July 15, 2000
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today I want to talk about what we as a nation must do to keep our economic expansion going, and extend its benefits to every American.
For more than seven years now, our nation has followed a course of fiscal discipline that has paid tremendous dividends for the American people. We made tough choices, cut our deficits, paid down our debt.
We've strengthened and extended the life of Social Security and Medicare. And we made the investments that matter most for America's future -- in education, in health care, in the environment, in science and technology, and in targeted tax cuts.
But in recent weeks, the Republicans in Congress have done an about-face on our strategy of fiscal discipline. Having already passed more than half a trillion dollars in reckless tax cuts, this week they passed a fiscally irresponsible plan to repeal the entire estate tax.
Its costs would explode to $750 billion after 10 years. And every year fully half its benefits would go to just 3,000 families.
But they haven't been able to provide an affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit for tens of millions of Americans. They haven't been able to add even a day to the life of Social Security or Medicare. They haven't done anything new to improve our schools, increase the minimum wage, expand health insurance coverage for children or parents whose children have coverage, or even to pass a meaningful patients' bill of rights. And now they seem ready to give up on our bipartisan plan to use Social Security and Medicare surpluses for debt reduction. All these actions are serving special interests, not our national interest.
As we look to the future, if we want to keep this economic expansion going, we have got to keep fiscal discipline at the forefront. That's why I want to stay on track to pay off our national debt by 2012. That's why we should dedicate Social Security surpluses to paying down the debt, and use savings from debt reduction to extend the life of Social Security to 2057. Also, I support Vice President Gore's proposal to take Medicare funds out of the budget as well, and to use savings from debt reduction to help extend the life of the Medicare trust fund out beyond 2030.
Now, their plan would take all of our projected surplus and spend it all for tax cuts and for the cost of privatizing partially the Social Security system, and other spending. Let me ask you something. If someone asked you to sign a contract committing you to spend every penny of your projected earnings for the next 10 years, would you do it? Unfortunately, that's what the congressional Republicans want us to do. Most of us would not sign away money we don't have, and neither should America.
That's why I've proposed setting aside $500 billion as a reserve for America's future -- so we can have a national discussion of our priorities, and so we're prepared for a rainy day. If we do it responsibly, we'll still have the resources to meet key needs of American families. We can increase our investments in education and health care. We can have the right kind of targeted tax cuts to help Americans modernize our schools, send our children to college, care for sick family members, pay for child care. And we can offer every older American the option of affordable, dependable prescription drug benefits through Medicare.
There's a growing consensus, in the Senate and all across America, that we need a real Medicare prescription drug benefit -- not a flawed private insurance program that even the insurance companies admit won't work. I also think we can agree to protect our hard-fought fiscal discipline by pledging to use Medicare surpluses only for debt reduction, as Vice President Gore has urged. I hope Republicans and Democrats would start from there and move forward together on America's other priorities.
In that spirit, I've reached out to Congress and said that if they'll agree to pass a plan that offers affordable Medicare prescription drug coverage to all seniors and people with disabilities, while protecting our hard-won fiscal discipline, I will sign a marriage penalty relief law.
As yet, the Republican leaders have not yet responded to the nation's call for a real prescription drug plan. But it's not too late to put progress over partisanship. The American people know what they need -- a Medicare prescription drug benefit, investments in health and education, and targeted tax cuts that don't take us off the path of fiscal discipline and debt reduction.
Some people here in Washington already are looking ahead to Election Day. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We did not reach this moment of prosperity by accident -- but we could lose it through inattention. Remember, how a nation deals with prosperity is just as stern a test of its judgment and values as how it deals with adversity. If we fail that test, the losers won't be political parties or special interests, they'll be our children, and our future. But if we succeed, America's best days are still ahead.
Thanks for listening.