State of the Union Address: William J. Clinton (January 27, 2000)
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, honored guests, my fellow Americans:
We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis or so few external threats. Never before have we had such a blessed opportunity—and, therefore, such a profound obligation— to build the more perfect union of our founders' dreams.
We begin the new century with over 20 million new jobs. The fastest economic growth in more than 30 years; the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years; the lowest poverty rates in 20 years; the lowest African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates on record; the first back-to-back budget surpluses in 42 years.
Next month, America will achieve the longest period of economic growth in our entire history.
We have built a new economy.
Our economic revolution has been matched by a revival of the American spirit: Crime down by 20 percent, to its lowest level in 25 years. Teen births down seven years in a row and adoptions up by 30 percent. Welfare rolls cut in half to their lowest levels in 30 years.
My fellow Americans, the state of our union is the strongest it has ever been.
As always, the credit belongs to the American people.
My gratitude also goes to those of you in this chamber who have worked with us to put progress above partisanship.
Eight years ago, it was not so clear to most Americans there would be much to celebrate in the year 2000. Then our nation was gripped by economic distress, social decline, political gridlock. The title of a best-selling book asked: "America: What went wrong?"
In the best traditions of our nation, Americans determined to set things right. We restored the vital center, replacing outdated ideologies with a new vision anchored in basic, enduring values: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and a community of all Americans.
We reinvented government, transforming it into a catalyst for new ideas that stress both opportunity and responsibility, and give our people the tools to solve their own problems.
With the smallest federal workforce in 40 years, we turned record deficits into record surpluses, and doubled our investment in education. We cut crime: with 100,000 community police and the Brady Law, which has kept guns out of the hands of half a million criminals.
We ended welfare as we knew it—requiring work while protecting health care and nutrition for children, and investing more in child care, transportation, and housing to help their parents go to work. We have helped parents to succeed at work and at home—with family leave, which 20 million Americans have used to care for a newborn child or a sick loved one. We have engaged 150,000 young Americans in citizen service through AmeriCorps—while also helping them earn their way through college.
In 1992, we had a roadmap. Today, we have results. More important, America again has the confidence to dream big dreams. But we must not let our renewed confidence grow into complacency. We will be judged by the dreams and deeds we pass on to our children. And on that score, we will be held to a high standard, indeed. Because our chance to do good is so great.
My fellow Americans, we have crossed the bridge we built to the 21st Century. Now, we must shape a 21st-Century American revolution—of opportunity, responsibility, and community. We must be, as we were in the beginning, a new nation.
At the dawn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt said, "the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight. . . It should be the growing nation with a future which takes the long look ahead."
Tonight let us take our look long ahead—and set great goals for our nation.
To 21st Century America, let us pledge that:
Every child will begin school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed. Every family will be able to succeed at home and at work—and no child will be raised in poverty. We will meet the challenge of the aging of America. We will assure quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. We will make America the safest big country on earth. We will bring prosperity to every American community. We will reverse the course of climate change and leave a cleaner, safer planet. America will lead the world toward shared peace and prosperity, and the far frontiers of science and technology. And we will become at last what our founders pledged us to be so long ago—one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
These are great goals, worthy of a great nation. We will not reach them all this year. Not even in this decade. But we will reach them. Let us remember that the first American revolution was not won with a single shot. The continent was not settled in a single year. The lesson of our history—and the lesson of the last seven years—is that great goals are reached step by step: always building on our progress, always gaining ground.
Of course, you can't gain ground if you're standing still. For too long this Congress has been standing still on some of our most pressing national priorities. Let's begin with them.
I ask you again to pass a real patient's bill of rights. Pass common-sense gun-safety legislation. Pass campaign finance reform. Vote on long overdue judicial nominations and other important appointees. And, again, I ask you to raise the minimum wage.
Two years ago, as we reached our first balanced budget, I asked that we meet our responsibility to the next generation by maintaining our fiscal discipline. Because we refused to stray from that path, we are doing something that would have seemed unimaginable seven years ago: We are actually paying down the national debt. If we stay on this path, we can pay down the debt entirely in 13 years and make America debt-free for the first time since Andrew Jackson was president in 1835.
