[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 13, 1998]
[Pages 226-230]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Reception in 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
February 13, 1998

    The President. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mayor. Thank you, Martin; thank you, 
Diane. I think that it was so easy to raise 
money for this because everybody wanted to come see your place, myself. 
[Laughter] It is a truly beautiful, beautiful home, and we thank you for 
having us here.
    I thank Congressman Klink and Congressman 
Fattah and Congressman 
and Mrs. Holden for being here. And Joe 
Hoeffel, I thank you for being here and for 
having the courage to run again. This time I think you will be rewarded. 
Thank you very much.
    I've had a wonderful day in Philadelphia, and the mayor has painted a rosy picture of it, but I'd say it was 
fairly accurate. The people of Pennsylvania have been good to me and to 
my family and to the Clinton-Gore administration. The people of 
Philadelphia have been especially good. In the last election, I think, 
we won the city by more than 300,000 votes. And I am very, very 
    I also want to thank Ed Rendell for 
always being there, for helping us raise money for Democrats across the 
country, as well as for me and for the Vice President. And I want you to 
know I really appreciate Martin Frost because 
in good times and bad times he's been willing to get out here and try to 
stick up for what he believes in and help his colleagues to be funded. 
And that's hard. And, you know, I never saw anybody any better at it 
than Martin Frost. He is just like a dog, to 
the bone, man. [Laughter] Every time--when I wake up in the morning and 
I start throwing bones to my dog, Buddy, that's the way Martin is when 
it comes to raising money. [Laughter] Martin lives in Texas. A lot of 
you know that Martin lives in Texas, and unfortunately, because our 
Coast Guard and other military personnel have gotten so good at 
apprehending drugs that used to come by air and by sea into the United 
States, more and more of the cocaine traffic has shifted overland from 
Mexico with this huge volume. And I thought to myself, if Martin Frost 
had the same sense of finding illegal drugs he has of finding campaign 
contributions, he alone could shut off the flow of illegal drugs through 
the Mexican border. [Laughter] I've never seen anything like it.
    But--so, I'm very grateful to all of you. And of course, I'm 
grateful for this turnout tonight. I'd like to just say a few words--I 
really didn't prepare any remarks tonight, but I have thought--I've 
asked myself, why was the response to the State of the Union this year, 
even more than other years, particularly strong? That is--we had 400,000 
hits on our website for information about the State of the Union, after 
the address. And I think part of it is that Americans are now--it's sort 
of sinking in that the country is working again.
    And all the Democrats here in the House will tell you, we had to 
work very hard for the first 4 or 5 years to make the country work 
again. I mean, so much was dysfunctional. When I was elected they told 
me that this year, if nothing happened, this year our deficit would be 
$370 billion. It was supposed to be $295 billion the first year of my 
Presidency. And the crime rate was going up and the welfare rolls were 
exploding. They reached an all-time high in February of 1994--all-time 
high. And we had all kinds of other real difficulties. And the country 
seemed to be dividing--and for 20 years--Ed talked about closing the 
inequality--for 20 years, average wages of people with a high school 
education or less had been dropping compared to inflation and inequality 
had been increasing among working people. And people just had the 
feeling things weren't working.
    So we brought a new approach to Washington, and we said the 
Democrats may be the progressive party, but we've got to be economically 
responsible. You have to understand, any given time more people are 
working than are

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unemployed, you have to make the economy work for people who can take 
care of themselves if the economy works.
    So we went first for reducing the deficit. Then we said that it was 
fine for us to be an open market to other people's products, but we 
wanted to do more to open other markets to our products. Because, with 4 
percent of the world's people and 20 percent of the world's income, we 
obviously have to sell more of our products abroad if we're going to 
maintain our standard of living.
    And we recognized that no matter how much we tried to cut 
unnecessary spending to balance the budget, we still had to invest in 
our people and our future. So we worked at it for 5 years.
    Your mayor, as much as anybody in the 
country, I think, had a lot to do with passing a crime bill in 1994 that 
put 100,000 police on the street and take assault weapons off the street 
and begin to give young people something to do other than get in 
trouble. And we've just been working at it.
