[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 14, 1998]
[Pages 50-53]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Supporting Health Care Bill of Rights Legislation and an 
Exchange With Reporters
January 14, 1998

    The President. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Vice 
President. Thank you, Mr. 
Gephardt, Senator Daschle. Mr. Bowles, thanks 
for hanging around. That will minimize our health care bills around 
here, I can assure you. [Laughter] I thank the Members of Congress for 
being here, and Deputy Secretary Higgins and Secretary Shalala. 
I'd like to especially thank two Members who are here, Congressman 
Dingell and Congressman Stark, for their leadership on this vitally important 
    If I could, just very briefly, I'd like to put this issue into the 
larger context of what we're doing as a nation at this moment in 
history. If you look at the history of America, I think it's fair to say 
that we have not only survived, but prospered and grown increasingly 
stronger over 200 years because we have found a way, at every moment of 
challenge and change, to make the adjustments necessary to preserve our 
enduring values in a new set of circumstances. And we have done it by 
strengthening our Union and by applying the elemental principles of the 
Constitution and the fundamental values of the country to a new time. 
That's essentially what we're being called upon to do today.
    I have said for 6 years now that, to me, all of our policies should 
be able to be explained

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in terms of three words: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, 
and a community that includes all Americans. Now, we know that because 
of the changes we're undergoing in the way people work and live and 
relate to each other and the rest of the world, the way all our major 
systems work because of globalization and the revolution in information 
and technology, that we are having to systematically reform virtually 
every major institution of society.
    We've dramatically reformed the way the Government works. It's as 
small as it was--now--when President Kennedy was here. I would argue 
it's doing more with greater impact in a positive way. We're in the 
process of trying to create a system of lifetime learning in America, 
opening doors of college to all Americans and raising the standards of 
our schools and trying some different things that have not been 
previously done before.
    We're trying to help people balance work and family. That's what the 
Family and Medical Leave Act was all about, and raising the minimum wage 
and the earned-income tax credit and all those things. We're trying to 
make sure we can preserve the economy--preserve the environment while we 
grow the economy. And I would argue that we've demonstrated with a 
different approach you can do both things quite well. But all of this 
requires, anyway, a sense of purpose, to make sure that nobody gets left 
behind and that we really do change our institutions that protect the 
public interest as circumstances change.
    That's basically what all these stories are about. I mean, the story 
that Mr. Gephardt told from the movie ``As Good as It Gets,'' that I 
remember very well, too, is basically a story of a hard-working woman 
who's doing everything she's been asked to do by this country, gets up 
every day, goes to work, doesn't make a lot of money, obeys the law, 
does her best to take care of her kid, has done what she thought was 
right to provide health insurance to her child, and the system is not 
working for her. That means that we have not succeeded in reform. Yes, 
we've made a lot of progress in health care reform, but we've got a long 
way to go.
    I think we were right to propose to extend Medicare coverage to 
people who can buy into it who are over 62 and have lost their health 
insurance or people who are over 55 who have been downsized or promised 
health care that they didn't get from their companies. I think that's 
    But this is really important. Why? Because so many people are in 
managed care and there are so many stories like the one that Senator 
Daschle told. And again, I would say to you, to me this can--what we 
should do can be answered in terms of those three little words I've 
tried to drill into the American consciousness for 3 years. You say to 
managed care people, okay, we have to reorganize the health care market, 
and you want the opportunity to sell your policies. Okay, you have that 
opportunity. You now have the responsibility to make sure when you sell 
a policy to somebody, they get quality health care. And we have to have 
an American community that's as healthy as possible. So it hurts us all 
if people are shelling out money for health insurance policies and they 
and their children can't get the right kind of health care. We are all 
diminished by the story that Tom Daschle just told. That's not the 
America we want to live in. That's not the America we want to represent. 
That's not the America we want to lift up to the rest of the world. Now, 
that's what this is all about.
    So I know there will be objections to this, but there are objections 
to every time you want to make a fundamental change. You know, there 
were objections to our efforts to get the budget under control. The 
deficit was supposed to be $357 billion this year when I took office. 
It's going to be less than $23 billion, and next year we'll offer a 
balanced budget--I mean, I'll offer one this year for next year, and 
we'll have it. There are always objections to anything you do. But the 
point is, we couldn't go on doing what we were doing because it was 
unacceptable. It violated our notions of responsibility, we were 
depriving too many people of opportunity, and we were clearly 
undermining the future strength of our American community.
    That's the circumstance here. We simply cannot go on giving--we all 
know people who run managed care plans are under pressure--we know that 
we finally succeeded, thanks in some measure to managed care, in taming 
the inflation beast in health care for the last few years and that 
people that run these plans are under great pressures now. We understand 
that there may not be easy answers to all these things. But the bottom 
line is, you cannot justify putting people who pay their insurance 
premiums and are working hard and are trying to take care

