President Bill Clinton's State Of The Union Address
Jan. 27, 1998
CLINTON: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of the
105th Congress, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans,
since the last time, we met in this chamber, America has lost
two patriots and fine public servants. Though they say on
opposite sides of the aisle, Representatives Walter Capps and
Sonny Bono shared a deep love for this House and unshakable
commitment to improving the lives of all our people.
In the past few weeks, they've both been eulogized. Tonight,
I think we should begin by sending a message to their families
and their friends that we celebrate their lives and give thanks
for their service to our nation.
For 209 years, it has been the president's duty to report to
you on the state of the union.
Because of the hard work and high purpose of the American
people, these are good times for America.
We have more than 14 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 24 years,
the lowest core inflation in 30 years.
Incomes are rising, and we have the highest home ownership in
history. Crime has dropped for a record five years in a row,
and the welfare rolls are at their lowest levels in 27 years.
Our leadership in the world is unrivaled. Ladies and
gentlemen, the state of our union is strong.
But with barely 700 days left in the 20th century, this is
not a time to rest. It is a time to build -- to build the
America within reach. An America where everybody has a chance
to get ahead with hard work, where every citizen can live in a
safe community, where families are strong, schools are good and
all our young people can go on to college.
An America where scientists find cures for diseases from
diabetes to Alzheimer's to AIDS. An America where every child
can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever
written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever
Where government provides opportunity and citizens
honor the responsibility to give something back to their
communities. An American which leads the world to new heights of
peace and prosperity. This is the America we have begun to
build. This is the America we can leave to our children, if we
join together to finish the work at hand.
Let us strengthen our nation for the 21st century.
Rarely have Americans lived through so much change in so many
ways in so short a time. Quietly, but with gathering force, the
ground has shifted beneath our feet, as we have moved into an
information age, a global economy, a truly new world.
For five years now we have met the challenge of these changes
as Americans have at every turning point in our history, by
renewing the very idea of America. Widening the circle of
opportunity. Deepening the meaning of our freedom. Forging a
more perfect union.
We shaped a new kind of government for the
I thank the vice president for his leadership and the
Congress for its support in building a government that is
leaner, more flexible, a catalyst for new ideas and, most of
all, a government that gives the American people the tools they
need to make the most of their own lives.
We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say
government is the enemy and those who say government is the
answer. My fellow Americans, we have found a third way. We have
the smallest government in 35 years, but a more progressive one.
We have a smaller government, but a stronger nation.
CLINTON: We are moving steadily toward an even stronger
America in the 21st century, an economy that offers opportunity,
a society rooted in responsibility, and a nation that lives as a
First, Americans in this chamber and across our nation have
pursued a new strategy for prosperity: Fiscal discipline to cut
interest rates and spur growth. Investments in education and
skills and science and technology and transportation to prepare
our people for the new economy. New markets for American
products and American workers.
When I took office, the deficit for 1998 was projected to be
$357 billion and heading higher. This year, our deficit is
projected to be $10 billion and heading lower.
Thank you. Thank you.
For three decades, six presidents have come before
you to warn of the damage deficits pose to our nation. Tonight
I come before you to announce that the federal deficit, once so
incomprehensibly large that it had 11 zeros, will be simply
I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget
in 30 years. And...
And, if we hold fast to fiscal discipline, we may balance the
budget this year, four years ahead of schedule.
You can all be proud of that because turning a sea
of red ink into black is no miracle. It is the product of hard
work by the American people and of two visionary actions in
Congress -- the courageous vote in 1993 that led to a cut in the
deficit of 90 percent.
And the truly historic bipartisan balanced budget agreement
passed by this Congress.
Here's the really good news. If we maintain our resolve, we
will produce balanced budgets as far as the eye can see.
We must not go back to unwise spending or
untargeted tax cuts that risk reopening the deficit.
Last year, together we enacted targeted tax cuts so that the
typical middle class family will now have the lowest tax rates
in 20 years.