    And we were able, in this last State of the Union Address, as a 
Nation--not me but as a Nation--to celebrate what had happened. The 
deficit, instead of $370 billion, would be somewhere around $10 billion 
this year. And if we can repeat what's happened--we're in the fiscal 
year that began last October 1st--if the next 8 months are like the 
first 4, we'll actually have a balanced budget or a small surplus this 
year, not even next year.
    So we're moving in the right direction. The crime rate has gone down 
every year for 5 years in all major categories. We have the lowest 
welfare rolls in 27 years. We have the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate 
ever recorded since the unemployment rate has been measured by race; the 
lowest black unemployment rate in 25 or 26 years. We have--last year we 
began to really turn around this income inequality problem--the highest 
percentage gained in income last year was among working people in the 
lowest 20 percentile of our population, which is very important, closing 
those opportunity gaps.
    But beyond that, I think the response was good because we said, you 
know, the time to prepare the future is when the sun is shining, not 
when you're up to your ears in quicksand. And so I tried to lay out to 
the American people a program to really prepare this country for the new 
century, to invest in science and technology. I came here to talk to the 
American Academy of Scientists today about the recommendations we made 
for a 21st century research fund. It was an idea that I first heard from 
Hillary, that we ought to give a gift 
to the new millennium that says we're going to imagine the future and 
respect the past. So we proposed a fund, first of all, to dramatically 
increase medical research, to focus on cancer especially, to increase 
other scientific research, as well as to preserve our most important 
heritage. We've got--believe it or not, the Star-Spangled Banner is in 
danger of total destruction. We have to save it. It costs $13 million to 
do it. We need to repair the way we maintain the Declaration of 
Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution. These are very 
important things to us.
    And all over the country there are people who have their own 
treasures. In Philadelphia, where the Nation began, it may be easy to 
overlook, but every little rural county in Pennsylvania has some part of 
America's past, some part of their roots that is very much worth saving. 
And people I think see that as a way of bringing the country together 
and moving forward.
    We have important missions in education. I really do believe we have 
succeeded now with all the things we've done in opening the doors of 
college to all. And we know we've got the best college system in the 
world, but no one believes we've got the best system of elementary and 
secondary education in the world. And we have to make that the best now. 
And then we have to get these kids who come from a difficult background 
and let them know they can go on to college.
    Believe me, if you want to lower the inequality in America, the only 
way to do it over the long run is to get more kids and more adults to 
get higher levels of education. And Chaka Fattah came up with this proposal and worked with a lot of the 
rest of us, and I mentioned it in the State of the Union, where we're 
going to go into--we're going to get colleges all over America to go 
into junior high schools or middle schools, starting with seventh 
graders, and tell them, ``We're prepared to give you somebody to work 
with you for the next 6 years to make sure that you succeed in school. 
You learn, you perform, and you can go on to college, and we'll tell you 
right now, right now, in the seventh grade, how much college aid you can 

[[Page 228]]

We'll guarantee it to you if you do your part.'' This will be an 
astonishing thing. This can revolutionize what we're trying to do.
    We want to lower class size in the early grades and help cities like 
Philadelphia, where the average school building is 65 years old, to 
repair school buildings. If you're going to have smaller classes, you've 
got to have more classrooms. If you're going to have more teachers, 
you're going to have more classrooms to teach them in.
    We want to help places like the place I visited in Jupiter, Florida, 
the other day, where they've got a school building, and then out back 
they've got 17 trailers with children in classrooms. We want to help 
them. This is a place where both the urban areas and the suburban areas 
that are growing have a common interest in building a better education 
    We want to continue to improve the health care system--160 million 
Americans now in managed care, and it will be more. And there are lots 
of benefits to that. Every single living American has benefited from 
lowering the inflation rate in health care--every one of us has. It's 
one of the reasons we have a stronger economy. And all the people in the 
medical profession who participated in it, trying to provide quality 
health care with lower inflation costs, deserve our thanks, and the 
responsible people in managed care deserve our thanks.
    On the other hand, we do not want to get to a position where any 
American, because of the health care plan that he or she is in, is 
having the decisions about what's best for their health care made by 
someone other than a physician based on what's best for the patient. So 
we have to strike the proper balance here, and we want to do that.
