[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 28, 1998]
[Pages 632-635]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Receiving the Report of the Social Security and Medicare 
Trustees and an Exchange With Reporters
April 28, 1998

    The President. Good afternoon. Five and a half years ago, America 
chose a new course of fiscal discipline and economic growth, balancing 
our budget and investing in our people. Holding fast to that course, our 
people have built the strongest economy in a generation.
    Success of this strategy cannot be cause for complacency, however. 
Instead, it offers us an opportunity and an obligation to act boldly to 
strengthen our Nation for the new century. Above all, we can harness our 
unsurpassed prosperity to uphold our duty to our parents, to our 
children, and to each other through Social Security and Medicare.
    I've just been briefed by the four Social Security and Medicare 
trustees for the administration: Secretaries Rubin, Shalala, Herman, and Social Security Commissioner Ken Apfel. The trustees have issued their annual report on 
the future financial health of these vital programs.
    The trustees have told us today that the Balanced Budget Act I 
signed into law last year has significantly improved the financial 
future for Medicare. The unprecedented reforms included in that law have 
cut the so-called 75-year deficit of Medicare in half, even as we have 
extended new preventive benefits, provided more health choices for 
Medicare beneficiaries, and instituted other reforms that extended the 
life of the Medicare Trust Fund for a decade.
    In fact, because of the bipartisan steps taken last year, the long-
term prognosis for Medicare is stronger than it has been in over a 
decade. A bipartisan commission is now at work to craft further steps to 
strengthen the complex program into the 21st century. I look forward to 
their recommendations.
    The trustees also report that the strength of our economy has led to 
modest improvements in the outlook for Social Security. They project 
that economic growth today will extend the solvency of the Social 
Security Trust Fund by 3 more years, now to 2032.
    Today's report is encouraging. It shows we can honor our values and 
meet our most fundamental obligations, even as we balance the budget. 
However, these modest improvements only underscore the fundamental 
challenge we face. We must act to make certain that Social Security is 
as strong for our children as it has been for our parents.

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    Above all, let me say again, we must save every penny of any budget 
surplus, of any size, until we have strengthened Social Security. I've 
been heartened by the support this approach has received from lawmakers 
from both parties. But as estimates of the possible surplus have grown, 
the demand for new tax and spending initiatives that could upend our 
fiscal discipline have grown as well. Fiscal responsibility created our 
prosperity. Fiscal irresponsibility could undercut it. So I will resist 
any proposals that would squander the budget surplus, whether on new 
spending programs or new tax cuts, until Social Security is strengthened 
for the long-term. Once more I will insist that we save Social Security 
    In the coming months we will work to build public awareness of the 
nature and scope of the challenge and to build public consensus for 
solutions. We must proceed with care, remembering that Social Security 
offers our people not only a guarantee of retirement security but also a 
life insurance and a disability insurance policy as well.
    Any changes we make now will be far easier than if we wait until the 
problems of Social Security are at hand. We will strengthen Social 
Security only if we reach across lines of party philosophy and 
generation, as we did when we drafted last year's balanced budget. And 
if we make this year a year of education on Social Security, I'm 
confident we will come together to take the necessary steps next year.
    Finally, let me say that as we continue to take the necessary steps 
to sustain the growth of our economy, we must look ahead to the 
challenges that remain. Today, once again, I have asked Congress to 
strengthen America's commitment to the International Monetary Fund and 
the U.N. In this new era, the health of our economy will be deeply 
affected by the health of the world economy, and the security of the 
United States is clearly affected by the security of the rest of the 
world. Failure to act on these matters will put at risk both global 
economic stability, which will affect our own, and the prosperity that 
has widened the opportunity that we have enjoyed in this country, the 
very prosperity which has made possible the progress on Social Security 
and Medicare that I announced today.
    We've got a real opportunity here, and a rare one, to act today to 
provide for our children's tomorrows. We should seize the moment, and 
I'm confident that we will.
    Thank you.

Criticism From Speaker of the House

    Q. Mr. President, Newt Gingrich says your administration postures 
more and achieves less than any administration in American history. How 
do you respond?
    The President. Well, I think the achievements speak for themselves. 
And he said a lot of things last night that I don't think it would serve 
any useful purpose for me to respond to. There is enough negative 
political talk in Washington every single day without the President 
adding to it. I want to focus on the challenges facing our country, and 
that's what I intend to do.
    Q. Mr. President, he also said that you should tell your supporters 
to stop attacking the independent counsel, Ken Starr.
    The President. I don't have--I've already told you, Mr. Gingrich 
said a lot of things last night that I don't think deserve a response, 
and I think it would not serve the American public well for me to waste 
my time doing it. I think I need to be focused on the public issues that 
affect them, and that's what I intend to do.
    Q. Do you have any thought of firing Ken Starr? I mean, he made that suggestion.
    The President. Of hiring him?
    Q. Firing him, sir. [Laughter] He said, if you want, you could do it 
in the morning. I mean, have you ever thought of that?
    The President. First of all, that's not what the statute says.
    Q. I'm just quoting him, sir.
    The President. I know, but I don't want to respond to what he said.
    Q. [Inaudible]
    Q. Mr. President, are you threatening to veto any tax proposals 
beyond--say, tobacco?
    The President. Wait, wait, I'll take both, but--go ahead.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Visit 
to Cuba

