[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 9, 1998]
[Pages 33-37]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 33]]

Remarks at a Reception for Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in Houston
January 9, 1998

    I was just getting my last-minute instructions. [Laughter] Thank you 
for being here. Thank you for the warm welcome. Let me begin by saying 
that I am honored to be here on behalf of Sheila Jackson Lee and I'm 
delighted that you're here.
    I want to thank her family for sharing her with the people of this 
congressional district and the United States Congress. It's not easy to 
do. It is easy to forget the rigors of public service, but ask yourself 
if you could do a job, even one you loved, if you had to fly back and 
forth from here to Washington every week, if you were away from your 
spouse and your children for prolonged periods of time, and when you 
came back to see them, over 100,000 people could call you on the phone 
and say why you should be with them instead of with your family. 
    It's a difficult job being in Congress, but Sheila Jackson Lee does 
it well. She does it with enormous energy, and she has had an unusual 
impact for a person with no more seniority than she has, just by the 
sheer force of will and work. I know I'm no different than other 
people--when I see her coming at me with that look in her eye--
[laughter]--I don't even want to hear what she has to say. I just say, 
yes, yes. [Laughter] That way I don't have to keep dealing with it. I 
just say yes. [Laughter] Because if I say no or maybe, eventually I'm 
going to get around to yes anyway. [Laughter]
    She just became the chairman of the House Children's Caucus. And we 
had a great announcement earlier this week at the White House where I 
announced a program to involve millions of more children in child care, 
to raise the standards, to train more trained child care workers, to 
make them safer and better--the child care centers of America. We still 
have to pass it through the Congress. I'll bet you it will pass this 
year, and when it does--you mark my words--Sheila Jackson Lee will 
deserve a lot of the credit, the largest effort by the National 
Government to help communities provide quality child care in the history 
of the United States of America. So I'm very hopeful about that.
    We had a great meeting today over at the George Brown Auditorium 
with, I don't know, several thousand people, and at least half of them 
were young people, to talk about the fact that in the Balanced Budget 
Act, which Sheila Jackson Lee supported last year, we had the biggest 
expansion in aid to college since the GI bill was passed at the end of 
World War II 50 years ago.
    Consider this: In that bill we gave the vast majority of American 
families of modest incomes, even upper middle-class incomes and down, 
access to a $1,500-a-year tax credit for the first 2 years of college--
that makes community college virtually free for virtually everybody in 
the country--amazing thing; a $1,000 tax credit for the junior and the 
senior year, for graduate schools, to help people go to school. We had 
the biggest increase in Pell grant scholarships for students with modest 
incomes in 20 years. We redid the student loan program so you can get 
the loans quicker, where the fees cost less money, and now you can pay 
the loans back as a percentage of your income. So no one need ever fear 
borrowing money to go to school again, because you're not going to be 
bankrupted by paying the loans back because you can limit the loan to a 
percentage of your income.
    And today I announced Texas has been one of the States that has made 
the most use of AmeriCorps, our community national service program. 
We've had 100,000 young people in this country who've earned money to go 
to college by serving in their communities. And today I announced we're 
going to ask for 1 million work-study slots next year, so people can 
work their way through college.
    So I thank Sheila Jackson Lee for supporting my education program. 
She has supported my economic program, including my trade policies. And 
even when they were controversial. She understands we can't help people 
who are losing out in the global economy at home by cutting off 
opportunities to create more jobs by selling American products abroad. 
And I thank her for that, and you ought to thank her for that. She's 
done a very good job.

