[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[March 16, 1995]
[Pages 362-367]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Conference of State Legislatures
March 16, 1995

    Thank you, Jane Campbell, and thank you, Senator Lack, and thank you 
to the other leaders of the NCSL for meeting me outside. And welcome, 
all of you, to Washington. I know you just heard from Secretary Reich. 
He actually--he hasn't been here? [Laughter] That gives me something 
else to make fun of my staff about. That's what it says. Let me try--
what else does it say? Maybe I should put my glasses on, and it will 
come out differently. [Laughter]
    Let me say, I am delighted to see all of you. I'm about as happy to 
see you as you acted like you were to see me. [Laughter] I loved the 
legislative process when I was Governor,

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and in Arkansas we had an interesting system. We were all there in our 
old State capitol, and the legislature was on the third floor, and I was 
on the second floor. And when the legislature was in session I just sort 
of kept open house. If a legislator showed up, I saw him or her. And 
we'd have morning planning meetings at 7:30 a.m. every morning, and half 
the time legislators just wandered in and sat at the administration's 
planning meeting. And I must say, I often think in the course of working 
here both for the last 2 years and for the last 2 months, if we wouldn't 
be better off as a country if we worked more like that up here. 
[Applause] Yes, you can clap for that. That's all right. That's a pretty 
good idea.
    I've even met half a dozen of my State legislators since I've been 
gone from Arkansas who said they missed me, which is something I never 
thought I'd hear. [Laughter] Warmed my heart.
    We have a lot of former legislators in this administration, as I'm 
sure you know. I see the Deputy Secretary of Education out there, 
Madeleine Kunin, also the former Governor of Vermont. And Arthur 
DeCoursey of SBA was a State legislator in Massachusetts; Patrick 
McGowan with the SBA was a State legislator in Maine; Thomas Redder with 
the SBA was a State legislator in Colorado--all the other employees for 
the SBA were actually in small business at one time or another. 
[Laughter] Of course, Secretary Pena was as well, and Gary Blumenthal, 
the Executive Director of the President's Committee on Mental 
Retardation. So we're interested in what you're going through and in 
working with you.
    I have said many places, but I'd like to have the privilege of 
repeating it here today, that I ran for this job because I felt the 
mission of this country at the end of the 20th century was to get us 
into the next century with the American dream alive and well and with 
America still the strongest country in the world, the greatest force for 
peace and freedom and democracy. Alive and well means that we have to 
have opportunities for more jobs and higher incomes. Half the American 
people are living on less money today when you adjust for inflation than 
they were making 15 years ago. That's one of the reasons a lot of people 
aren't happy in the recovery. We've got 6.1 million new jobs and the 
lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation in 25 years, but a 
lot of folks' incomes are not going up. And they feel uncertain, 
    I get letters all the time from people I grew up with in Arkansas 
who are nearing that magic age of 50 talking about the uncertainty they 
feel about their future, their children. Are they going to be able to 
educate their children? Are they going to be caught up in some great 
downsizing move, kind of the other side of this great churning change 
and all this opportunity that's out there?
    The other part of the American dream is keeping our values alive, 
work, family, community, values you might put under the general heading 
of responsibility, so that we can pull back together. So I think we 
ought to offer more opportunity and more responsibility. I also think to 
do it here in Washington, we have to have a dramatic change in the way 
Government has worked. And I have been working hard at that for the last 
2 years.
    The old view was that there was kind of a one-size-fits-all--drove 
you nuts in the statehouses of the country, I'm sure--that there was a 
one, single big Government solution for every big problem in America. 
And half the time we told you what to do and didn't give you the money 
to do it with.
    The other view that seems to have a lot of energy around here is 
that, basically, maybe there's nothing for the Federal Government to do 
except to give the problem to you and give you less money to deal with 
it, and the idea is that since Government would mess up a one-car 
parade, we just ought to walk away from all these problems.
    My view is different from that, and I guess it's forged largely on 
my 12 years of experience as a Governor and the fact that before I got 
this job I actually used to be able to spend large amounts of time 
talking to real people every day. I don't mean that the people I talk to 
aren't real people; I mean that mostly the people I talk to have 
business before the Government or work for the President or in some 
event that I've set up. I don't get to walk the streets the way I used 
to and just visit with people in a more informal setting.
    My view is that what we need is a Government that is very different, 
that has less bureaucracy, that is lean but not mean, that operates in a 
more entrepreneurial fashion, that gives more decision to the State and 
local governments and to the private sector, but that is an