In 1993, we began to put our fiscal house in order with the Deficit Reduction Act, winning passage in both houses by just one vote. Your former colleague, my first Secretary of the Treasury, led that effort. He is here tonight. Lloyd Bentsen, you have served America well.
Beyond paying off the debt, we must ensure that the benefits of debt reduction go to preserving two of the most important guarantees we make to every American—Social Security and Medicare. I ask you tonight to work with me to make a bipartisan down payment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security Trust Fund to ensure that it is strong and sound for the next 50 years.
But this is just the start of our journey. Now we must take the right steps toward reaching our great goals.
Opportunity and Responsibility in Education
First and foremost, we need a 21st Century revolution in education, guided by our faith that every child can learn. Because education is more than ever the key to our children's future, we must make sure all our children have that key. That means quality preschool and afterschool, the best trained teachers in every classroom, and college opportunities for all our children.
For seven years, we have worked hard to improve our schools, with opportunity and responsibility: Investing more, but demanding more in return.
Reading, math, and college entrance scores are up. And some of the most impressive gains are in schools in poor neighborhoods.
All successful schools have followed the same proven formula: higher standards, more accountability, so all children can reach those standards. I have sent Congress a reform plan based on that formula. It holds states and school districts accountable for progress, and rewards them for results. Each year, the national government invests more than $15 billion in our schools. It's time to support what works and stop supporting what doesn't.
As we demand more than ever from our schools, we should invest more than ever in our schools.
Let's double our investment to help states and districts turn around their worst-performing schools—or shut them down.
Let's double our investment in afterschool and summer school programs— boosting achievement, and keeping children off the street and out of trouble. If we do, we can give every child in every failing school in America the chance to meet high standards.
Since 1993, we've nearly doubled our investment in Head Start and improved its quality. Tonight, I ask for another $1 billion to Head Start, the largest increase in the program's history.
We know that children learn best in smaller classes with good teachers. For two years in a row, Congress has supported my plan to hire 100,000 new, qualified teachers, to lower class sizes in the early grades. This year, I ask you to make it three in a row.
And to make sure all teachers know the subjects they teach, tonight I propose a new teacher quality initiative—to recruit more talented people into the classroom, reward good teachers for staying there, and give all teachers the training they need.
We know charter schools provide real public school choice. When I became President, there was just one independent public charter school in all America. Today there are 1,700. I ask you to help us meet our goal of 3,000 by next year.
We know we must connect all our classrooms to the Internet. We're getting there. In 1994, only three percent of our classrooms were connected. Today, with the help of the Vice President's E-rate program, more than half of them are; and 90 percent of our schools have at least one connection to the Internet.
But we can't finish the job when a third of all schools are in serious disrepair, many with walls and wires too old for the Internet. Tonight, I propose to help 5,000 schools a year make immediate, urgent repairs. And again, to help build or modernize 6,000 schools, to get students out of trailers and into high-tech classrooms.
We should double our bipartisan GEAR UP program to mentor 1.4 million disadvantaged young people for college. And let's offer these students a chance to take the same college test-prep courses wealthier students use to boost their test scores.
To make the American Dream achievable for all, we must make college affordable for all. For seven years, on a bipartisan basis, we have taken action toward that goal: larger Pell grants, more-affordable student loans, education IRAs, and our HOPE scholarships, which have already benefited 5 million young people. 67 percent of high school graduates now go on to college, up almost 10 percent since 1993. Yet millions of families still strain to pay college tuition. They need help.
I propose a landmark $30-billion college opportunity tax cut—a middle-class tax deduction for up to $10,000 in college tuition costs. We've already made two years of college affordable for all. Now let's make four years of college affordable for all.
If we take all these steps, we will move a long way toward making sure every child starts school ready to learn and graduates ready to succeed.
