President William J. Clinton
|President Clinton's Remarks on Social Security- 1993-1998|
20. RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION - October 24, 1998
21. REMARKS AT ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON WOMEN AND RETIREMENT SECURITY -- October 27, 1998
The East Room -- 2:30 P.M. EST (RealAudio Soundclip of President's Remarks)
(The White House Report on Women and Retirement Security)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the President I want to welcome all of you. Please be seated.
I want to acknowledge members of the President's Cabinet and team here: the Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman; the Deputy Secretary of Labor, Kitty Higgins; the Director of Office of Personnel Management, Janice Lachance; the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Janet Yellen; the Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling; and the Deputy Director, Sally Katzen; also the Deputy Social Security Commissioner, Jane Ross; and the Deputy OMB Director, Sylvia Mathews. And we're pleased to be joined by Congressman Ben Cardin and also Betty Freidan and other distinguished guests who are present with us today. We're very grateful to all of you for being here.
And in particular we are focusing today on what to do to strengthen Social Security for the 21st century and to strengthen it especially for the millions of American women who depend on it and who depend on it more than men.
We would like to say a special word of thanks to those who are joining us from around the country by way of satellite here today. I guess that's the satellite hook-up there. We welcome people from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Birmingham, and Richmond, California. We're honored that you're here. And, incidentally, we had first hoped to hold this important roundtable last week. And as you may have noticed and you may remember, President Clinton had a sleepless night for about 40 hours there with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Yasser Arafat and their delegations. They were putting the finishing touches on that agreement that takes such an important new step towards peace in the Middle East. And because of that this was rescheduled.
Mr. President, I have a feeling that not only is everybody here understanding of that, but, again, congratulations and thank you for that important agreement. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So we're picking up today where we left off back a week ago. And it reminds me of how many important things have taken place right here in this room. Nearly a month ago I was proud to stand here in this room with President Clinton for the announcement that America had posted its first budget surplus since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And at that point, and actually, long before that surplus materialized, it seemed like everybody had a different idea about what should be done with the budget surplus.
But President Clinton ended that debate with four memorable words in his State of the Union address at the beginning of this year -- save Social Security first. That expression has forestalled the spending or wasting or use in any way of that budget surplus until we can save Social Security first. It would have been easy to join in with those who had risky budget-busting tax schemes or some other idea for using that money. But for the generation of Americans who saved Private Ryan, President Clinton committed us to saving Social Security first. And that's what we're going to do with the budget surplus.
That leadership couldn't have come at a better time, because over the next decade projections show more than $1.5 trillion in surpluses for Social Security. But consider this: 75 million baby boomers are going to be retiring over the next 15 to 20 years. Today there are more than 3 people working for each Social Security beneficiary, and by the year 2030 there will be only 2 people working for each Social Security beneficiary. That's just the fundamental fact of life that we have to adjust to. And it constitutes a serious challenge. By reserving the surplus until we fix Social Security, we can meet that challenge in a way that preserves the dignity of our seniors in retirement.
We all know that it's a lifeline for millions of Americans and especially women. And older women, on average, get more than half of their income from Social Security. For 25 percent of elderly women, a Social Security check is the only income they receive.
And of course, this is not just a story of numbers and statistics, it is also one of faces and families. And I want to acknowledge and introduce to you the people who will be joining us on this panel today: Bernice Myer, from Seattle. Bernice works with older Americans and disable seniors, helping them with personal care, shopping and cleaning. She expects to receive a small pension from a previous job when she retires in 15 years, but her current job doesn't have a pension plan. She's depending on Social Security to be a major part of her retirement.
We're also joined by Molly Lozoff from Miami Beach. Molly is a retired real estate broker and a 77-year-old widow who receives a Social Security check each month. When she was 35, her husband had an incapacitating stroke which left him unable to speak for the rest of his life. She became his legal guardian and in the process of getting her own life together, she discovered that there were programs that provide assistance for the minor children of disable parents -- government programs. She believes that the assistance that she received back then enabled her children to become the successful adults that they are today.
Also with us today is Wilma Haga from my home state of Tennessee. She's from Bristol, the birthplace of country music -- where the Carter family made their first recording, Mr. President. (Laughter.) And Wilma is a 76-year-old retired cafeteria worker with a small pension. Eight years ago her husband died, and she receives his Social Security check each month. Wilma says that she could not survive without Social Security and would do anything to help people understand how important it is to women like her. And there are lots of them.
We're also joined by Lucy Sanchez from right here in Washington, D.C. And over the course of 8 months her husband had heart surgery twice. To care for her husband, Lucy was able to use our Family and Medical Leave law. Today Mrs. Sanchez says, "If I had to go to work I would have been useless. Family and Medical Leave allowed me to do what I had to do because, no matter what, family comes first." And you're going to see how that ties in to this event here today in just a minute.