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active partner in doing three things: promoting economic opportunities 
through jobs and incomes, empowering people through education and 
training to make the most of their own lives, and enhancing the security 
of our people, both in terms of safe streets and our security around the 
    And that's what I have worked to do so that if you believe that, it 
means that you have to have a smaller Government that is still 
effective, that does what it's supposed to do well and stops doing 
things that it shouldn't do, and that works more in partnership with 
you. Since I have been President, we have now given 26 States waivers 
from Federal rules to enact their own welfare reform proposals and 9 
States waivers to do major, major health care reform, more States that 
the previous two administrations combined.
    We've also done a lot to try to deregulate certain aspects of the 
private economy from undue Federal oversight. And we did a lot more 
about that today, and I'll say more about that in a minute. We have 
reduced the size of the Federal payroll by more than 100,000. We've 
reduced the size of the Federal deficit by $600 billion. We're on our 
way to the smallest Government in Washington since Kennedy was President 
and 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since 
Truman was President. We are changing the way things operate around 
    Now that the new Congress is here, we're having a huge debate about 
what the role of Government ought to be. And it can be a very healthy 
thing indeed. I must tell you, as all of you know, I have real 
differences as well as real agreements with this Congress. I have 
vigorous agreements and vigorous disagreements. I strongly agreed with 
the bill that applies to Congress the laws Congress imposes on the 
private sector. I thought it was long overdue and was elated to sign it. 
I campaigned on it in '92.
    We're about to get a bill out of the conference and to my desk which 
will end unfunded mandates that are unreasonable and sharply reduce the 
ability of Congress to impose on you and on local governments 
requirements which we don't give you the money to pay for. And I think 
that is a very good thing indeed.
    But I do not agree with the proposals that undermine our fundamental 
mission, more economic opportunity, empowering people through education 
and training, and increasing our security. Therefore, I don't agree with 
the proposal that would eliminate the 100,000 police commitment and the 
crime bill that we worked for 6 years for or cut school lunches or cut 
our education programs, the Goals 2000 program for 4,000 schools in 
America or the proposal for safe and drug-free schools.
    Some of these proposals are embodied in the so-called rescission 
bill which was adopted by the House today. Some of them are embodied in 
their general budget. What they have in common is, in my view, is they 
cut too much of people and not enough pork.
    The proposal passed today would virtually eliminate the AmeriCorps 
program, our national service program, which is not a bureaucracy, which 
many of you have worked with which, as you know, is helping police on 
the street, helping people to build houses, helping to fight fires in 
the West, doing work that wouldn't be done otherwise, and letting young 
people earn money to pay for their education. It is a great grassroots 
program. It should not be eliminated.
    So as we move into the future and as these bills go to the Senate, 
we're going to have an interesting debate here. And a lot of it will 
affect you. I wondered when the unfunded mandate bill passed why it 
wasn't made immediately effective, because I'm strong for it. I'm for 
the line-item veto, too, and I hope we get that up here pretty soon. 
There's a lot of things Republicans want to do that I am strongly in 
favor of. But I said to myself, why aren't we making an unfunded 
mandates bill immediately effective? And I read that rescission bill, 
and I realized you're going to get some ``defunded'' mandates. If you 
look at some of those cuts to the States, the responsibilities are still 
on you, but the money is being taken back.
    So I say to you, what kind of Government do we want? We knew we had 
to cut some money out of the Agriculture Department, just for example. 
You know, the Agriculture Department got real big. And the best line 
that came out of the 1992 Presidential campaign, I'm embarrassed to 
say--I wish it were mine, but it wasn't--was Ross Perot's line about the 
Agriculture Department employee that had to go see a psychiatrist 
because he lost his farmer. You remember that? I thought it was funnier 
than you did, apparently. [Laughter]
    But anyway--so, we knew that we had to cut some money. What did we 
do? We closed

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1,200 offices. What did they do? They propose cuts in the School Lunch 
Program. They say, ``Well, they're not really cuts in the School Lunch 
Program.'' Well, yes, they are. If this proposal had been law in 1989, 
this year there would be one million fewer kids getting lunch at school. 
And a lot of these kids show up at school, and they don't have enough to 
eat at home. The meals they get at school is the only dad-gum good meal 
they get all day. There are children going to school in this country 
that never see a dentist until they are 16, 17, 18 years old. We want 
them to learn, and you know, everybody rails about the schools; I'm 
telling you, it's hard for a teacher to teach a poor kid who's hungry.
    So I think there's a right way to do this and wrong way to do it. 
And it doesn't have to be a partisan deal. I told you, I'm for a lot of 
what they're trying to do. We do need to change the way we do business 
here. But we need to have the ability to bring common sense to bear in 
judgment, and we need to put our children and our educational system and 
our future first. We need to keep our eye on what is the mission, the 
mission to get the country into the 21st century still the strongest 
country in the world in a place where there's real opportunity.
    Today we had a meeting about regulation. We've got a lot of 
regulatory legislation here, freeze all pending regulations for 6 months 
or a year or whatever and a lot of other things. Well, what I've been 
trying to do is not freeze it, I've been trying to fix it. Today we 
announced the following things in the regulatory area, something that I 
think is very, very important, that should be popular in every State 
here: We announced some dramatic changes for small business, in the 
environment, and in the area of drugs and medical technology.
    We announced first of all, that small businesses who try to do the 
right thing but make a mistake will be given the opportunity not to pay 
their fine to the Government but to take the money in the fine they 
would have paid to the Government and fix the problem in the first 
place, and that small businesses who make a mistake for the first time 
can have their fines waived altogether if they have never had a record 
of bad behavior and who are obviously trying to do the right thing.
    We announced today that all Government agencies, when it is 
consistent with the public interest--that is, public health and well-
being--will cut in half the reporting requirements for small businesses. 
So whenever possible, if they have to report four times a year, now they 
can report twice a year. If they have to report twice a year, now they 
can report once a year. And we think it will make a big difference, and 
so does the Small Business Administration. We are trying to change 
    In the area of the environment we announced today that we would 
allow small businesses a grace period of 6 months to correct violations 
after they've been identified. We found out that a lot of people 
wouldn't call the Government and find out what the law is, because they 
were afraid that somebody would come see them and fine them. So we had a 
lot of people who were out of compliance because they were literally 
afraid to ask how to get in compliance.
    We're going to cut environmental paperwork by 25 percent, which will 
save--get this--20 million hours of work per year for the American 
people. We are going to launch a pilot program with 50 businesses which 
will allow companies to reach a pollution reduction goal however they 
want. And if they can reach it, they can throw out the EPA rule book. 
Doesn't matter how they reach it, as long as they reach the production 
    Same thing we tried to do for the schools, by the way, in the 
elementary and secondary education act, to give you more flexibility--
here are the national goals, you figure out how to meet them--in the 
schools, the principals, the teachers. It's a very important policy 
    In the area of drugs and biotechnology, we have decided to stop 
doing a full-blown and very expensive review every time a biotech 
company makes a minor and insignificant change in one of its products. 
We're going to stop requiring very costly assessments on drugs that 
obviously don't have any impact on the environment. We're going to 
eliminate 600 pages of regulation. I'll bet you nobody will ever miss 
them, and it will save this industry, one of our most productive 
industries, $500 billion a year.
    So this is the sort of thing we're trying to do. It will make a huge 
difference in the life of this country. But better to fix the problem 
than just to freeze it in place. Better to do something real than to do 
something that sounds good, that maybe causes more harm than good. We 
all want to have water we can drink and air we can breathe and food we 
can eat and

