THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Saturday, May 3 1997
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RADIO ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION
The Oval Office
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Yesterday, we took a dramatic step to prepare America for the 21st century, and we got the best evidence yet that the new economic policy we adopted in 1993 is working for our people. Yesterday morning, we learned the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.9 percent -- the lowest in 24 years. And yesterday afternoon, I reached an historic agreement with the leaders of Congress to balance the budget by 2002, with a plan that ensures we will balance the budget; invest in our future; protect our values and our obligations to our children, our parents, and those in need.
Four years ago, when I took office, the economy was stagnating, job growth was sluggish, the budget deficit threatened to drown our economy. I believed it was time to change course with a new economic strategy: invest and grow, cut the budget deficit, sell more products overseas through tough trade agreements, and invest in the skills of our people. In 1993, we put our economic plan in place. It wasn't easy, it required hard choices. But now, the deficit has been cut for four years in a row, falling from $290 billion in 1992 to about $80 billion this year -- more than two-thirds of the way home to our first balanced budget since the 1960s. All this has spurred lower interest rates, more investment, and stronger growth.
And the good news goes beyond low unemployment. Economic growth is at its highest in a decade; core inflation at its lowest in three decades; the largest decline in income inequality since the 1960s; and, thanks to the hard work of the American people, 12 million new jobs. It is now clear that our economy is the strongest it's been in a generation.
Now we have to keep this economic growth going. We have a great opportunity to build a world for our children better than any America has ever known. But, my fellow Americans, we must prepare. We have to give Americans the education and skills they need to compete in the global economy. We have to invest in science and technology. We have to continue to get and keep our economic house in order.
To keep our economy growing, we must stay on the path of fiscal responsibility. To make sure all our people can share in this prosperity, we must make sure that a balanced budget also invests in their future. Balancing the budget, investing in our people -- we must do both these things. In 1993, many people doubted that it could be done. We have shown that it can be done. And with this budget agreement -- a bipartisan budget agreement -- we will prove that we can actually balance the budget and continue to invest in our future.
It took weeks of intense negotiations to lead to an agreement that protects our values. A balanced budget with unbalanced values and priorities would not have been enough. There were times when it seemed that we, perhaps, would never reach this agreement; times when it appeared that we could not secure a balanced budget true to the principles and priorities essential to our future, and bringing Democrats and Republicans together across all their differences. But everyone understood that the stakes were too great and the cost of failure too severe to give up.
So, yesterday, we reached an agreement on just such a plan. It is a significant breakthrough for our country. And it proves that our political system can work when we put our partisan differences aside and put the American people and their future first.
This budget plan honors our duty to our parents and to those in need by securing Medicare and Medicaid, and extending the life of the Medicare trust fund for a full decade. It honors our duty to our children, expanding health coverage to children who don't have it -- up to 5 million more of them. It keeps my pledge to continue the job of welfare reform by providing tax incentives to businesses to move people from welfare to work, and restoring some of the unwise and excessive cuts included in last year's welfare bill. It cleans up 500 toxic waste dumps and strengthens enforcement for a clean environment. It gives the American people tax relief for education, for help in raising their children, and to spur investment in our future.
And perhaps most important of all, this bipartisan agreement reflects our commitment to make education America's top priority on the edge of a new century. Here are our goals: every 8-year-old can read, every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, every 18-year-old can go on to college, every adult can keep on learning for a lifetime.
This balanced budget plan is a breakthrough toward those goals. It's the best education budget in three decades. It will give families tax cuts to pay for college, and it will include our Hope Scholarship -- a tax credit for tuition for the first two years of college to make those first two years as universal as a high school diploma is today. The budget also includes the biggest increase in Pell Grant scholarships for deserving students in 30 years. It funds our America Reads challenge, which will mobilize a million volunteer reading tutors to make sure that all our 8-year-olds will be able to read independently. It will help to connect all our classrooms and libraries to the Information Superhighway. And it will support our move to develop genuine national standards in education and, by 1999, to test every 4th grader in reading and every 8th grader in math to make sure we can compete in the world of tomorrow.
This balanced budget plan is in balance with our values. It will help to prepare our people for a new century. It will help to propel our country into that century stronger than ever. And I urge members of Congress in both parties to pass it.
Yesterday morning, I had a chance to think about our country, its history, and its destiny, when I was privileged to join in the dedication of the new memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt here in Washington. It is a tribute to him, to Eleanor Roosevelt, and to the generation that changed America -- conquering Depression at home, defeating tyranny abroad. We've come a long way since then, and we can go much, much further if we work with the same faith, commitment, and confidence that FDR's generation showed as they met the challenges of their time.
In words from his last speech, which he wrote shortly before he died, President Roosevelt said, "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."
My fellow Americans, the news on the economy, the balanced budget agreement -- they should give us confidence; they should validate our faith; they should erase our doubts. Let us now reach across party lines and seize our chance to balance the budget and maintain that strong and active faith that will ensure that our best days as a nation lie still before us.
Thanks for listening.