Rewarding Work and Strengthening Families
We need a 21st Century revolution to reward work and strengthen families— by giving every parent the tools to succeed at work and at the most important work of all—raising their children. That means making sure that every family has health care and the support to care for aging parents, the tools to bring their children up right, and that no child grows up in poverty.
From my first days as President, we have worked to give families better access to better health care. In 1997, we passed the Children's Health Insurance Program—CHIP—so that workers who don't have health care coverage through their employers at least can get it for their children. So far, we've enrolled 2 million children, and we're well on our way to our goal of 5 million.
But there are still more than 40 million Americans without health insurance, more than there were in 1993. Tonight I propose that we follow Vice President Gore's suggestion to make low income parents eligible for the insurance that covers their kids. Together with our children's initiative, we can cover nearly one quarter of the uninsured in America.
Again, I ask you to let people between 55 and 65—the fastest growing group of uninsured—buy into Medicare. And let's give them a tax credit to make that choice an affordable one.
When the Baby Boomers retire, Medicare will be faced with caring for twice as many of our citizens—and yet it is far from ready to do so. My generation must not ask our children's generation to shoulder our burden. We must strengthen and modernize Medicare now.
My budget includes a comprehensive plan to reform Medicare, to make it more efficient and competitive. And it dedicates nearly $400 billion of our budget surplus to keep Medicare solvent past 2025; and, at long last, to give every senior a voluntary choice of affordable coverage for prescription drugs.
Lifesaving drugs are an indispensable part of modern medicine. No one creating a Medicare program today would even consider excluding coverage for prescription drugs. Yet more than three in five seniors now lack dependable drug coverage which can lengthen and enrich their lives. Millions of older Americans who need prescription drugs the most pay the highest prices for them.
In good conscience, we cannot let another year pass without extending to all seniors the lifeline of affordable prescription drugs.
Record numbers of Americans are providing for aging or ailing loved ones at home. Last year, I proposed a $1,000 tax credit for long-term care. Frankly, that wasn't enough. This year, let's triple it to $3,000—and this year, let's pass it.
And we must make needed investments to expand access to mental health care. I want to thank the person who has led our efforts to break down the barriers to the decent treatment of mental illness: Tipper Gore.
Taken together, these proposals would mark the largest investment in health care in the 35 years since the creation of Medicare—a big step toward assuring health care for all Americans, young and old.
We must also make investments that reward work and support families. Nothing does that better than the Earned Income Tax Credit, the EITC. The "E" in "EITC" is about earning; working; taking responsibility and being rewarded for it. In my first Address to you, I asked Congress to greatly expand this tax credit; and you did. As a result, in 1998 alone, the EITC helped more than 4.3 million Americans work their way out of poverty and toward the middle class—double the number in 1993.
Tonight, I propose another major expansion. We should reduce the marriage penalty for the EITC, making sure it rewards marriage just as it rewards work. And we should expand the tax credit for families with more than two children to provide up to $1,100 more in tax relief.
We can't reward work and family unless men and women get equal pay for equal work. The female unemployment rate is the lowest in 46 years. Yet women still earn only about 75 cents for every dollar men earn. We must do better by providing the resources to enforce present equal pay laws, training more women for high-paying, high-tech jobs, and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Two-thirds of new jobs are in the suburbs, far away from many low-income families. In the past two years, I have proposed and Congress has approved 110,000 new housing vouchers—rent subsidies to help working families live closer to the workplace. This year, let us more than double that number. If we want people to go to work, they have to be able to get to work.
Many working parents spend up to a quarter of their income on child care. Last year, we helped parents provide child care for about two million children. My child care initiative, along with funds already secured in welfare reform, would make child care better, safer, and more affordable for another 400,000 children.
For hard-pressed middle-income families, we should also expand the child care tax credit. And we should take the next big step. We should make that tax credit refundable for low-income families. For those making under $30,000 a year, that could mean up to $2,400 for child-care costs. We all say we're pro-work and pro-family. Passing this proposal would prove it.