Now, finally, we are joined by Tyra Brown, a 20-year-old psychology major at Howard University, originally from Oklahoma City. Tyra is an honor student, a Ronald McNair scholar, and an AmeriCorps member. Her mother passed away when Tyra was only 15 years old. Thanks to Social Security, Tyra was able to receive Social Security survivors' benefits until the age of 18.
The message of these stories is clear: Strengthening Social Security is not just a fiscal responsibility, it is a profoundly moral responsibility. It is about preserving our oldest and most cherished values.
Nobody understands that better than President Bill Clinton. For decades now, few elected officials have been willing to take on this important challenge. Everybody here has heard Social Security referred to as the third rail -- people were afraid to touch it. Well, President Clinton believes that it's so important to America's future we can't afford not to take it on. And actually, if you study these numbers and statistics, you come away immediately with the conclusion the sooner the better, because the sooner we do take it on, the easier it will be to fix it in the right way.
His leadership is making an enormous difference for our seniors and for all generations. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure and honor to present our President, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. I want to thank the Vice President, the members of the administration, Congressman Cardin, all the panelists who are here, the satellite audience at the 12 other sites across our country. I'd like to say a special word of appreciation and welcome to Betty Freidan, who has written with such insight and appreciation for the challenges women face as they grow older.
We're here to talk about the special impact of the challenge to Social Security on the women of the United States. I would like to put it in, if I might, a larger context. Six years ago, when the Vice President and I came here, we brought a new vision of government against a backdrop of a $290 billion deficit and the kind of problem we're here to talk about today that we knew was looming in the future. We believed that we could give the American people a government that would live within its means, but at the same time invest in and empower our people.
It led to an array of new policies in education and the economy, the budget, the environment, in health care, in crime, welfare reform. Indeed, it led to the very effort to reinvent government, to use the Vice President's phrase, and the great effort that he made in that regard. But over the last six years we have been more active, among other things, in family matters and health matters, and a whole range of domestic areas, while giving the American people the smallest federal establishment since President Kennedy was here.
And the results, I think, have been quite good for our people, in terms of prosperity, opportunity is abundant, communities are stronger, families are more secure. This year, all year long, I have told the American people and done my best to persuade the Congress that it is terribly important to build on this prosperity and its newfound confidence to meet the remaining challenges this country faces on the edge of a new century -- particularly, and perhaps most important, the need to save Social Security and to prepare for the retirement of the baby boomers.
On December 8th and 9th we will hold the first ever White House Conference on Social Security, with a goal of paving the way toward a truly bipartisan national solution early next year. Social Security, as many of you know from your own experience, and as all our panelists will be able to discuss in one way or the other, is more than a monthly check or an ID number. It represents a sacred trust among the generations. It represents a trust not only between grandparents, parents and children, those in retirement and those that work, but also the able-bodied and those who are disabled. It is our obligation to one another and it reflects our deepest values as Americans. And it must maintain a rock-solid guarantee.
We have a great opportunity to save Social Security. As all of you know, just this month we closed the books on our first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years. It is the product of hardworking Americans who drive the most powerful economic engine our country has had in a generation; the product of hard choices by lawmakers who put our nation's long-term economic interest very often above their own short-term political interest. It is an achievement that all Americans can be proud of.
But we have to ask ourselves to what end has this been done. Of course, balancing the budget is essential for our own prosperity in this time of intense global competition. But it also gives us a chance to do something meaningful for future generations by strengthening Social Security. And doing that will help to keep our economy sound and help to keep our budget balanced, as we honor our duty to our parents and our children.
As the Vice President said, soon there will be many more older Americans. I hope that he and I will be among them. (Laughter.) Two of the 75 million baby boomers who will be retiring over the next 30 years. By the year 2013, what Social Security takes in will no longer be enough to fund what it pays out. And then we'll have to dip into the trust fund as provided by law. But by 2032, as this chart on the left makes clear, the trust fund itself will be empty and the money Social Security takes in will soon be only enough to pay 72 percent of benefits.
Now, that's the big reason I wanted to reserve the surplus until we decide what to do about Social Security. Every American must have retirement security in the sunset years. We plan for it, count on it, should be able to rely on it. That holds true for women, as well as men. But in the case of women, Social Security is especially important. On average, women live longer than men; women make up 60 percent of all elderly recipients of Social Security -- 72 recipients over the age of 85, as you can see here.
For elderly women, Social Security makes up more than half their income. And for many it is literally all that stands between them and the ravages of poverty. You can see what the poverty rate is for elderly women -- it's 13.1 percent with Social Security; without it, it would be over 50 percent. Study after study shows us that women face greater economic challenges in retirement than men do, for three reasons.
First, women live longer. A woman 65 years of age has a life expectancy of 85 years. A man 65 years of age has a life expectancy of 81 years. Second, for comparable hours of work, women still have lower lifetime earnings than men, although we're working on that. Third, women reach retirement with smaller pensions and other assets than men do.