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    So I'm glad to be here for her. And I'm glad to be here with Mayor 
Brown. That's got a great sound, doesn't 
it: Mayor Brown. I got tickled today in our earlier meeting. I was here 
with the mayor, who was in my Cabinet. He ran--he was the drug czar in 
my Cabinet, my very first one. And former Treasury Secretary Lloyd 
Bentsen was also at our meeting. We nearly had 
a quorum for a Cabinet meeting in Houston. [Laughter] Knowing how people 
in Texas think, you probably thought I just had three or four too few 
from Houston. [Laughter] But anyway, I was pretty proud of Houston's 
contribution to my Cabinet and my administration.
    You know that story Lee told--unfortunately, that's a true story, 
that story he told about Memphis and how I left him to give the speech 
and when I left everybody left. [Laughter] But he will--you know, in his 
quiet, persistent way, he always gets even. [Laughter] And what I want 
to tell him is, his time is coming, because he got elected this year, 
and I got elected last year, and I can't run for reelection. So when I 
am a former President, I will come down here; I will let him introduce 
me to speak for him. And when he leaves, the media will leave, the crowd 
will leave, everybody will leave. [Laughter] And I will talk to the 
handful who are left with great energy, and we'll be even then. 
    I don't know how many of you have seen this wonderful movie 
``Amistad.'' Have you seen it? It's a great movie about the African 
slaves that were basically towed into New Haven harbor and eventually 
are freed through the intervention of former President John Quincy Adams 
in the 1840's, late 1830's, 1840's. And Quincy Adams has got a great 
line in here; he says, ``There is nothing so pathetic as a former 
President.'' [Laughter] All I can tell you is, I hope to find out. 
[Laughter] I hope the good Lord has got that in mind for me, and I'll 
try to beat the odds.
    We've had a good time today. I woke up in south Texas this morning, 
got there at 2 o'clock last night. I was in Brownsville, McAllen, and 
Mission today. I've had a great day. And then I came to Houston, and 
we've had a wonderful day. This is quite a remarkable place you have. 
You should be very proud of it.
    I want to take just a very few minutes of your time to say something 
pretty serious, maybe a little bit abstract. We've talked about some of 
the specifics we are doing. In 1992 I was the Governor of Arkansas--in 
1991, actually. I decided in late 1991 to run for President for a very 
simple reason: I wanted America in the 21st century to be the greatest 
country in the world as a force of peace and freedom. I wanted our 
country to be coming together as one America instead of to be driven 
apart by its diversity as so many other places in the world are. And I 
wanted the American dream to be alive not just for my child but for 
every child that was responsible enough to work for it. And I believed 
we had to change course to get there because it's a new time.
    And it really is a different time. We've already got one leg in the 
21st century; you surely know that in Houston. And how would you 
describe this? What is different about this new time?
    First of all, the extent of globalization is greater than any other 
previous time. We are more tied to people all around the world in ways 
good and sometimes not so good, or at least potentially not so good, 
than ever before. Goods and services and people and money and technology 
and information, they just move around the world at great speed.
    Secondly, there is, along with the globalization, an utter explosion 
in information and in science and technology which is changing the way 
we work and live and relate to each other and the way we relate to the 
rest of the world. When you put these two things together, the scope and 
pace of change is more rapid and profound in ordinary life than at any 
previous time.
    Those of you who are in business know that. Those of you in 
education know that. In just about any line of work you know that. If 
you've got a law practice, you know that. If you run a branch of a bank, 
you know that being a bank teller is not what it was 5 years ago. I'll 
bet you some of you in here have not used the Internet very much, but if 
you have children, I bet your kids have. [Laughter]
    Now, here's an interesting thing to think about. Five years ago, 
when I became President 5 years ago, the Internet was still largely the 
private province of research physicists. It got started as a Government 
research project. It was turned over to these research physicists. A 
couple of bright young people in their twenties figured out that this 
thing had enormous potential commercial and educational and just 
communication application and is now the fastest

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growing social organism in human history, I guess. Just think, hundreds 
of thousands of pages are being added to the Internet worldwide every 
month, you know, whenever somebody has got some new idea.
    So what does all that mean? Well, first of all, it means that the 
old arrangements are not adequate. And one of the things that had hurt 
my party, the Democratic Party, in national elections was that people 
said, ``Well, the Democrats have a good heart, and they're trying to 
take up for the people that need help, but they're too wedded to the old 
arrangements.'' And then the modern Republican Party, the Republican 
Party of the last 20 years, said, ``Well, the real problem is the 
Government itself. Government is inherently unsuited to deal with the 
problems of the modern age.'' And you heard them say that many times in 
all good faith: ``The Government is the problem. The Government is bad. 
If we just had less Government, everything would be hunky-dory.''
    I did not agree with either approach. I didn't think that my party 
could afford to be a stand-pat party. I thought we had to change. But I 
thought I had seen enough of the world to know, number one, that no 
other country was trying to move into the 21st century without a 
partnership between government and business and labor and people in the 
public and private sectors and that there are some things we have to do 
together as a people that can only be done through our Government. There 
are conditions and tools that have to be provided to people to make the 
most of their own lives.
    If you believe what I think is the American creed, which is: we're 
all created equal; nobody should be discriminated against; and everybody 
that needs it deserves a hand up--that's what I think. So I set out on 
this odyssey that has now culminated in where we are 5 years later, with 
the simple idea: I'm going to change the role of Government. We're not 
going to do nothing, but we're not going to try to do everything. We're 
going to focus on creating the conditions and give people the tools they 
need to make the most of their own lives.
    What does that mean? It means we're going to grow the economy by 
reducing the deficit, investing in people, and expanding trade. It means 
we're going to protect the environment, but we're going to do it in a 
way that proves we can improve the environment while we grow the 
economy. It means we're going to expand health care, but we're going to 
do it in a way that not only focuses on quality care but tries to keep 
the cost down. It means we're going to actually reduce the size of 
Government but increase the investment we make on the streets in trying 
to fight crime--different ideas, not being put into false choices.
    And 5 years later, I think the results are pretty good. The budget 
is 92 percent lower than it was the day I took office--the deficit is. 
And I'm going to send a balanced budget to Congress next month for the 
first time in 30 years. We've had 14.3 million new jobs and the lowest 
unemployment rate in 24 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years, the 
biggest drop in welfare rolls in history, the highest rate of 
homeownership in history, including the highest rate of homeownership by 
African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.
    I didn't do all that. You did most of it. I did my job. Our job was 
to create the conditions and give people the tools to build good lives, 
good families, good communities, a strong nation, and then to reach out 
to the rest of the world, recognizing that this is an increasingly 
interdependent world.
    I say this to make a simple point for why it really matters that 
you're here for Sheila Jackson Lee, apart from the fact that she's a 
fireball and you like her. [Laughter] That's good enough reason to show 
up, but there is a bigger reason. Ideas have consequences in public 
life, just like they do in the classroom or in novels or in your 
personal lives. We had an idea that there was a role for Government in 
public life in the 21st century; that it wasn't inherently bad, but it 
needed to be smaller and less bureaucratic and more focused on 
empowerment. And we have a lot of challenges left.
    You've still got neighborhoods in Houston where there are people who 
haven't been helped by this global economy. We've still got places where 
free enterprise has not found its way in. The biggest untapped market 
for American goods and services are in the unemployed neighborhoods of 
America. We've made a lot of progress in education; there are still a 
lot of underperforming schools. I'm trying to get everybody to go to 
college, but the first thing you've got to know is when you get out of 
high school your diploma means what it says, and you can read it, and 
you know what it means, and you got out of it what you need.