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a place to work we can feel safe and secure in. We can do this.
    Now you have to decide, without regard to your party or your region 
what you believe our role is, too. To make a judgment about this debate 
that's unfolding here, you have to make up your own mind.
    You know, I spent, when I was a Governor, I bet I spent more time 
cussing the Federal Government than most of you do. And since I've been 
President, I bet I've spent even more time doing it. [Laughter] But the 
fact is that this country has benefited by 25 years of effort to clean 
the environment up. This country has benefited by our common efforts to 
make people secure at work, to make toys safe for our children. This 
country has benefited from these efforts, but we have forgotten common 
sense in a lot of the way we do things. So the trick is to put common 
sense back into this and reestablish a partnership that makes sense 
between the National Government, those of you at the State level, people 
at the local level, and most importantly, private citizens, so that what 
we do makes sense, it achieves common goals, and doesn't waste taxpayer 
    That is going to be the great debate here. And to make the 
judgments, you have to move beyond the rhetoric to the reality of each 
issue here. Everybody is for cutting Government, but I think there's a 
real difference between closing 1,200 offices and cutting back on food 
stamps. I think there's a real difference between closing the regional 
offices at HUD and cutting back on a program for homeless veterans at 
the Department of Labor. I think there's a difference. I think it 
    I don't think all Federal Government spending is the same. I think 
with drug use on the rise and among young people again, for reasons that 
are almost impossible to understand--young people thinking that it's no 
longer really dangerous to fool with drugs again, not to mention 
illegal--to cut out all of these programs that would give 94 percent of 
the schools in this country an opportunity to make their schools safer 
and more drug-free, whether it's metal detectors and police officers or 
more folks in there teaching prevention, is not common sense.
    So I believe if we'll work together, check our rhetorical baggage, 
and try to get this country into the 21st century remembering our 
mission, we can cut a good deal more spending without cutting our kids 
and our future. We can absolutely dramatically reduce the unfair burden 
of regulation without undermining the quality of our environment or the 
safety of our lives.
    In short, we can do what Americans have always done. We have always 
been philosophically conservative, pragmatic, operationally progressive 
people who got the job done and moved the country into the future. 
That's how we have performed. That's why we're still around after over 
200 years. That is the genius of our constitutional system. That's how 
you pass a budget in your legislature every year.
    So, since you're up here in a leadership conference, I would urge 
you without regard to your party or your region, to urge this course on 
the Congress. Urge this course on the Congress. You know, I don't need 
any lectures in the need to cut spending. We reduced the deficit $600 
billion without a lot of help 2 years ago, and we're going to do it some 
more. But we cannot walk away from our responsibilities to our children 
and to our future. We have got to stop a lot of this crazy regulation, 
but we have got to do it in a way that leaves us not only more 
prosperous in the short run but leaves us with a safer and more secure 
environment and a healthier citizenry over the long run.
    We can do this. We don't have to make a bunch of bogus choices. But 
we've got to act more like most people do at the State level and at the 
local level. We've got to be committed to solving problems, putting 
people first, checking the ideological baggage at the door. I hope 
you'll help us do that. If you do, we'll help you make America a better 
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In 
his remarks, he referred to Jane Campbell, president, National 
Conference of State Legislatures, and James Lack, New York State 

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