    We want to continue to deal with the problem of coverage. We still 
have 40 million Americans without health care. We're trying to cover 5 
million more children. We want to let people between the ages of 55 and 
65, who lose their health insurance, just buy into the Medicare program 
at the real cost of the insurance policy or Medicare. And I believe that 
a lot of people will do this, hundreds of thousands, maybe even more 
than a million, often with the help of their children. We have a mission 
    We have an environmental mission. We have got to find a way to 
continue to grow the economy and preserve the environment. We're working 
with Detroit to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other 
pollutants in cars without undermining our economy. We know now that 
there are lighting systems and glass systems and other building systems 
that are available that would enable us to build buildings, rehabilitate 
buildings, build factories, build electric generating capacity, grow the 
economy without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. We have to do that 
for our grandchildren. And we can think about that.
    I'll just mention one other thing that I think is very important. I 
said the other night--and I've gotten the strongest response across 
America, and I didn't really know what the response would be when I said 
it--that it is now projected that after running 30 years of deficits, 
we're actually going to run surpluses for several years. Now the surplus 
may go up or down depending on economic growth, but structurally we 
won't have a deficit anymore, which means in any given 5-year period, 
even if you have a recession or something, we'll have surpluses for the 
predictable future. And I said, and I will say again, I don't think we 
ought to start projecting how we're going to spend the surplus, whether 
it's in a spending program or a tax cut, until we have saved Social 
    You know, it is easy for us to forget, but it was not until 1985--
now, think about this--in the whole history of the country, it was not 
until 1985 that senior citizens became less poor than the general 
population. In 1935, when Social Security got started, two-thirds of the 
people who were elderly in this country lived in poverty, most of them 
in abject poverty. Unless they had kids who could take care of them, 
once they were out of the work force they never made enough money to 
save. We didn't have, really, savings systems. And they were in terrible 
    Social Security helped to change that. The disability program in 
Social Security helped to help those who were disabled. Adjusting the 
income every year with the cost of living increases, although it cost 
money, helped to give dignity to people.
    Now, as the baby boomers retire--and I'm the oldest of the baby 
boomers; I was born in 1946--and for the 18 years, from the end of World 
War II, 1946, for 18 years thereafter, to 1964, that group of people is 
the largest single group of Americans in our history, ironically, until 
the group that is now in high school--in grade school and middle school. 
We finally

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have a group of schoolchildren bigger than the baby boom generation.
    But there will be for several years--there will be, for several 
years after the baby boomers retire, a dramatic shift in the number of 
people retired compared to the number of people working. Not so long ago 
there were five people working for every person drawing Social Security. 
Now there are about four, I think. But by the time all the baby boomers 
get into the retirement system, if we retire at presently projected 
rates, there will be only two people working for everybody drawing.
    Now, I don't know a single person in my generation that wants to 
give up the elemental security of Social Security. But neither have I 
ever met a person in my generation who wants to burden our children with 
higher tax rates and undermine their ability to raise our grandchildren. 
Therefore, if we start now, since the Social Security Trust Fund is okay 
until 2029--and actually I think soon we'll be a few years beyond that--
we can take modest steps now that will take care of Social Security for 
a long time in the future.
    Now, something else has happened that we all know. Since we're all 
earning higher incomes, hardly anybody can actually maintain their 
standard of living with Social Security alone. So in addition to 
reforming Social Security and saving it, we've been working very hard 
since 1994 to make it easier for people to save in 401(k) plans, to 
protect retirement more, to make it easier for people to carry their 
retirement around from job to job. We will have to do more of that. We 
will have to help people do more to save for their own retirement. But 
this is an incredible gift that we can give to the future. So in the 
next year we're going to have these forums around the country. Then 
we're going to try to pass legislation in 1999. Now, I think the 
American people want us to do that.