    Q. Are you concerned that the Canadian Prime Minister's visit to 
Cuba is undermining your efforts to isolate Castro?
    The President. Well, Canada and most other countries in the world do 
not agree with the extent of our embargo. But Canada has been a good, 
loyal ally in the cause of human rights. And I talked to the Prime 
Minister at some

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length, both on the telephone and when I saw him, about the importance 
of advocating a human rights agenda, and I believe that he will do that. 
I think he will push for democracy and human rights in Cuba. And if he 
does that effectively and makes that case--the same case that President 
Cardoso of Brazil made when we 
were in Chile, when he said that it would be possible for Cuba to 
preserve its social contract in health care and education and still make 
the transition to democracy, and that's what they should be working on 
now--then it could serve our common goal. We can have different 
approaches to a common goal, and I think we do have a common goal.
    Go ahead, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. I'm 

Legislative Agenda and Social Security

    Q. I was asking, are you threatening a veto for any tax cuts--
    The President. I tried to make it clear that I will do my best to 
stop any legislation that does not honor the principle of saving Social 
Security first.
    There are lots of good ideas out there that deserve to be evaluated 
in the coming months about what we should do to promote long-term 
security and stability for not only our parents but the younger 
generation, and secure Social Security, and they all ought to be 
debated. But when we move, we ought to move in the context of Social 
Security reform. Then after that's out of the way, we can see what the 
Treasury looks like and what else should be done.
    But I think we need to deal with Social Security first. And I still 
believe that a majority of Members of both Houses in Congress and both 
parties believe that. I hope they do, and I hope they'll stick with it.
    Q. Do you have any ideas of how to save it, yourself? I mean----
    The President. Well, sure I do. But as I said in the first forum--
and I think I've been proved right--you see Senator Moynihan's got a proposal out there; Senator 
Kerrey's got a proposal out there; there 
are many proposals that have been offered by various Republican Members 
of the Congress. It is important for me to keep this process going and 
get these ideas out there. And if I were to actually take a position 
now, it would undermine debate and public education and immediately 
focus on the specific piece of legislation, which I think is the worst 
thing we can do.
    We know--every survey of American opinion shows that there's a far 
different level of understanding about this issue today even than there 
was a year ago. Nearly everybody knows that something substantial--
really substantial--has to be done to reform the Social Security system 
to accommodate the baby boom generation and then, subsequent, the 
generations after that. And yet there is a dramatic difference of 
opinion across the age lines about what exactly should be done and what 
the facts are.
    So we have to--we really need to continue this effort we're making 
in this calendar year to educate the public and to get all the ideas out 
there and to encourage all the proposals to be viewed against the 
backdrop of how it fits into the overall scheme of things. And then I 
think what you'll see is--and what I certainly hope you'll see--is very 
rapid action early next year. I have a plan. We're going to end up in 
December with a conference here. We're going to meet with the leaders of 
both parties in Congress, and I'm going to do my best to hammer out a 
plan, which then will be a centerpiece of what I recommend to the 
American people and the Congress early next year.

International Monetary Fund and United Nations Funding

    Q. Mr. President, on the Iraqi report at the U.N.----
    Q. May I ask on the U.N. and the IMF, sir? Despite what you said, it 
seems unlikely Congress will pass funding this year. Can you spell out 
in more detail what you think will happen if there's not funding? Do you 
have any other mechanism to give----
    The President. Well, let me just make it clear that Secretary 
Rubin has done a good job, I think, managing 
a difficult situation. But let's just look at Asia, for example. There's 
been a lot of talk about whether the IMF should be active in Asia, what 
it should be doing. The United States has had a good deal of success 
over the last 5 years by exercising economic leadership to open more 
markets to American products and services on terms that were fair not 
only to ourselves but to our trading partners. About a third of our 
economic growth has come as a result of that increase in trade. Just 
under a third of our exports are going to Asia. Now, I think, therefore, 
it is clear that it is in our

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long-term interest for the IMF to be involved in trying to stabilize 
those Asian economies and help them to recover.
    In our personal interest--how can we expect to be the leader of the 
world and also to benefit personally, economically from a system that we 
won't contribute to and we won't pay our fair share on? I think 
virtually every American now believes--or at least a huge majority--when 
it comes to the United Nations, that in this interdependent world we 
should share responsibilities. I think people liked it when we shared 
responsibilities in Haiti, when we shared responsibilities in Bosnia.
    And we're saying to the world, ``Yes, we want to continue to lead 
the world toward peace and freedom. We understand this is an important 
part of our security and our prosperity, but we're having a little 
political spat in the United States, and we don't think we ought to pay 
our dues to the U.N. We think that different rules apply to us, and we 
have a right not to pay our way, so we can have this fight over an issue 
that is unrelated to our U.N. responsibilities or our IMF 
responsibilities.'' I don't think that is a responsible, mature message 
to send to the world by the leading country in the world.
    I think that if we want to lead, we ought to lead, and we ought to 
lead by example, by paying our way. That's what I believe, and I hope 
that I'll be able to prevail upon Congress to make some progress in that 
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:55 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to President Fernando Cardoso of