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    The Congresswoman was trying to delicately sidestep the fact that I 
am the oldest of the baby boomers, but alas, it's true. [Laughter] And 
when our crowd retires, if we don't now--now--prepare with necessary, 
prudent reforms in Social Security and Medicare, we will put ourselves 
in the position of either sacrificing two of the most important 
accomplishments that have relieved the anxiety from old age and made the 
elderly people less poor than the rest of us for the first time in 
history--two fabulous accomplishments--or in order to keep them just 
like they are, if we're unwilling to change them, we'll have to put a 
big old tax on our kids that aren't fair and make it harder for them to 
support their grandchildren. Why? Because there's more of us than there 
are of them.
    This is not a complicated deal. And there's about an 18-year bulge 
there that we have to get through, after which, because of the 
childrearing habits of our own children and because of immigration, 
things will kind of settle out again.
    It is irresponsible--I don't know anyone in my generation, anybody 
in the baby boom generation, who really wants to saddle our kids with an 
unsustainable economic burden to take care of us in our old age. So 
we're going to have to make some prudent changes. If we do it now, we're 
open about it, we don't try to play politics with it, can we do it? We 
can reduce it nearly to an accounting problem. We'll just do what makes 
sense and do the commonsense thing and go on. But we have to do it.
    We've got to figure a way to stop this climate change, this global 
warming. Can we do it without wrecking the economy? Of course we can. 
Look at all the announcements Detroit has been making just in the last 
few days about new cars. Of course we can.
    We've got mountains of natural gas in this country we haven't even 
begun to use. We stopped using it 20 years ago because we thought we 
were running out of it. Now we know it's a good thing we didn't use it; 
now, we need to use it now to stop the climate from warming up too much. 
We have major challenges. There's another 10 I could give you.
    The point I'm making is the country is in good shape now, and we can 
be glad about that. But when you're doing well the last thing you should 
do in a time of change is to sit on your laurels. When you're doing well 
you should say, ``I have been given this opportunity to think long-term 
about the problem, to think about my children, to think about my 
    In Washington, some people have criticized me for trying to have 
this national year--have a dialog on race, because they say we don't 
have any riots in the cities. My view is, if I don't ever want any more 
riots in the cities and I don't like what I see in the problems from 
Northern Ireland to the Middle East to the tribal wars in Africa to 
Bosnia, why don't we try to do something about it while we're all 
getting along more or less? I think that's a pretty good idea.
    I say that because ideas have consequences. I think the approach 
that Sheila Jackson Lee embodies--that you can be pro-business and pro-
labor; that you can have compassion for people who deserve and need help 
and still be fiscally responsible; that you can be tough on crime but 
still smart enough to realize the best approach is to keep kids out of 
trouble in the first place; that you can grow the economy and preserve 
the environment; that you can reduce the size of Government and the 
burden of bureaucracy and still increase your investment in education 
and the future and science and technology-- in other words, a modern, 
balanced, commonsense, progressive approach--it seems to me that that is 
what we need for quite a long while to come in the United States, not 
because things aren't doing well now, not because I'm not grateful, but 
because I don't think we're anywhere near finishing the transition we 
have to make as a country if we really want 21st century America to be a 
place where every single child can live up to his or her God-given 
capacities if they're responsible enough to do it, where we know we're 
going to be one America celebrating our diversity but bound together by 
things that are more important, and where we're still the world's 
leading force for peace and freedom and prosperity. And I don't think 
you think it either.
    I think every one of you, if you'd be really honest, would say, 
``I'm really glad we're doing well, but do we have challenges over the 
long run? You bet we do. It matters. Ideas have consequences. The 
approach you take matters.'' This woman has made a positive contribution 
to the direction of America, and I believe what we're doing needs to 
continue beyond the service that I can render as President. I believe it 
needs to continue well into the next century.

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And thanks to your presence here, she's got a good chance to do that, 
and I want you to make sure it happens.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 8:48 p.m. in the ballroom at the Four 
Seasons Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Lee Brown of