Tens of millions of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. As hard as they work, they still don't have the opportunity to save. Too few can make use of IRAs and 401-K retirement plans. We should do more to help working families save and accumulate wealth. That's the idea behind so-called Individual Development Accounts. Let's take that idea to a new level, with Retirement Savings Accounts that enable every low- and moderate-income family in America to save for retirement, a first home, a medical emergency, or a college education. I propose to match their contributions, however small, dollar for dollar, every year they save. And to give a major new tax credit for any small business that provides a meaningful pension to its workers.
Nearly one in three American children grows up in a home without a father. These children are five times more likely to live in poverty than children with both parents at home. Clearly, demanding and supporting responsible fatherhood is critical to lifting all children out of poverty.
We have doubled child support collections since 1992, and I am proposing tough new measures to hold still more fathers responsible. But we should recognize that a lot of fathers want to do right by their children—and need help to do it. Carlos Rosas of St. Paul, Minnesota, got that help. Now he has a good job and he supports his son Ricardo. My budget will help 40,000 fathers make the choices Carlos did. And I thank him for being here.
If there is any issue on which we can reach across party lines it is in our common commitment to reward work and strengthen families. Thanks to overwhelming bipartisan support from this Congress, we have improved foster care, supported those who leave it when they turn eighteen, and dramatically increased the number of foster children going to adoptive homes. I thank you for that. Of course, I am especially grateful to the person who has led our efforts from the beginning, and who has worked tirelessly for children and families for thirty years now: my wife, Hillary.
If we take all these steps, we will move a long way toward empowering parents to succeed at home and at work and ensuring that no child is raised in poverty. We can make these vital investments in health care, education and support for working families—and still offer tax cuts to help pay for college, for retirement, to care for aging parents and reduce the marriage penalty—without forsaking the path of fiscal discipline that got us here. Indeed, we must make these investments and tax cuts in the context of a balanced budget that strengthens and extends the life of Social Security and Medicare and pays down the national debt.
Responsibility and Crime
Crime in America has dropped for the past seven years—the longest decline on record, thanks to a national consensus we helped to forge on community police, sensible gun safety laws, and effective prevention. But nobody believes America is safe enough. So let's set a higher goal: let's make America the safest big country in the world.
Last fall, Congress supported my plan to hire—in addition to the 100,000 community police we have already funded—50,000 more, concentrated in high-crime neighborhoods. I ask your continued support.
Soon after the Columbine tragedy, Congress considered common-sense gun safety legislation to require Brady background checks at gun shows, child safety locks for all new handguns, and a ban on the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips. With courage—and a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President—the Senate faced down the gun lobby, stood up for the American people, and passed this legislation. But the House failed to follow suit.
We've all seen what happens when guns fall into the wrong hands. Daniel Mauser was only 15 years old when he was gunned down at Columbine. He was an amazing kid, a straight-A student, a good skier. Like all parents who lose their children, his father Tom has borne unimaginable grief. Somehow Tom has found the strength to honor his son by transforming his grief into action. Earlier this month, he took a leave of absence from his job to fight for tougher gun safety laws. I pray that his courage and wisdom will move this Congress to make common-sense gun safety legislation the very next order of business. Tom, thank you for being here tonight.
We must strengthen gun laws and better enforce laws already on the books. Federal gun crime prosecutions are up 16 percent since I took office. But again, we must do more. I propose to hire more federal and local gun prosecutors, and more ATF agents to crack down on illegal gun traffickers and bad-apple dealers. And we must give law enforcement the tools to trace every gun—and every bullet—used in a crime in America.
Listen to this: the accidental gun death rate of children under 15 in the United States is nine times higher than in the other 25 industrialized nations—combined. Technologies now exist that could lead to guns that can only be fired by the adults who own them. I ask Congress to fund research in Smart Gun technology. I also call on responsible leaders in the gun industry to work with us on smart guns and other steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands and keep our children safe.
Every parent I know worries about the impact of violence in the media on their children. I thank the entertainment industry for accepting my challenge to put voluntary ratings on TV programs and video and Internet games. But the ratings are too numerous, diverse, and confusing to be really useful to parents. Therefore, I now ask the industry to accept the First Lady's challenge—to develop a single, voluntary rating system for all children's entertainment, one that is easier for parents to understand and enforce.