Now, Social Security has a number of features to help women meet these challenges. And we have done a lot of work over the last six years to try to help make it easier for people to take out their own pensions and to make it more attractive for small businesses to help to provide pensions for their employees, which could have a disproportionate impact, positive impact for women in the years ahead. But the hard fact remains that too many retired women, after providing for their families, are having trouble providing for themselves.
Now, we have worked these last six years to expand pension coverage, to make the pensions more secure, to simplify the management of pension plans. We've worked for the economic empowerment of women, to end wage discrimination and strengthen enforcement of the Equal Pay Act. But we must do more until women earn $1 for every $1 men earn for the same work; and today we're only three-quarters of the way there. We must work harder to give retired women the security they deserve that they could not get for themselves in the years they were working.
Today, I am announcing two concrete steps we must take. First, I propose that workers who take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act should be able to count that time toward retirement plan vesting and eligibility requirements. Sometimes the few months spent at home with a child mean the difference between pension benefits and no pension benefits. That is precisely the wrong message to send to people who are trying to balance work and family.
Millions and millions of people have now taken advantage of the Family Leave Act when a family member was desperately ill or a baby was born. None of them should have lost time for retirement vesting and eligibility benefits.
Second, I am proposing that families be given the choice to receive less of their pension when both spouses are living, leaving more for the surviving spouse if the breadwinner dies. That should help keep elderly widows out of poverty in their twilight years. And the poverty rate for single women, for elderly widows is much higher -- almost -- about 40 percent higher than that 13 percent figure there.
These proposals build on the work of Congressman David Price of North Carolina and Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Carol Moseley-Braun. They will make a difference for our mothers, our wives, our sisters and some day for our daughters. But let me emphasize again the most important thing we can do for future generations is to strengthen Social Security overall.
When I said in my State of the Union address I would reject any attempt to spend any surplus until we save Social Security, I knew the congressional majority wanted to drain brilliance from the surplus even before it appeared on the books, much less having the ink dry. And not just this year, but permanently. Now, I am not opposed to tax cuts, and my balanced budget we have tax cuts for education, for child care, for the environment, and for making it easier for people to get pensions. I'm just opposed to using the surplus to fund tax cuts until we have used all we need of it to save the Social Security system for the 21st century.
The threat of a veto put a stop to that effort in this last Congress. The next Congress will be the Congress I call upon actually to move to save Social Security for the 21st century. It should not be a partisan issue, and we should not have another partisan fight to save the surplus until we reform Social Security.
But recently, Republican leaders are still saying the surplus should go to fund tax cuts first, and the Senate Majority Leader has suggested that he may not even be willing to work with me to save Social Security. Well, I hope that's just election season rhetoric. After all, they were willing to work with the insurance lobbyists to kill the patients' bill of rights. (Laughter.) And then they worked with the tobacco companies to kill our teen smoking bill to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. And they were happy to work with the special interest who were determined to kill campaign finance reform. I think the Senate Majority Leader will be able to find time to work with me to save Social Security. (Applause.) And I certainly hope so.
I say this partly with a smile on my face, but in dead seriousness. This issue will not have the kind of money behind it that the tobacco interests can marshal or the health insurance companies can marshal against the patients' bill of rights. And everybody here with an opinion is going to have to give up a little of it if we're going to make the right kind of decision to get there. This is the sort of decision that requires us to open our minds, open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts, think about what America will be like 30 years from now, not just what it's like today, and imagine what it will be like when those of us who aren't retired will be retired and our children will be raising our grandchildren -- increasingly, when those of us who are retired will be looking after our great-grandchildren as the life expectancy goes up and up.
This requires imagination. And it will be hard enough under the best of circumstances. It would be foolish to take this projected structural surplus that has been built in for six hard years of effort and squander it, until we know what it will cost to have a system that all Americans, without regard to party, can be proud of.
Now, this is an issue that offers us that kind of choice between progress and partisanship; moving forward, turning back; putting people over politics. In 11 days we will elect a Congress that will determine the future of Social Security. We need one that is 100 percent committed to saving Social Security first; to putting the long-term security of the American people -- our parents and our children -- ahead of the short-term politics.
Now let me say I am eager to hear from our panelists. I think it's important to note on this day with this subject that one of America's first great advocates for Social Security was the Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. As Secretary Herman would tell you, Frances Perkins' name now graces the Department of Labor building, just down Pennsylvania Avenue. She was the first woman to hold that office, or any other Cabinet office. Years later, on the 25th anniversary of Social Security, Frances Perkins looked ahead and said this, "We will go forward into the future a stronger nation because of the fact that we have this basic rock of security under all our people."
That foundation, that rock, was laid by Frances Perkins and Franklin Roosevelt. It is up to all of together, women and men, to make sure that rock will hold up all our people in the 21st century. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Molly, why don't you go first? Tell us your story and your family's experience with Social Security.
MS. LOZOFF: Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President and my fellow Americans, the month was October and the year was 1955. I was a happy 33-year-old mother of four wonderful children. I was a stay-at-home mother. My husband was a successful realtor until that fateful day, when he suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed an unable to express himself for the remaining 14 years of his life.