My plan to balance the budget next year includes both new
investments and new tax cuts, targeted to the needs of working
For education. For child care. For the
environment. But whether the issue is tax cuts or spending, I
ask all of you to meet this test. Approve only those priorities
that can actually be accomplished without adding a dime to the
Now if we balance the budget for next year, it is projected
that we'll then have a sizable surplus in the years that
immediately follow. What should we do with this projected
surplus? I have a simple, four-word answer: Save Social
Tonight I propose that we reserve 100 percent of the surplus,
that's every penny of any surplus, until we have taken all the
necessary measures to strengthen the Social Security system for
the 21st century.
CLINTON: Let us say -- let us say to all Americans watching
tonight -- whether you're 70 or 50 or whether you just started
paying into the system -- Social Security will be there when you
Let us make this commitment...
... Social Security first. Let's do that -- together.
I also want to say that all the American people who are
watching us tonight should be invited to join in this
In facing these issues squarely. In forming a true
consensus on how we should proceed. We'll start by conducting
nonpartisan forums in every region of the country. And I hope
that lawmakers of both parties will participate.
We'll hold the White House conference on Social Security in
December. And one year from now, I will convene the leaders of
Congress to craft historic, bipartisan legislation to achieve a
landmark for our generation: A Social Security system that is
strong in the 21st century.
In an economy that honors opportunity, all Americans must be
able to reap the rewards of prosperity. Because these times are
good, we can afford to take one simple, sensible step to help
millions of workers struggling to provide for their families.
We should raise the minimum wage.
The information age is first and foremost and information age
in which education will start at birth and continue throughout a
lifetime. Last year, from this podium, I said that education
has to be our highest priority. I laid out a ten-point plan to
move us forward and urged all of us to let politics stop at the
Since then, this Congress, across party lines, and the
American people, have responded, in the most important year for
education in a generation. Expanding public school choice.
Opening the way to 3,000 new charter schools. Working to
connect every classroom in the country to the information
superhighway. Committing to expand Head Start to a million
children. Launching America Reads. Sending literally thousands
of college students into our elementary schools to make sure all
our 8-year-olds can read.
Last year, I proposed and you passed 220,00 new
Pell grant scholarships for deserving students.
Student loans -- student loans, already less expensive and
easier to repay, now you get to deduct the interest.
Families all over America now can put their savings into new
tax- free education IRAs. And this year, for the first two
years of college, families will get a $1,500 tax credit -- a
Hope scholarship that will cover the cost of most community
And for junior and senior year, graduate school,
and job training, there is a lifetime learning credit. You did
that and you should be very proud of it.
And because of these actions, I have something to say to
every family listening to us tonight. Your children can go on
to college. If you know a child from a poor family, tell her not
to give up. She can go on to college. If you know a young
couple struggling with bills, worried they won't be able to send
their children to college, tell them not to give up -- their
children can go on to college.
If you know somebody who's caught in a dead-end job and
afraid he can't afford the classes necessary to get better jobs
for the rest of his life, tell him not to give up -- he can go
on to college.
Because of the things that have been done, we can make
college as universal in the 21st century as high school is
And my friends, that will change the face and
future of America.
We have opened wide the doors of the world's best system of
higher education. Now we must make our public elementary and
secondary schools the world's best as well.
By raising standards, raising expectations and raising
accountability. Thanks to the actions of this Congress last
year, we will soon have for the very first time a voluntary
national test based on national standards in fourth grade
reading and eighth grade math. Parents have a right to know
whether their children are mastering the basics. And every
parent already knows the key -- good teachers and small classes.
Tonight, I propose the first ever national effort
to reduce class size in the early grades.
My -- thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
My balanced budget will help to hire 100,000 new teachers who
pass the state competency test. Now, with these teachers --
listen, with these teachers, we will actually be able to reduce
class size in the first, second and third grades to an average
of 18 students a class all across America.
CLINTON: Now, if...
If I got the math right, more teachers, teaching smaller
classes requires more classrooms. So I also propose a school
construction tax cut to help communities modernize or build
We must also demand greater accountability. When...
When we promote a child from grade to grade who hasn't
mastered the work, we don't do that child any favors.
