[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[September 29, 1997]
[Pages 1267-1269]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Income and Poverty Report and an Exchange With Reporters
September 29, 1997

    The President. I don't know if I can go on. [Laughter]
    Good morning. This Friday will mark the sixth anniversary of the day 
I announced my intention to run for President of the United States. On 
that day, I challenged America to embrace an urgent mission for the 21st 
century, to preserve the American dream, restore the hopes of the 
forgotten middle class, and reclaim the future for our children.
    As President, I have worked hard to set America on that track, to 
fulfill that mission, putting in place a bold strategy to shrink the 
deficit, invest in our people, and expand the sales of America's 
products and services abroad. I am pleased to announce today that we 
have more evidence that our economic strategy is succeeding.
    This morning the Census Bureau released its annual Survey of Income 
and Poverty in America. It shows that last year the typical family 
benefited from a significant increase in income for the third year in a 
row. Since we launched our economic plan in 1993, the typical family's 
annual income has risen by nearly $2,200 a year. That's an extra $2,200 
that hard-working families can put toward their children's education, a 
downpayment on a home, or even a much needed vacation. After years and 
years of stagnant family incomes, today's report proves that America's 
middle class, no longer forgotten, is rising fast.
    It should be noted that these figures do not reflect several other 
dividends of prosperity we have delivered for the American people. They 
don't reflect the $500-per-child tax credit, the $1,500 HOPE 
scholarship, the education IRA's, the real benefits of lower interest 
rates and mortgage costs worth $1,000 a year or more to millions of 
    And rising incomes are also lifting families out of poverty. The 
report shows that while there is clearly much more to be done, the 
African-American poverty rate has fallen to its lowest level ever. The 
income of the typical Hispanic household grew more last year than in any 
single year on record. The child poverty rate has dropped, in the past 3 
years, more than in any 3-year period since the 1960's. And the earned-
income tax credit, which we have dramatically expanded and then fought 
hard to preserve, has raised more than 4 million people out of poverty 
last year.
    The report also shows we have more to do to extend opportunity to 
all Americans. Starting in the 1970's, income inequality rose sharply. 
Now it has stabilized. Since 1993, every income group has seen its 
income rise, with those in the lowest 20 percent showing the fastest 
gains, thanks in part to the minimum wage, to more jobs, and to the 
earned-income tax credit, which is not measured in the statistics. But 
we still have to do more to grow together in the 21st century.
    Let me say that this report also underscores another important 
challenge, one that I have been concerned about for a long time. Last 
year there were 800,000 more children without health insurance than the 
year before. However, thank goodness, many of these children will now be 
eligible for coverage under the balanced budget's historic $24 billion 
child health initiative, which takes effect this week.
    Two years ago we were fighting hard to save Medicaid's guarantee to 
4 million children. Now we're looking forward to extending child health 
insurance to another 5 million children. We have

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to work together to encourage the States to take full advantage of this 
opportunity and to make sure that the funds are spent actually insuring 
children who do not have health insurance today.
    To ensure that all our people benefit from the growing economy, we 
also have to make sure that our people have access to the world's best 
education, with high standards in the basics. And we have to address the 
pressing issue of child care. That is another thing that would help to 
alleviate pressures on middle and lower income working families' 
households. The first-ever White House Conference on Child Care will be 
held later this fall. It will focus on how we can help parents to 
succeed at home and work through quality, affordable child care.
    In all these ways we can continue to fulfill what I started out to 
do 6 years ago, preserving the American dream, restoring the middle 
class, reclaiming the future for our children. But this is good news. 
And now, Janet Yellen and Gene Sperling will be able to answer questions 
about the details of the proposals.
    Thank you.

Campaign Finance Reform

    Q. What do you think is the chance of getting campaign finance 
reform through this session this year?
    The President. Well, I hope it's good. It's certainly better than it 
was a month ago. Obviously, there is still strong opposition to it in 
the leadership of the Republican Party, and they're in the majority in 
Congress. But I've seen some encouraging signs in the Senate, and 
frankly, I've seen some encouraging signs in the House with some 
Republican Members willing to speak up and say that we ought to do 
something. So I'm quite hopeful that we will get something.
    I know this--if we just--the way these things work, if we can 
succeed in keeping the public spotlight on the debate, then the pressure 
will build to come out with something positive. And I have done what I 
could, and I'm very proud of our caucus in the Senate for doing what it 
has done. The Democrats have clearly come out unanimously for some--for 
campaign finance reform. And we've just got to keep the public spotlight 
on this and keep going until we get legislation.

Welfare Reform

    Q. Mr. President, many States, California, Texas, Florida, 
acknowledge that they're going to fail the first real test of the new 
welfare law, the requirement that they have 75 percent of two-parent 
welfare families in jobs and job training by next week. Will HHS impose 
the fines that it is allowed to do on the States? And what--does it 
shake your confidence, this failure--shake your confidence in the new 
welfare law?
    The President. No, because, first of all--let me answer the second 
question first. It doesn't shake my confidence in the law, because we 
have succeeded, I think, beyond anybody's expectations, partly from the 
growing economy and partly from welfare reform efforts, in reducing the 
welfare rolls more than they have ever been reduced in a comparable time 
period, ever.
    We've had 20 years of immigration in our country at high levels, 
many of the immigrants coming here come without many resources, and they 
want to work their way into the American dream. So we've had a lot of 
people coming in here, and yet we've been successful in having the 
smallest percentage of our people on welfare since 1970.
    So my answer to you is, I want to keep high standards, and I want 
them enforced, because we block-granted the money to the States they 
asked for. After all, they supported the law. They said we could keep 
the Federal guarantee for health care and food stamps, nutrition, which 
I insisted on, but they pointed out that they already had the freedom to 
set different welfare reimbursement levels every month, so they wanted 
control of that pot of money so they would have more flexibility to move 
people from welfare to work. And in return, they agreed to these 
    So I think we just need to keep pushing ahead. In terms of what 
should be done, obviously I want to consult with our people at HHS and 
others to do what is best. But I think most States really are working 
hard and in good faith to try to do this. I think that they know that's 
what the voters want and, most importantly, that's what the people on 
welfare want. So we don't want to just forget about our high standards, 
especially when we've proven we can hire a lot more people than we ever 
thought we could.

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Campaign Finance Reform

    Q. You mentioned Republicans in the House. This weekend Speaker 
Gingrich was unusually caustic, accusing your staff and your lawyers of 
blocking pursuit of the truth in law. Have you looked back at your 
records and the phone calls that you have made and come to any new 
conclusion about your own involvement?
    The President. First of all, I think--no, I have not come to any new 
conclusion. But I think the remarks this weekend were an attempt to 
divert the public attention from the fact that the leadership of the 
Republican Party in the House opposes campaign finance reform, and has 
consistently, and continues to do so.
    But I am encouraged that along with our Democrats who are supporting 
it, there are an increasingly vocal band of brave Republicans willing to 
stick up and be for it. And again, this is our chance to pass this bill, 
and I think we'd all be making a mistake to be diverted. I don't intend 
to be.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the 
White House.