After the initial shock, I realized that I had to get busy and prepare myself for a career in order to be able to provide for my children and my disabled husband. It took about a year for me to become his legal guardian, handle his finances and earn my real estate license. During that time I learned of this new Social Security program, which started in 1956 -- fortunately for me -- that offered disability insurance for minor children of a disabled provider.
It was such a relief to know that my government was going to help me survive this crisis. I believe to this day that this assistance enabled my children to confront this severe family problem and allowed them to become the fine, successful, caring human beings they are today. Without this assistance I could not have fared as well. It gave me the solid base that I needed to build my family's future.
Many years have passed, and at this time in my life I find that I am once again turning to my government for help through the Social Security program. The amount that I receive every month enables me to provide for my basic living expenses. I know quite a few of my contemporaries in Florida who could not go on without their Social Security benefits. For some it's literally life-sustaining.
I'm so proud we have a President who feels a tug on his heart for our plight, the plight of the elderly. We should strongly support his efforts to use some of the budget surplus to ensure that the Social Security system will survive and continue to help those in need, well into the next millennium.
Thank you, Mr. President, we're so proud of you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'd just like to say -- I think I speak for everyone in this room, I guess some bad things happen to everybody in life and a lot of us were probably feeling nonetheless that we can't imagine how we would have dealt with what you have obviously dealt with so magnificently. And if Social Security helped, then I think we can all be grateful that it did. We thank you very much.
MS. LOZOFF: There are many people in my place, I know, today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, I refer to Tyra Brown's story earlier. A lot of people commonly think of Social Security as a retirement program. And they don't stop to think that out of the 44 million Americans that receive Social Security, one-third of them are either survivors or disabled Americans. And a lot of them, some 3.8 million beneficiaries, are children; and almost 2 million of them are survivors of deceased parents.
Tyra, could you tell us your story, which represents a story that millions of others -- similar to that of millions of other children.
MS. BROWN: Thank you, Mr. President, thank you, Mr. Vice President, for inviting me here today. It's good to know that you both are working hard and using your leadership to help strengthen Social Security.
My name is Tyra Brown, and I'm from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I'm currently a junior here at Howard University, a historically black university, in Washington, D.C. While in school I'm working with AmeriCorps as a jump-start member, and I work in a Head Start center tutoring preschool children who are struggling with literacy skills and social development. I'm working toward the day when every child will enter prepared to succeed. After I earn my Bachelor's Degree at Howard I plan to go on to graduate school and become a child psychologist.
I enjoy working with children who need a helping hand, and I believe that as an American family, we all need to do what we can to help each other out. That is why I think Social Security is so important. It was there for me and I want it to be there in the future.
Most people think of Social Security as a retirement program, and it is. But what a lot of people don't know is that the Social Security system also helps out millions of people like myself who are not retired. When I was 15, I had a terrible experience -- I lost my mother to heart failure. And she worked very hard for me all of her life to provide for me, and after she passed my grandmother became my legal guardian. And we received Social Security survivors' benefits to help us with some of the expenses.
It wasn't easy, but the Social Security really helped, and we could count on that income to be there every month. And I don't think we could have made it otherwise without it. When my mom was alive she paid into the Social Security system, and although she wasn't able to get her retirement benefits, her Social Security contributions did help provide for me when I needed support. And I'm not alone. There are millions of other survivors out there who count on Social Security every month.
Now as I'm beginning to think about my own future, I think about that guarantee. As I pay into Social Security I want to be sure that it will be there for my retirement or in case of any other tragic circumstances, guaranteed. I know that Social Security needs to be strengthened and I know that there has to be a way to do it to preserve that vital guarantee.
That's why, Mr. President, I was very glad to hear your State of the Union address. We need to save Social Security first. It touches millions of lives in America. It has touched mine, and I hope it will be strong for generations to come.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: We have heard from a student and a retiree. Now I'd like to call on someone who is working and planning for retirement. And I'd like to mention something that I mentioned in my opening remarks, to which the Vice President also referred, and that is that 60 percent of women workers, both part- and full-time, work at jobs that do not provide a pension. And as I said, we have worked very hard on this for the last six years and we've tried to come up with all kinds of proposals that would facilitate more employers providing pensions. And we will do more on that.
But meanwhile, we are where we are. Most Americans, even on Social Security, have some other source of income. But as you see from the chart, over half the women in this country who are retired would be in poverty but for Social Security.
So I'd like for Bernice Myer to talk a little bit about the challenges that she's facing and how she's trying to deal with the prospect of retirement in the job that she's in.
MS. MYER: Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President. I'm Bernice Myer. I'm a home care aide in Seattle, Washington. I'm 49 years old and have been working in service professions all of my life, all low paid. I feel that my work is very valuable to the people I serve and to society as a whole. I enjoy my work and have appreciated the opportunities I've had in each position.