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of themselves and their children at the kind of risk that so many 
Americans are at risk of today because they don't have the consumer 
protections that ought to be elemental in a society like this. And we 
have to pass this bill because of the dramatic reorganization of health 
care relationships in America. And we're either going to do it and 
strengthen our sense of community and strengthen our future, or we're 
    Now, do we all need to listen to what the practical problems are, 
should we have a good debate? Of course, we should. But the fundamental 
truth is everybody knows that this is a public interest issue, that the 
people who are in these plans cannot protect their own interest unless 
they band together as citizens and unless their elected representatives 
create a framework in which they can get the health care they deserve 
and that they're paying for. That's the fundamental truth. You can argue 
about the details until the cows come home, but we have to make this 
change because of the changes in the American health care market.
    And I have been very heartened by the fact that many members of the 
Republican Party have expressed support for similar actions, and I'm 
hoping that we can get a big bipartisan vote for this bill. But if you 
look throughout the 20th century, the mission of our party, from the 
beginning of this century, has been to push the changes that need to be 
made to preserve the basic values of this country in new circumstances. 
That has been our mission. And we are here today, together, to fulfill 
that mission.
    I believe we'll succeed. I hope we'll have as much Republican 
support as possible. But every person here and every person that will 
hear about this, in their heart of hearts--I don't care what they do for 
a living or what their position might be, their immediate financial 
interest--everybody knows there have been dramatic changes in the health 
care delivery system in America that require a change in the framework 
of protection for ordinary citizens. And we are determined to give it to 
    Thank you very much.

Situation in Iraq

    Q. Mr. President----
    Q. Mr. President----
    The President. Have we got a shouting contest here?
    Q. It's a shouting contest. Do you believe Iraq when it said that it 
is not experimenting with biological weapons on human beings?
    The President. Well, I don't know what the facts are, but I think 
Mr. Butler's concerns are clearly what 
justifies the inspection regime. In other words, no American has to 
decide whether he or she believes Iraq or not, and no American can 
possibly know whether Mr. Butler is right or not, because all he said is 
he wants to take a look-see.
    There is a framework for inspections. I am very encouraged, by the 
way, that we got a good statement out of the United Nations Security 
Council today. It is clear that the international community knows that 
Saddam Hussein is doing the wrong thing. And 
we have got to remain steadfast in our determination to continue the 
inspections process in a nonpolitical way where the leader of Iraq does 
not get to determine who, when, and what is going on in that inspections 
    I don't know the answer to your question, but I do know that we 
ought to be able to find out. That's what the U.N. resolution says.
    Q. Tariq Aziz says it's a lie.
    Q. Mr. President, you're clearly in the better position, though, 
than most to assess the credibility of those allegations. How seriously 
should people view the possibility that Iraq could experiment on human 
    The President. Well, if Mr. Butler says 
that he believes that he's got enough to go on, we should view it 
seriously enough to insist that the inspections go forward.
    We don't want to do them like they've done us, like they did the 
head of the inspection team, the American head of the inspection team, 
where they accused him of being a spy. And we didn't--the United States Government doesn't even 
know who is on what team from a day-to-day basis. They're all picked by 
the United Nations. So we don't want to convict them in advance. But if 
there is enough evidence for Mr. Butler to say that, then he ought to be 
able to go look.
    I would remind you that in 1995, they admitted having stocks of 
chemical and biological weapons potential that were very troubling. That 
they admitted. So that's another reason we've got to keep going and 
continue these inspections. This is a case where the United Nations 
actually had it right. They've got a good framework, and we just need 
everybody to stiffen

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their resolve now so we can go back and do our jobs. And we have to be 
absolutely resolute in insisting that it be done.
    Thank you very much.
    Q. Senator Lott says that you won't get tobacco legislation because 
it's your fault. [Laughter]
    The President. I've missed you. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 3:15 p.m. in the Grand Foyer at the White 
House following a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders. In his 
remarks, he referred to Richard Butler, Executive Chairman, United 
Nations Special Commission; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and United 
Nations weapons inspection team leader William Scott Ritter, Jr.