If we take all these steps, we will be well on our way to making America the safest big country in the world.
Opening New Markets
To keep our historic economic expansion going, we need a 21st Century revolution to open new markets, start new businesses, and hire new workers right here in America—in our inner cities, poor rural areas, and on Indian reservations.
Our nation's prosperity has not yet reached these places. Over the last six months, I have traveled to many of them—joined by many of you, and many far-sighted business people—to shine a spotlight on the enormous potential in communities from Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta, from Watts to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Everywhere I've gone, I've met talented people eager for opportunity, and able to work. Let's put them to work.
For business, it's the smart thing to do. For America, it's the right thing to do. And if we don't do it now, when will we ever get around to it?
I ask Congress to give businesses the same incentives to invest in America's new markets that they now have to invest in foreign markets. Tonight, I propose a large New Markets Tax Credit and other incentives to spur $22 billion in private-sector capital—to create new businesses and new investments in inner cities and rural areas.
Empowerment Zones have been creating these opportunities for five years now. We should also increase incentives to invest in them and create more of them.
This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It is an American issue. Mr. Speaker, it was a powerful moment last November when you joined me and the Reverend Jesse Jackson in your home state of Illinois, and committed to working toward our common goal, by combining the best ideas from both sides of the aisle. Mr. Speaker, I look forward to working with you.
We must maintain our commitment to community development banks and keep the community reinvestment act strong so all Americans have access to the capital they need to buy homes and build businesses.
We need to make special efforts to address the areas with the highest rates of poverty. My budget includes a special $110 million initiative to promote economic development in the Mississippi Delta; and $1 billion to increase economic opportunity, health care, education and law enforcement for Native American communities. In this new century, we should honor our historic responsibility to empower the first Americans. I thank leaders and members from both parties who have already expressed an interest in working with us on these efforts.
There's another part of our American community in trouble today—our family farmers. When I signed the Farm Bill in 1996, I said there was a great danger it would work well in good times but not in bad. Well, droughts, floods, and historically low prices have made times very bad for our farmers. We must work together to strengthen the farm safety net, invest in land conservation, and create new markets by expanding our program for bio-based fuels and products.
Today, opportunity for all requires something new: having access to a computer and knowing how to use it. That means we must close the digital divide between those who have these tools and those who don't.
Connecting classrooms and libraries to the Internet is crucial, but it's just a start. My budget ensures that all new teachers are trained to teach 21st Century skills and creates technology centers in 1,000 communities to serve adults. This spring, I will invite high-tech leaders to join me on another New Markets tour—to close the digital divide and open opportunity for all our people. I thank the high-tech companies that are already doing so much in this area—and I hope the new tax incentives I have proposed will encourage others to join us.
If we take these steps, we will go a long way toward our goal of bringing opportunity to every community.
Global Change and American Leadership
To realize the full possibilities of the new economy, we must reach beyond our own borders, to shape the revolution that is tearing down barriers and building new networks among nations and individuals, economies and cultures: globalization.
It is the central reality of our time. Change this profound is both liberating and threatening. But there is no turning back. And our open, creative society stands to benefit more than any other—if we understand, and act on, the new realities of interdependence. We must be at the center of every vital global network, as a good neighbor and partner. We cannot build our future without helping others to build theirs.
First, we must forge a new consensus on trade. Those of us who believe passionately in the power of open trade must ensure that it lifts both our living standards and our values, never tolerating abusive child labor or a race to the bottom on the environment and worker protection. Still, open markets and rules-based trade are the best engines we know for raising living standards, reducing global poverty and environmental destruction, and assuring the free flow of ideas. There is only one direction for America on trade: we must go forward.
And we must make developing economies our partners in prosperity—which is why I ask Congress to finalize our groundbreaking African and Caribbean Basin trade initiatives.
Globalization is about more than economics. Our purpose must be to bring the world together around democracy, freedom, and peace, and to oppose those who would tear it apart.