One of my concerns as I grow older is where will -- a little anxiety as to whether or not I will have money available for my living. I have no pension plan currently and live basically paycheck to paycheck. So I'm very dependent upon what will happen. I'm a member of the Office and Professional Employees Union and am working to increase wages for home care aides. And we see some progress, but it's slow and I doubt that the progress I would like to see will happen in my lifetime. I think this important work and I hope that eventually pay received will match the value of the work.
I want to thank the President and the Vice President for this table conference, lifting up Social Security benefits. I'm depending on them being there when I retire. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: One of the questions that we'll be asked to deal with, that most younger people who are interested in this will ask us to deal with, is the question of how much flexibility individual citizens should be given, and should there be alternative investment strategies for the Social Security fund. There will be a lot of these questions asked by young people, particularly.
And I think it is important to keep in mind that there is always a balance between greater flexibility with the prospects of greater return on the trust fund and rock solid certainty. And, ironically, to people in Bernice's position, she'd actually be better off with both, because if you don't have a pension you need a higher income out of Social Security, but if you don't have a pension you have very little room for risk.
And there are -- if you think about it, our society for decades, by and large, made a bargain with our critical service workers -- the people that pick up our trash every day, or the police that patrol our streets, or the teachers that teach our children -- we say, okay, we'll get you the best pay we can, but even though you'll never get rich, at least you'll have a pension as well as Social Security.
Now there's been an explosion, in the last 10 years especially, in America, of trying to provide more direct services to people in-home. And most everybody believes that's a good thing -- it promotes more independence, a greater sense of security of the people receiving the services. But there are huge numbers of Americans, like Bernice, out there who are performing critical services and taking our country in a direction most people who have studied this believe we need to do more of.
And one day eventually they'll all be covered by some kind of an organizational system that will give them a decent retirement plan. But, meanwhile, you've got people like Bernice that are out there doing things that we should have been doing as a society long before, that are making this a better place, that don't yet either have the bargaining power, the political support or whatever necessary to have the pensions that they need -- either that or the economics of reimbursing for the service are not sufficient to support a pension. It is wrong to let people like her do all this work for us and not at least be able to rely on an adequate Social Security system in retirement.
This is not an isolated story. This is a person who represents a growing number of Americans, not a shrinking number of Americans, doing something that most experts believe is making us a better society.
I didn't want to take so much time, but I just think it's very important that you understand we picked these people -- they're very compelling, I think, all of the panelists; but they're also representative, not isolated cases. And I think it's important to think about this when we make these plans for the future. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And, Mr. President, women are more likely to be in that kind of situation. And I know you've been saying this for a long time, and Ben Cardin has been saying it for a long time, and others -- but I remember not too long back when I had the privilege of going to one of the forums on Social Security, this one at Rhode Island. Carolyn Lukensmeyer (phonetic) and her colleagues were hosting these events all over the country -- I think you went to two or three of them.
And before that event, the women members of the caucus in the House and Senate all wrote a letter the me saying, we see you're going up there to Rhode Island, here's some facts we want you to keep in mind. I knew a lot of them, but I must say, they brought out some facts that really deserve a lot more attention. Of course, all of them are on the table here today. But they have to do with the fact that women do live longer and pay in less for a lot of historical and life reasons.
Anyway, Wilma Haga here is representative of some people that we have with us today who can sort of tell us about what it would be like without it. I believe I mentioned she's from Bristol, Tennessee -- (laughter.)
MS. HAGA: You did.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wilma is 76 and her husband died eight years ago. And Social Security has made a great big difference. In our part of the country, Wilma, and all over the country, really, it used to be that older widows were very likely to be extremely poor. Many counties used to have what they called poorhouses -- before my time, but I've surely heard about them. And without Social Security they've estimated that more than 60 percent of all older widows would be living in poverty.
Now, in your life you have not had to face those circumstances mainly because of Social Security. Tell us about that.
MS. HAGA: Okay. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I'm so happy to be here, and thank you for inviting me. I just feel real honored and excited to be with you all today.
I am 76 years old and my husband, Alvin, and me had two sons -- Mike and Thomas. Al and I both had a high school education, but we weren't able to go to college. But we were absolutely determined that our two boys would go to college. For 28 years I worked in the school cafeteria, and every week I'd put my paycheck in the bank to take care of those boys' education. So my husband was an electrician, but he also worked three or four other jobs so that we could save all the money that we could for them.
I'm pleased that both of my sons did get a college education. Mike, in fact, is a seminary graduate. He works for you, Mr. President. (Laughter.) He works as an appointee at the Department of Agriculture and I'm so proud of him. And Thomas, my oldest son, has a very successful business in Texas, investment business. I'm proud of both of them.
As a widow on a modest income, I am keenly aware of the importance of Social Security. When I retired, after almost 28 years, I received a pension of only $200 a month from the school system. My monthly Social Security benefit totaled all of $300. Fortunately, my husband was still alive, and so I was not completely dependent on that $500 for all my income. I don't know how I would have survived with that money alone.
