TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
February 3, 1999
News that the President's budget for the year 2000 is 2,592 pages long is enough to make most people's eyes glaze over. No matter how complicated it may appear, though, it provides a critical blueprint for the future, laying out his priorities for the country in the starkest of terms -- numbers that add up to a balanced budget.
Six years ago, when my husband took office, analysts projected a $404 billion deficit for fiscal year 2000. Instead, thanks to fiscal responsibility, strategic investments, the hard work of millions of Americans and the President's leadership, we now anticipate a $79 billion surplus.
What you will read and hear about in the President's budget are the big items -- saving Social Security, guaranteeing the soundness of Medicare, shoring up our nation's defenses, improving our children's schools and reducing the national debt.
But there are other, smaller items that may never make it to the pages of your newspapers but could significantly improve the lives of countless Americans. Here are four examples that I care deeply about and highlighted at White House events this week:
Foster Care: Last November, I wrote a column about the plight of the nearly 20,000 youngsters who each year become too old for foster care. Terry Harrak was compelled to leave foster care when she turned 18, at the beginning of her senior year. With no job and no place to go, Terry became homeless and was forced to finish high school while staying with friends and teachers, in subway terminals and even in hospital emergency rooms. Now, thanks to a local program that helps the homeless, she has a job and is attending community college.
Terry's one of the lucky ones, but no foster child should have to become homeless to obtain help. In his budget, the President proposed funds to help foster youth like Terry by offering them financial support while they develop the skills they need to move into the work force and making sure they have adequate health care until they're 21.
Asthma: Last year, I also wrote about the alarming increase in childhood asthma. Many people don't understand how debilitating this disease can be and that it now affects 6 million American children, double the number 15 years ago. The President's budget includes the largest ever federal investment to fight childhood asthma -- through research, disease management education and a new public-information campaign.
Children's Hospitals: I know from my own experience that children's hospitals train 25 percent of this country's pediatricians and nearly half of all pediatric specialists. But unlike teaching hospitals that train doctors who treat adults, they receive very little in the way of federal medical education support. The President's budget would provide funds for children's hospitals to ensure that the physicians they train can meet the special health needs of our nation's children.
Mentoring: Most of us can think back to one or two adults who encouraged, supported and championed us as we were growing up. When I was young, the youth minister at my church opened doors to me and my friends by arranging worship and service opportunities with disadvantaged teens in Chicago, exposing us to art and poetry, and taking us to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak.
I am especially pleased that the President's budget contains two items that support mentoring: the new GEAR UP program, which is aimed at disadvantaged students as they prepare for college, and at-risk youth programs including tutoring, job training, and drug and alcohol prevention.
You may have noticed that I keep referring to the "President's budget." Many people, I have found, assume that when the President announces his budget, the money will be forthcoming. But this is only the beginning of a long and sometimes difficult process.
What happens is this: Once the President has announced his plan, he sends it to Congress, where lawmakers must approve and allocate funds for everything from the FBI and the Peace Corps to highway construction and space exploration.
During this process, various Congressional committees and subcommittees hold hearings. Working with members of the administration, Congress then accepts some of the President's proposals, rejects others and changes still others. Agreement should be reached by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins, although last year, the President couldn't sign the final budget until Oct. 24.
Over the course of the next eight months, you will hear a lot about various budget proposals -- proposals that have the potential to change the lives of millions of American citizens. Let's hope that when Oct. 1 rolls around, the President's plans for the big things like Social Security and Medicare will have passed but also that you'll also see funding so young people like Terry Harrak will never again sleep in subway stations, children will no longer suffer the life-threatening symptoms of asthma, hospitals will train more and better pediatric specialists, and every child will have a champion.
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