    Now, let's get down to the political purpose of tonight. In every 
election in the 20th century, in off years, and especially in the second 
term of a President, the President's party always loses seats in one 
House of the Congress in an off-year election. We have a chance to beat 
that trend this year, and I honestly believe there is quite a good 
chance, not just a 30 percent chance, a very good chance that Martin 
Frost is right, that we could have a Democratic 
majority, that Mr. Gephardt could become 
the Speaker, that we could go forward--a very good chance. Why? Because 
for one thing, this is not a typical second term. That was not a rest-
in-the-shade agenda that I gave the American people. [Laughter] And I 
don't believe in resting in the shade. I intend to work till the last 
minute of the last hour of the last day in January of 2001. I intend to 
be hitting it. I don't believe in that.
    Audience member. That sounds like something our mayor said.
    The President. And if we can stay united, as we are, and if we can 
be positive and if we can not play politics--that is, I think it is 
imperative that we do everything we can to work with the Republicans to 
pass every single thing we can this year, because we know that in good 
faith, no matter how hard we work with them, no matter how hard they 
work with us in good faith, there will be enough honest disagreements in 
this agenda I've outlined, that by November, Joe 
will still have something to campaign on. [Laughter]
    But we have to recognize that people elect you to govern. So, if we 
can stay together, we've got a good agenda; we've got good candidates; 
the only other thing we have to do is to make sure that we are properly 
funded. In the last 2 weeks of the last election, when we were 11 seats 
short of taking Congress, in the 20 closest races our people were 
outspent about four to one--about four to one in the last 2 weeks--in 
the closest races. We are determined to see that that won't happen this 
time. And you are helping. But I believe that we are best served by a 
positive campaign, working, bringing out the best in the American 
people, and getting people to look to the future.
    Everybody knows that this new approach is working. All the things 
they used to say about the Democrats are not valid anymore--our 
opponent. They can't say we're fiscally irresponsible because we 
balanced the budget. They can't say that we are weak on crime because 
we've had policies that were in effect written by the law enforcement 
community, implemented, and are working. They can't say that we don't 
care about work over welfare because we've moved record numbers of 
people from welfare to work and still tried to do more to support their 
    So a lot of these hits that used to be put on the Democrats don't 
hold water anymore.

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Now we are free to debate the future, to envision the future, to work 
for the future. And if we'll do that, we can achieve it.
    Let me just leave you with this last point. I spent a lot of time in 
the last year reading the history of the 19th century, because I came to 
realize that, like most Americans, I knew a fair amount about our 
founding and what happened in Philadelphia, I knew a fair amount about 
Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and I knew a fair amount about what 
had happened from Theodore Roosevelt forward. Most Americans don't know 
much about what happened after Andrew Jackson until Abraham Lincoln, and 
what happened after Abraham Lincoln until Teddy Roosevelt--they just 
    And what I got out of that study was a more unified picture of the 
history of America. And if you go back to our founding and study the 
history of America, I think you'll see that, at its best, our progress 
through time has always been about three things: widening the circle of 
opportunity, deepening the meaning of our freedom and our liberty, and 
strengthening our Union, our sense of national union.
    Thomas Jefferson's greatest achievements--well, he wrote the 
Declaration of Independence. He changed us from being a colonial country 
to a continental country when he bought Louisiana--giving me a chance to 
become President, thank you very much--[laughter]--sending Lewis and 
Clark on their great expedition.
    Abraham Lincoln strengthened the Union and deepened liberty. But 
also--a lot of people forgot about it--he signed the bill in the middle 
of the Civil War to establish the system of land grant colleges, 
widening the circle of opportunity.
    In the 20th century our party--we haven't always been right, as I've 
said, we've been wrong from time to time, and we haven't always been up 
to date, but we have always, from the time of Woodrow Wilson forward, 
been in the vanguard of widening the circle of opportunity, deepening 
the meaning of freedom, strengthening the Union of the United States. 
And if we will do that all year, on the stump, but also at work, then I 
believe that the chances that the American people will say, ``We like 
this, and we will elect people who believe this,'' are quite 
extraordinary. And you have made it possible for us to have a chance to 
do that.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6:35 p.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to Mayor Edward Rendell of Philadelphia; dinner 
hosts Martin and Diane Weiss; Gwen Holden, wife of Representative Tim 
Holden; Joe Hoeffel, candidate for Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional 
District; and Representative Martin Frost, chairman, Democratic 
Congressional Campaign Committee.