My husband died in 1991, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President. When that happened, my Social Security benefit was replaced by his. I got a raise of nearly $600 a month at a time that I really needed it. Now, between my monthly Social Security check of $915 and my pension, I can live very well. In fact, I'm proud that I can live independently and productively without any assistance from either one of my sons. There are millions of widows all over America just like me -- women who didn't earn all that much. But we now have the blessing of knowing that our years of hard work paid off, both in the success of our children and in having our government guarantee that we will have a secure old age. I owe it to my sons and my grandchildren to make sure that they have this same kind of security.
Again, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for inviting me here today. Most importantly, thank you for providing the leadership needed and for making the future of Social Security a top priority. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: We asked Lucy Sanchez to come here to talk about the Family and Medical Leave Act and its effect on her life, because I think it's important to point out that while both men and women are equally eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, women are far more likely to take advantage of it -- and they should not lose a year of eligibility, in terms of retirement vesting, when they do.
Keep in mind, if men and women all had retirement systems in addition to Social Security, and they were more or less equal, then our task of dealing with handling the baby boomers in the retirement system would be much, much easier. And so anything we can do now to equalize the impact of retirement earnings among similarly situated people 20 years from now will change and make less difficult the changes we are going to have to make anyway in the Social Security system.
I think it's very important for everybody to kind of keep that in mind. So when I announced earlier today, a few moments ago, that we wanted people not to lose credit in retirement vesting when they access the Family and Medical Leave Act. I think it's important -- we have an illustration of why it's important to have this law on the books and why it is inconsistent with being pro-work or pro-family to disallow retirement vesting just because people are taking advantage of the law.
MS. SANCHEZ: Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, for inviting me to be here today. My experience is very recent. My husband went to walk the dogs one morning a year ago. Halfway home he suffered a dissection of his aorta -- that's a tear. He managed to make it home and climbed our front steps and opened the door. He collapsed against the door jam and called my name. Luckily, I was home.
He has a genetic condition called Marfan's Syndrome, which affects the body's connective tissue. The most serious problems associated with Marfan's Syndrome involve the cardiovascular system, and the aorta, which is the main artery carrying blood away from the heart, is wider and more fragile than normal.
So instead of driving to work together that morning we drove to the emergency room at the Washington Hospital Center here. We had the advantage of being pretty certain we knew what had happened, and we told the ER staff, and he was in surgery within an hour.
Meanwhile, I phoned his office and explained, and I phoned my office and explained. I didn't go back to work for 90 days. He actually had two surgeries that time and was in the intensive care unit for 11 days and in the hospital for three weeks. He came home sick, weak, confused, frightened, disoriented, unsteady. He didn't know when he was hungry. He didn't know when he needed to sleep. He didn't know what pills to take. So I could be there to take care of him. He recovered sufficiently to return to work in February.
Then it happened again in May. Both times he needed around-the-clock care from me. They say trouble comes in threes so in July, my 85-year-old mother landed in the hospital with major health problems. And I was able to fly to Kentucky to be with her, to bring her home, and to make more permanent arrangements.
All of this was in the last 12 months, and who else is there to care for your family but you. Because that's why we have families, that's why we're part of families. We care for each other. And it is because of the Family and Medical Leave Act that I could care for my mother and my husband three different times this year.
I was out of work for 90 days, but I was not out of a job. I knew my job would be there without having to ask my boss for special favors. I'm sure she would have given them, but I didn't have to resort to that. I knew my seniority wouldn't be affected, and the fact that there was a plan in place to take care of life's exigencies -- and life is nothing but unexpected -- was a great relief. When your life is in turmoil it is just enormously comforting to know that that is there.
I did wonder what would happen to employee pension plans that I participate in -- would they continue, would they be affected, would they -- when I was actually lucky enough to be on annual leave and sick leave, for most of the time my paycheck continued. But should I have had to take even more time, I didn't know whether that would negate the plan or interrupt it. I just didn't know what would have happened if I hadn't been vested.
I believe that the Family Medical Leave Act is one of the finest pieces of legislation, a real contribution to the well-being of the American family and especially women, because women are the care-givers, as we all know.
We don't anticipate personal disasters. We tend to think of all of us as invincible, especially our own families. But it isn't always that way. This act is important to anyone, but especially women. I don't believe that people who take family medical leave should suffer pension loss, so I'm very happy to hear of this new plan.
Women usually put their needs after everyone else's. They tell us not to, but we do it anyway. And pension loss would put women who don't have much saved for the future at an even greater disadvantage.
I want to thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, for your leadership in the enactment of Family Medical Leave. I'm fortunate enough to work for an employer, the National Association of Social Workers, who strongly advocated for the Family and Medical Leave Act. And as we all know, professional social workers routinely help people juggle family care and work issues. And may I also just add as an amendment that Frances Perkins was a social worker. (Laughter.)
