anything else, empowering people to make the most of their own lives. 
And we need to keep working at this entitlement/health care problem 
piece by piece so that we can help the economy to grow, help the deficit 
to be controlled, and provide health care to the people who deserve it. 
If we do those things, we will be doing what we should do to give the 
next generations of Americans the American dream that brought us all 
here tonight.
    I think it is a very exciting time to be here. I enjoy it. I enjoy 
working with the new Congress, and I don't mind the disagreements with 
the new Congress. But the most important thing is, this is not a game, 
and it is not a dress rehearsal. We are taking the American people into 
the next century, and we owe it to them to do it in a way that gives 
countless generations that come behind us the chance to be in rooms like 
this for generations from now and to do whatever they want to live up to 
their God-given ability.

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    Thank you very much. Thank you. Ed, tell them to go serve dinner, 
and I'll go shake hands. [Laughter] Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:40 p.m. at the Park Hyatt Hotel. In his 
remarks, he referred to Edgar S. Woolard, Jr., chief executive officer, 
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Inc.; Robert E. Allen, chairman and chief 
executive officer, AT&T Corp.; John L. Clendenin, chairman and chief 
executive officer, BellSouth Corp.; and Robert C. Winters, chairman 
emeritus, Prudential Insurance.