[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book I)]
[January 3, 1996]
[Pages 2-3]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Impact of the Budget Impasse and an Exchange With 
January 3, 1996

    The President. Good afternoon. I have just finished meeting with my 
Cabinet to receive an update on the consequences of the Government 
shutdown that Congress has imposed on the American people and on the 
hardworking public employees who are now working without pay and the 
many who want to work but are not permitted to return to work. Each day 
this shutdown continues, the consequences grow worse.
    Before I get into some of the specific things that came out of the 
Cabinet meeting, let me remind the American people that this shutdown is 
not caused by the fact that the congressional leaders and I have not yet 
reached agreement on a balanced budget plan or on all the appropriations 
for this year. In fact, it is part of an explicit strategy by 
Republicans to shut the Government down to get their way on budget and 
tax issues. This has never been done before. It is not a natural 
disaster. It is an unnatural disaster born of a cynical political 
    It is long past time to reopen the Government. I am pleased that 
after 2 weeks of this shutdown, the Senate Republicans have voted to 
reopen the Government, putting the interest of our country ahead of 
politics. Our budget talks are proceeding seriously and in good faith. I 
have been impressed by the efforts made on all sides, including those by 
Senator Dole and by Speaker Gingrich and Leader Armey and Senator 
Daschle and Mr. Gephardt. We are working together in good faith. This 
shutdown is not speeding our talks. It is only casting a shadow over 
    Let me report to you some of the specific examples of harm already 
caused by the shutdown. This week, the Meals on Wheels program for 
senior citizens will run out of money. Half the Head Start programs in 
the country will run out of money within the month. The Centers for 
Disease Control tracking system cannot accurately keep up with the flu 
outbreak in the Midwest. On an average day, 260 small businesses are 
being denied $40 million in capital, loans that would create new jobs 
for Americans. We are not able to enforce our trade laws to protect our 
workers and our products. We're not able to weatherize homes in this 
winter to protect the elderly from the cold.
    Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency shut down toxic waste 
cleanups at 32 sites across America. Every day, 240 calls to the 
Drinking Water Contamination Hotline now go unanswered. The EPA's 
efforts to prevent cryptosporidium from contaminating city water 
supplies, something that proved a deadly threat in the city of 
Milwaukee, have been badly delayed. EPA enforcement efforts have 
completely stopped.
    Medicare contractors who serve our elderly are not being paid. Many 
of them now are dip-

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ping into their own pockets to keep health care coming, but they won't 
be able to do it for long. Ten States have run out of the funding they 
use to run our unemployment insurance program, and 15 more will soon do 
    Ninety-five percent of all workplace safety activities have been 
shut down. All sweatshop enforcement has been stopped. And 
investigations into 3,500 potential cases of pension fraud have ground 
to a halt. Two weeks ago when a mill burned down in Massachusetts, 
workers received immediate assistance for child care, transportation, 
and job training. Last week when 2,000 workers lost their jobs from a 
Rhode Island factory, the Labor Department could not respond at all.
    Medicaid funding that goes to pay for nursing home care, pregnant 
women, the disabled, and poor children will be exhausted by the end of 
this month. Every day we are unable to process 2,500 applications for 
mortgage insurance; that means now a backlog of 20,000 people who are 
losing their home loans, many of them losing their chance to buy their 
new homes. Funds to pay for drugs, food, and supplies at veterans 
hospitals run out today, and 170,000 veterans did not receive their 
December educational benefits.
    At FEMA, an agency that has been universally praised by Republicans 
and Democrats alike, the emergency food and shelter program for people 
facing disasters has run out of funds. And according to Director James 
Lee Witt, some State emergency management agencies have actually had to 
shut their operations. We can only hope that they will not suffer a 
disaster while this occurs.
    The Secretary of State reports that this shutdown is adversely 
affecting the national security of the country. We are running the risk 
of not being able to maintain our diplomacy abroad. And this shutdown, 
frankly, is injuring the reputation of the United States around the 
world. People wonder what is going on.
    The shutdown has been especially devastating to hundreds of 
thousands of dedicated public servants who work for the American people 
through the Federal Government. Some of them have actually had their 
phones cut off or can no longer pay for child care because they are 
working without pay or because they are not permitted to work. Some of 
those are so dedicated to their mission that they've actually tried to 
go to work and had to be run off.
    It's time to stop holding the Federal workers hostage in this 
process. As the Secretary of State says, this is not how a great country 
behaves. And as I have said for months and months and every day since 
this shutdown occurred, this is not how to balance the budget; it is not 
influencing our talks; we ought to reopen the Government.
    Again, let me say I'm convinced both sides want to balance the 
budget. We have different philosophies about how to do so. Based on the 
hours and hours we've spent working together, I'm convinced we can do 
it. But it is wrong, it is deeply wrong to shut the Government down 
while we negotiate under the illusion that somehow that will affect the 
decisions that I would make on specific issues. As I said, this is only 
casting a shadow over our talks. I will continue to do everything I can 
in good faith to reach an agreement. But it is wrong to shut the 
Government down.
    Again, let me compliment the Senate on abandoning that process and 
voting to open the Government while we continue to work, and ask the 
House to follow suit.
    Thank you very much.
    Q. Mr. President, House leaders----
    Q. What about your role in this, Mr. President?
    Q. Is there anything you can do to bring the workers, some workers 
    The President. Well, I have worked with our people, obviously, at 
OMB to explore every conceivable option to bring them back. And I will 
continue to do that. I have done everything that I have been told I can 
legally do, and we are exploring some other options. As other options 
come up, I will do whatever I can. I think this is very wrong.
    But they also deserve to be paid. And the American people need to 
know that those who are not working are not out there idle of their own 
choice. They want to be here. They want to be working, and we ought to 
give them a chance to do it.

Note: The President spoke at 3:19 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White