Here are the fundamental challenges I believe America must meet to shape the 21st Century world.
First, we must continue to encourage our former adversaries, Russia and China, to emerge as stable, prosperous, democratic nations. Both are being held back from reaching their full potential: Russia by the legacy of communism, economic turmoil, a cruel and self-defeating war in Chechnya; China by the illusion that it can buy stability at the expense of freedom. But think how much has changed in the past decade: thousands of former Soviet nuclear weapons eliminated; Russian soldiers serving with ours in the Balkans; Russian people electing their leaders for the first time in a thousand years. And in China, an economy more open to the world than ever before. No one can know for sure what direction these great countries will choose. But we must do everything in our power to increase the chance they will choose wisely, to be constructive members of the global community.
That is why we must support those Russians struggling for a democratic, prosperous future; continue to reduce both our nuclear arsenals; and help Russia safeguard weapons and materials that remain.
That is why Congress should support the agreement we negotiated to bring China into the WTO, by passing Permanent Normal Trade Relations as soon as possible this year. Our markets are already open to China. This agreement will open China's markets to us. And it will advance the cause of peace in Asia and promote the cause of change in China.
A second challenge is to protect our security from conflicts that pose the risk of wider war and threaten our common humanity. America cannot prevent every conflict or stop every outrage. But where our interests are at stake and we can make a difference, we must be peacemakers.
We should be proud of America's role in bringing the Middle East closer than ever to a comprehensive peace; building peace in Northern Ireland; working for peace in East Timor and Africa; promoting reconciliation between Greece and Turkey and in Cyprus; working to defuse crises between India and Pakistan; defending human rights and religious freedom.
And we should be proud of the men and women of our armed forces and those of our allies who stopped the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo—enabling a million innocent people to return to their homes.
When Slobodan Milosevic unleashed his terror on Kosovo, Captain John Cherrey was one of the brave airmen who turned the tide. And when another American plane went down over Serbia, he flew into the teeth of enemy air defenses to bring his fellow pilot home. Thanks to our armed forces' skill and bravery, we prevailed without losing a single American in combat. Captain Cherrey, we honor you, and promise to finish the job you began.
A third challenge is to keep the inexorable march of technology from giving terrorists and potentially hostile nations the means to undermine our defenses. The same advances that have shrunk cell phones to fit in the palms of our hands can also make weapons of terror easier to conceal and easier to use.
We must meet this threat: by making effective agreements to restrain nuclear and missile programs in North Korea, curbing the flow of lethal technology to Iran; preventing Iraq from threatening its neighbors; increasing our preparedness against chemical and biological attack; protecting our vital computer systems from hackers and criminals; and developing a system to defend against new missile threats—while working to preserve our Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.
I hope we can have a constructive bipartisan dialogue this year to build a consensus which will lead eventually to the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
A fourth challenge is to ensure that the stability of our planet is not threatened by the huge gulf between rich and poor. We cannot accept a world in which part of humanity lives on the cutting edge of a new economy, while the rest live on the bare edge of survival. We must do our part, with expanded trade, expanded aid, and the expansion of freedom.
From Nigeria to Indonesia, more people won the right to choose their leaders in 1999 than in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. We must stand by democracies—like Colombia, fighting narco-traffickers for its people's lives, and our children's lives. I have proposed a strong two-year package to help Colombia win this fight; and I ask for your support. And I will propose tough new legislation to go after what drug barons value most— their money.
In a world where 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, we must do our part in the global endeavor to reduce the debts of the poorest countries so they can invest in education, health and economic growth—as the Pope and other religious leaders have urged. Last year, Congress made a down payment on America's share. And I ask for your continued support.
And America must help more nations break the bonds of disease. Last year in Africa, AIDS killed ten times as many people as war did. My budget invests $150 million more in the fight against this and other infectious killers. Today, I propose a tax credit to speed the development of vaccines for diseases like malaria, TB and AIDS. I ask the private sector and our partners around the world to join us in embracing this cause. Together, we can save millions of lives.