Eventually, the pieces of my life came back together. Everyone is well. And I would hope that no one would ever have to use Family and Medical Leave Act as I did, but regrettably, I know better. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you for sharing your story with us. We can all see how recent it has been and how difficult it has been for you, and you were very brave to come here and talk with us today. And we thank you for that very much.
We believe -- the Vice President and I and our spouses -- that the Family Leave law ought to be expanded some. (Applause.) We've tried in two Congresses to do that and haven't gotten very far. But we'll keep plugging away at it, because I think unless people have been in this situation where they're afraid they're going to lose their job, or wreck their retirement because they're just doing what's necessary to hold their families together, they can't imagine it. And the law is actually a great -- it's actually good for businesses, too, because it doesn't put any employers at a competitive disadvantage if it applies to all employers equally. It tends to minimize the cost, the burden of risk, for that. And I thank you very much for what you said.
But I think if we can take this whole family leave issue out of the whole -- just eliminate it in terms of whether your retirement vests or not, I think it would be a good thing to do. Modest cost to the retirement systems, enormous benefit to the stability of families. So I thank you very, very much for that.
Well, I think our panelists have done a great job, and I want to thank them for that. (Applause.) Again, what we attempted to do today was to show that on the present facts that women have a disproportionate interest the stability of the Social Security system and in the adequacy of the benefit because they are disproportionately likely to need it and more likely to have other assets -- or less likely to have other assets.
We also wanted to emphasize the disability and child survivor benefits, which our panelists have so eloquently done. None of this, however, is an excuse to avoid making the hard decisions we have to make because of the demographic changes that are occurring. It is just that we have to be mindful of it.
And what I'm hoping we did today was not to confuse anyone, that we've still got hard decisions to make, but to say that we ought to be especially sensitive to how these decisions affect women -- number one. And number two, we ought to be steely in our determination not to let the surplus go until we figure how much cost is involved and how we're going to balance all the difficult choices that have to be made and the risks that will have to be taken because we've got to maintain the social cohesion that Social Security has given us.
Think about what we got out of Molly being able to live her life under the circumstances and raise her children. Think about what society got out of that. Think about what society is going to get out of Tyra Brown because she was not abandoned when her mother suddenly passed away at the age of 15. And we were all sitting there watching her talk, just feeling better being Americans, weren't we, every one of us. Don't you think it was worth it to take care of her -- help her grandmother take care of her for three years? We all got something out of that, and she's got 60 years or more of giving back to society, that we're all going to benefit from that.
22. Why President Clinton's "Save Social Security First" Position Is Right for America- October 30, 1998
THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the President
President Clinton and Vice President Gore Have Fixed Our Fiscal Deficit; Now We Must Fix Our Generational Deficit. In 1992, America's budget deficit was $290 billion : a record dollar high. This past year, we had a $70 billion budget surplus; the first budget surplus since 1969, the largest dollar surplus on record, and the largest as a share of the economy since the 1950s. The achievement of the first budget surplus in a generation provides a unique opportunity to save Social Security for the 21st century.
President Clinton's "Save Social Security First" Position Is Right For America. In the Fall of 1997, when the prospects for the first budget surplus in a generation emerged, many members of Congress rushed out with expensive new ways to spend that surplus, from new spending on government programs to costly tax plans. But in his State of the Union address last January, President Clinton put America's long-run economic interests ahead of short-run politics by demanding that we reserve every penny of the budget surplus until we have strengthened Social Security for the 21st century. President Clinton's commitment to "save Social Security first" is right for our economy and right for our future.
We Have Fixed Our Budget Deficit, Now We Must Fix Our Generational Deficit. Reserving budget surpluses until we save Social Security gives us an additional resource to meet the costs of comprehensive reform. That is why President Clinton resisted all such proposals this year, from the hundreds of billions of dollars on a transportation bill to a $700 billion tax-cut plan. If we relaxed that fiscal discipline before we save Social Security, we could have found ourselves on a slippery slope and ended up squandering the surplus and weakening the prospects for bipartisan Social Security reform.
The Budget Surplus Is Fundamentally a Social Security Surplus. Over the next 10 years, surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund account for 98 percent of our overall projected surpluses. Since nearly all the surplus comes from Social Security, it makes sense to save the surplus until we know how much is needed to save Social Security.
Preserving the Surplus Helps Create a Strong Incentive for Actually Getting Social Security Reform Done. It is normally impossible for any democracy to tackle long-term problems while the crisis is still only on the horizon. Putting the surplus off-limits until we address saving Social Security provides a strong impetus for all of us to do something to solve a fiscal challenge early so we can prevent a crisis later. If we eliminated this incentive, we may have jeopardized Social Security reform itself.