It is time to end social promotion in America's
Last year -- last year in Chicago, they made that decision --
not to hold our children back, but to lift them up. Chicago
stopped social promotion, and started mandatory summer school to
help students who are behind to catch up.
I propose to help other communities follow Chicago's lead.
Let's say to them -- Stop promoting children who don't learn and
we will give you the tools to make sure they do.
CLINTON: I also asked this Congress to support our efforts
to enlist colleges and universities to reach out to
disadvantaged children, starting in the sixth grade, so that
they can get the guidance and hope they need so they can know
that they, too, will be able to go on to college.
As we enter the 21st century, the global economy requires us
to seek opportunity not just at home but in all the markets of
the world. We must shape this global economy, not shrink from
In the last five years we have led the way in opening new
markets with 240 trade agreements that remove foreign barriers
to products bearing the proud stamp, Made in the USA.
Today, record-high exports account for fully
one-third of our economic growth. I want to keep them going
because that's the way to keep America growing and to advance a
safer, more stable world.
Now, all of you know, whatever your views are, that I think
this is a great opportunity for America. I know there is
opposition to more comprehensive trade agreements.
I have listened carefully, and I believe that the opposition
is rooted in two fears. First, that our trading partners will
have lower environmental and labor standards, which will give
them an unfair advantage in our market and do their own people
no favors, even if there's more business.
And second, that if we have more trade, more of our workers
will lose their jobs and have to start over. I think we should
seek to advance worker and environmental standards around the
CLINTON: It should...
I have made it abundantly clear that it should be a part of
our trade agenda, but we cannot influence other countries'
decisions if we send them a message that we're backing away from
trade with them.
This year, I will send legislation to Congress and ask other
nations to join us to fight the most intolerable labor practice
of all -- abusive child labor.
We should also offer help and hope to those Americans
temporarily left behind by the global marketplace or by the
march of technology, which may have nothing to do with trade.
That's why we have more than doubled funding for
training dislocated workers since 1993, and if my new budget is
adopted, we will triple funding.
That's why we must do more and more quickly to help workers
who lose their jobs for whatever reason.
You know, we help communities in a special way when their
military base closes. We ought to help them in the same way if
their factory closes.
Thank you. Thank you.
Again, I ask the Congress to continue its bipartisan work to
consolidate the tangle of training programs we have today into
one single GI Bill for workers -- a simple skills grant so
people can on their own move quickly to new jobs, to higher
incomes and brighter futures.
Now, we all know in every way in life, change is
not always easy. But we have to decide whether we're going to
try to hold it back and hide from it or reap its benefits.
And remember the big picture here. While we've been entering
into hundreds of new trade agreements, we've been creating
millions of new jobs.
So this year, we will forge new partnerships with Latin
America, Asia and Europe. And we should pass the new African
Trade Act. It has bipartisan support.
I will also renew my request for the fast-track negotiating
authority necessary to open more new markets, create more new
jobs, which every president has had for two decades.
CLINTON: You know, whether we like it or not, in ways that
are mostly positive, the world's economies are more and more
interconnected and interdependent. Today an economic crisis
anywhere can affect economies everywhere.
Recent months have brought serious financial problems to
Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and beyond.
Now why should Americans be concerned about this?
First, these countries are our customers. If they sink in a
recession, they won't be able to buy the goods we'd like to sell
them. Second, they're also our competitors. So if their
currencies lose their value and go down, then the price of their
goods will drop, flooding our market and others with much
cheaper goods which makes it a lot tougher four our people to
And finally, they are our strategic partners.
Their stability bolsters our security.
The American economy remains sound and strong and I want to
keep it that way. But because the turmoil in Asia will have an
impact on all the world's economies, including ours, making that
negative impact as small as possible is the right thing to do
for America and the right thing to do for a safer world.
Our policy is clear. No nation can recover if it does not
But when nations are willing to undertake serious
economic reform, we should help them do it. So I call on
Congress to renew America's commitment to the International
And I think we should say to all the people we're trying to
represent here that preparing for a far-off storm that may reach
our shores is far wiser than ignoring the thunder until the
clouds are just overhead.
A strong nation rests on the rock of responsibility.