Our final challenge is the most important: to pass a national security budget that keeps our military the best trained and best equipped in the world, with heightened readiness and 21st Century weapons; raises salaries for our service men and women; protects our veterans; fully funds the diplomacy that keeps our soldiers out of war; and makes good on our commitment to pay our UN dues and arrears. I ask you to pass this budget and I thank you for the extraordinary support you have given—Republicans and Democrats alike—to our men and women in uniform. I especially want to thank Secretary Cohen for symbolizing our bipartisan commitment to our national security—and Janet Cohen, I thank you for tirelessly traveling the world to show our support for the troops.
If we meet all these challenges, America can lead the world toward peace and freedom in an era of globalization.
Responsibility, Opportunity, and the Environment
I am grateful for the opportunities the Vice President and I have had to work hard to protect the environment and finally to put to rest the notion that you can't expand the economy while protecting the environment. As our economy has grown, we have rid more than 500 neighborhoods of toxic waste and ensured cleaner air and water for millions of families. In the past three months alone, we have acted to preserve more than 40 million acres of roadless lands in our National Forests and created three new National Monuments.
But as our communities grow, our commitment to conservation must grow as well. Tonight, I propose creating a permanent conservation fund to restore wildlife, protect coastlines, and save natural treasures from California redwoods to the Everglades. This Lands Legacy endowment represents by far the most enduring investment in land preservation ever proposed.
Last year, the Vice President launched a new effort to help make communities more livable—so children will grow up next to parks, not parking lots, and parents can be home with their children instead of stuck in traffic. Tonight, we propose new funding for advanced transit systems— for saving precious open spaces—for helping major cities around the Great Lakes protect their waterways and enhance their quality of life.
The greatest environmental challenge of the new century is global warming. Scientists tell us that the 1990s were the hottest decade of the entire millennium. If we fail to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, deadly heat waves and droughts will become more frequent, coastal areas will be flooded, economies disrupted.
Many people in the United States and around the world still believe we can't cut greenhouse gas pollution without slowing economic growth. In the Industrial Age that may have been true. In the digital economy, it isn't. New technologies make it possible to cut harmful emissions and provide even more growth. For example, just last week, automakers unveiled cars that get 70 to 80 miles a gallon—the fruits of a unique research partnership between government and industry. Before you know it, efficient production of biofuels will give us the equivalent of hundreds of miles from a gallon of gas.
To speed innovations in environmental technologies, I propose giving major tax incentives to businesses for the production of clean energy—and to families for buying energy-saving homes and appliances and the next generation of super-efficient cars when they hit the showroom floor. I also call on the auto industry to use available technologies to make all new cars more fuel efficient right away. And on Congress to make more of our clean-energy technologies available to the developing world—creating cleaner growth abroad and new jobs at home.
The Opportunity and Responsibility of Science and Technology
In the new century, innovations in science and technology will be the key not only to the health of the environment but to miraculous improvements in the quality of our lives and advances in the economy.
Later this year, researchers will complete the first draft of the entire human genome—the very blueprint of life. It is important for all Americans to recognize that your tax dollars have fueled this research— and that this and other wise investments in science are leading to a revolution in our ability to detect, treat, and prevent disease.
For example, researchers have identified genes that cause Parkinson's Disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer—and they are designing precision therapies that will block the harmful effects of these faulty genes for good. Researchers are already using this new technique to target and destroy cells that cause breast cancer. Soon, we may be able to use it to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Scientists are also working on an artificial retina to help many blind people to see and microchips that would directly stimulate damaged spinal cords and allow people who are now paralyzed to stand up and walk.
Science and engineering innovations are also propelling our remarkable prosperity. Information technology alone now accounts for a third of our economic growth, with jobs that pay almost 80 percent above the private sector average. Again, we should keep in mind: government-funded research brought supercomputers, the Internet, and communications satellites into being. Soon researchers will bring us devices that can translate foreign languages as fast as you can speak; materials 10 times stronger than steel at a fraction of the weight; and molecular computers the size of a teardrop with the power of today's fastest supercomputers.
