[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book I)]
[January 27, 1996]
[Pages 110-111]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 110]]

The President's Radio Address
January 27, 1996

    Good morning. Before I speak about the challenges we face today, I'd 
like to take just a moment to remember together a tragedy that 10 years 
ago tore at our Nation's heart.
    On January the 28th, 1986, the seven courageous Americans of the 
Space Shuttle Challenger, parents and scientists, pilots and our first 
teacher in space, gave their souls back to God. Like the generations of 
American explorers, their sacrifice was made not in the name of personal 
gain but in the pursuit of knowledge that would lead to the common good.
    A decade has passed since that terrible day. The families of the 
Challenger crew have slowly and bravely rebuilt their lives. The 
students Christa McAuliffe taught have now grown into adulthood. 
Countless shuttle missions have ventured beyond Earth's borders and 
returned safely to the home we all share. A decade has passed, but their 
bravery, their commitment, their patriotism remain constant, as fixed as 
the North Star. We will forever honor their memory and forever remember 
the name of their ship, Challenger, for America was built on challenges, 
not promises.
    Earlier this week, I had the privilege of delivering the State of 
the Union Address and discussing the challenges we face today, only 5 
years from a new century. As I said, the state of our Union is strong. 
We are entering an age of possibility in which more Americans from all 
walks of life will have more chances to build the future of their dreams 
than ever before. But we also face stiff challenges, challenges we must 
meet and meet together if we are to preserve the American dream for all 
Americans, maintain America's leadership for peace and freedom, and 
continue to come together around our basic values.
    These are the seven challenges I set forth Tuesday night: to 
strengthen our families; to renew our schools and expand educational 
opportunity; to help every American who's willing to work for it achieve 
economic security; to take our streets back from crime; to protect our 
environment; to reinvent our Government so that it serves better and 
costs less; and to keep America the leading force for peace and freedom 
throughout the world.
    We will meet these challenges, not through big Government. The era 
of big Government is over. But we can't go back to a time when our 
citizens were just left to fend for themselves. We will meet them by 
going forward as one America, by working together in our communities, 
our schools, our churches and synagogues, our workplaces across the 
entire spectrum of our civic life.
    As we move forward with tomorrow's challenges, we also must take 
care of yesterday's unfinished business. First, we must balance the 
budget. In the 12 years before I took office, the deficit skyrocketed 
and our national debt quadrupled. I came to Washington determined to 
act, and we did. In the first 3 years of our administration, thanks to 
the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, we cut the deficit nearly in half. In 
fact, our budget would be in balance today were it not for the interest 
payments we have to make on the debt that accumulated in the 12 years 
before I took office. Now it's time to finish the job.
    As you know, for some time I've been working with Republicans and 
Democrats in Congress to forge a balanced budget that protects our 
values. Though significant differences remain between our two plans, 
Republicans and I have enough cuts in common to balance the budget in 7 
years and to provide a modest tax cut without devastating Medicare, 
Medicaid, education, or the environment, and without raising taxes on 
working families.
    So again last Tuesday, I asked Congress to join with me to make the 
cuts we agree on. Let's give the American people the balanced budget 
they deserve, with a modest tax cut and the lower interest rates and 
brighter hope for the future it will bring. My door is open. Let's get 
back to work.
    There have been some hopeful signs this week that we can work 
together. Last night the Senate ratified the START II treaty which, when 
Russia ratifies it, will enable us to make continued dramatic reductions 
of our nuclear arsenal and remove further the nuclear cloud from our 
children's future. And last night Congress passed legislation to keep 
the Government's operations

[[Page 111]]

open until March. It's a good step, but only a first step.
    And while we are balancing the budget, there is another piece of 
business Congress must take care of right now. Like each of us, our 
Nation is only as good as its word. For 220 years, the Government of the 
United States has honored its obligation and kept its word. Through the 
Civil War, two World Wars, and the Depression, America has paid its 
bills and kept its word. When we borrow money, we promise to pay it 
back, and we pay it back, no matter what. Our strong economy is built on 
the bedrock of this commitment. The world's economy relies on the full 
faith and credit of the United States, and it's one thing that enables 
us to keep all of our interest rates down so that we can afford to 
borrow and grow and live.
    From time to time, to keep its word, Congress has had to pass debt 
ceiling legislation so the Government can meet its obligations. Congress 
has always done this when necessary. But this Congress, especially some 
in the House of Representatives, are trying to use the debt ceiling as a 
way to get its way in the budget negotiations.
    Since November, Congress has failed to act on the debt ceiling. To 
prevent our Nation from going into default, the Treasury Secretary, 
Robert Rubin, has been forced to take extraordinary actions, and so far 
he has been successful. But our options are running out.
    What could happen if the United States Government failed to meet its 
obligations? Our unbroken record of keeping our word could end with 
taxpayers bearing the costs for years to come because interest rates 
would go up on United States obligations. And interest rates could also 
go up for businesses, consumers, and homeowners, many of whom have 
interest rates that vary according to the Government's interest rates. 
And for tens of millions of Americans the unthinkable could happen: The 
Social Security checks they count on would not be able to be mailed out.
    My fellow Americans, we are a great country. We have never--never--
broken our word or defaulted on our obligations in our entire 220-year 
history. We've never failed to pay Social Security for senior citizens 
who've earned it.
    So Congress should act responsibly and stop playing politics with 
America's good name. Let our Government pay its bills. In order to avoid 
endangering the March 1st Social Security checks, Congress should pass a 
straightforward, long-term debt limit immediately.
    We have worked hard after years of wasteful spending to restore 
confidence in the way our Government does America's business. Americans 
are just beginning to believe again. This is no time to turn back. I 
urge every Member of Congress to reflect upon the gravity of this matter 
and to remember what the American people want from us is something quite 
simple: to put partisanship aside, get the job done, and work together 
for the common good. That is what we must do today and what we must do 
on the question of the debt limit.
    Thanks for listening.

Note: The President spoke at 10:06 a.m. from the Oval Office at the 
White House.