To accelerate the march of discovery across all disciplines of science and technology, my budget includes an unprecedented $3 billion increase in the 21st Century Research Fund, the largest increase in civilian research in a generation.
These new breakthroughs must be used in ways that reflect our most cherished values. First and foremost, we must safeguard our citizens' privacy. Last year, we proposed rules to protect every citizen's medical records. This year, we will finalize those rules. We have also taken the first steps to protect the privacy of bank and credit card statements and other financial records. Soon I will send legislation to the Congress to finish that job. We must also act to prevent any genetic discrimination by employers or insurers.
These steps will allow America to lead toward the far frontiers of science and technology—enhancing our health, environment, and economy in ways we cannot even imagine today.
At a time when science, technology and the forces of globalization are bringing so many changes into our lives, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the bonds that root us in our local communities and in our national communities.
No tie binds different people together like citizen service. There is a new spirit of service in America—a movement we have supported with AmeriCorps, an expanded Peace Corps, and unprecedented new partnerships with businesses, foundations, and community groups. Partnerships to enlist 12,000 companies in moving 650,000 of our fellow citizens from welfare to work. To battle drug abuse and AIDS. To teach young people to read. To Save America's Treasures. To strengthen the arts. To fight teen pregnancy. To prevent youth violence. To promote racial healing.
We can do even more to help Americans help each other. We should help faith-based organizations do more to fight poverty and drug abuse and help young people get back on the right track with initiatives like Second Chance Homes to help unwed teen mothers. We should support Americans who tithe and contribute to charities, but don't earn enough to claim a tax deduction for it. Tonight, I propose new tax incentives to allow low- and middle-income citizens to get that deduction.
We should do more to help new immigrants fully participate in the American community—investing more to teach them civics and English. And since everyone in our community counts, we must make sure everyone is counted in this year's census.
Within ten years there will be no majority race in our largest state, California. In a little more than 50 years, there will be no majority race in America. In a more interconnected world, this diversity can be our greatest strength. Just look around this chamber. We have members from virtually every racial, ethnic, and religious background. And America is stronger for it. But as we have seen, these differences all too often spark hatred and division, even here at home.
We have seen a man dragged to death in Texas simply because he was black. A young man murdered in Wyoming simply because he was gay. In the last year alone, we've seen the shootings of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish children simply because of who they were. This is not the American way. We must draw the line. Without delay, we must pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And we should reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
No American should be subjected to discrimination in finding a home, getting a job, going to school, or securing a loan. Tonight, I propose the largest ever investment to enforce America's civil rights laws. Protections in law must be protections in fact.
Last February, I created the White House Office of One America to promote racial reconciliation. That's what Hank Aaron, has done all his life. From his days as baseball's all-time homerun king to his recent acts of healing, he has always brought Americans together. We're pleased he's with us tonight.
This fall, at the White House, one of America's leading scientists said something we should all remember. He said all human beings, genetically, are 99.9 percent the same. So modern science affirms what ancient faith has always taught: the most important fact of life is our common humanity.
Therefore, we must do more than tolerate diversity—we must honor it and celebrate it.
My fellow Americans, each time I prepare for the State of the Union, I approach it with great hope and expectations for our nation. But tonight is special—because we stand on the mountaintop of a new millennium. Behind us we see the great expanse of American achievement; before us, even grander frontiers of possibility.
We should be filled with gratitude and humility for our prosperity and progress; with awe and joy at what lies ahead; and with absolute determination to make the most of it.
When the framers finished crafting our Constitution, Benjamin Franklin stood in Independence Hall and reflected on a painting of the sun, low on the horizon. He said, "I have often wondered whether that sun was rising or setting. Today," Franklin said, "I have the happiness to know it is a rising sun." Well, today, because each generation of Americans has kept the fire of freedom burning brightly, lighting those frontiers of possibility, we still bask in the warmth of Mr. Franklin's rising sun.
After 224 years, the American Revolution continues. We remain a new nation. As long as our dreams outweigh our memories, America will be forever young. That is our destiny. And this is our moment.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.