We Should Not Deviate from Our Successful Three-Part Economic Growth Strategy. In 1993, President Clinton and Vice President Gore put in place a three-part economic strategy to cut the deficit to help reduce interest rates and spur business investment; to invest in education, health care, and technology so that America was prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and to open markets abroad and lead the world economy so that American workers would have a fair chance to compete and win across the globe. This morning, we learned that the economy is growing at a solid and strong 3.3 percent rate, and since President Clinton took office, the private sector has expanded at a nearly 4 percent rate. With unemployment the lowest in 28 years, the core inflation the lowest in more than 30 years, and the highest homeownership rate on record, it is clear that the President's economic growth strategy is working -- we should not deviate from it.
Woodside, New York
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for the warm welcome. Thank you, Monseigneur Finnerty, for greeting me when I came through the door of St. Sebastian. Thank you, my longtime friend Claire Shulman (phonetic), for being here. Thank you, Joe Crowley, for presenting yourself as a candidate for Congress.
He got good marks from Chuck Schumer as an athlete, and you must have noticed that he's quite a large man. I told him that next January I'd like him to be one of the whips in the Congress to get the votes gathered up, because I think people would be reluctant to say no to him. (Applause.)
I love coming to Queens. I never will forget the first time I came out here when I was running for President in 1992, and Harold Ickes was helping me. And he said, we're going to go out to Queens and we're going to meet with the Queens County Democratic Committee. And Congressman Tom Manton is the chairman of the committee. And he said, I think we can get them to be for you.
I said, now, why in the world would they endorse me? Most of those people have probably never thought about Arkansas, much less been there. And he said, yes, but they're a lot like you out there in Queens. You'll be right at home. You'll like that.
So we got on the subway and there was a television camera or two with me. And no one in New York knew who I was at the time, so they probably thought we were filming a commercial or something. We were on the subway banging everybody around, and then we got off and took a beautiful walk to the place where we had the committee meeting. And Tom had already convened the committee, and I walked up the stairs, and at length they introduced me.
And it was a setting sort of like this, and I was coming in from the back and we walked down the middle of the aisle. And I got about halfway down the aisle and there was this real tall African American man standing there on the aisle, a member of the Democratic Committee in this county. And he put his arm around me and he said, hey, Governor. He said, don't worry about this. He said, I was born in Hope, Arkansas, too. You're going to be just fine. (Laughter and applause.)
Tom Manton has been taking care of me ever since. And I want you to know that he has done a wonderful job in Congress and I appreciate what he did for you and for New York and for our country. And I will miss him very much. Thank you, friend. Thank you. (Applause.)
You know, on the way out here we were standing out in the hall and I first met Gert and we started laughing about John Glenn going up in space yesterday. And she said she thought that was a fine thing for a young man like him to be doing. (Laughter.) I want you to hold that thought, because I'm coming back to it. (Laughter.) There's a real reason why we're here today.
And finally let me thank Chuck and Iris Schumer for their friendship to me. I was in their home in 1992 over in Brooklyn. And I met their friends and relatives and the people with whom they worship. It was quite an exciting day for me. I have been proud of the campaign that they have made together with their family and friends -- starting out against overwhelming odds, bravely soldiering on, and, I'd say, doing right well on this eve of another election.
I'd like to ask all of you to think about something as New Yorkers, as well as Americans. New York at extraordinary times has given this country extraordinary leadership in the United States Senate. New York gave the American people Robert Wagner and Herbert Layman (phonetic) and Jacob Javitz and Pat Moynihan in the United States Senate. New York gave the American people Robert Kennedy in the United States Senate.
And once Robert Kennedy said, and I quote: "There is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities." I've worked with Chuck Schumer a lot. He's an idealist who is always struggling to get something done. And the longer I serve as your President, believe it or not, and in spite of everything, the more idealistic I am about America, what it stands for, what it means, and what it can do; but the more determined I am that every day should be used to turn ideals into action. (Applause.)
When it comes to education or Social Security or health care, when it comes to all those ideas, I can think of no person with whom I have worked in these last six years in the entire Congress who I think has more ability to turn ideals into action than Chuck Schumer. And that is one reason I am very proud to be here by his side and in support of him today.
Now, let me say also to all of you, this is not an ordinary election. I want you to go vote Tuesday, even if you are not going to cast your ballot the way I want you to. I hope you will, however. But I want you to go, because in this election we're going to choose the Congress of the 21st century. Really, the decisions that will be made, a lot of them in the next couple of years, will shape the way we as a people will live for far more than the next two years.
For six years, since the people of New York gave the Vice President and me and Hillary and our whole team a chance to serve, we've turned the country's economic policy around. We've changed our social policy. We have essentially tried to make America work again so that we could take advantage of these incredible changes that are going on in the world and have a very strong economy, but make sure we kept a human face on it -- that we gave everybody a chance to benefit from his or her labors, and that we took care of those who through no fault of their own needed a little help to get by, and that we tried to bring the country together instead of driving it apart.
And after six years, we saw again today that our economy grew at 3.3 percent in the last quarter. We've had the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, nearly 17 million new jobs, the lowest percentage of Americans on welfare in 29 years, the first balanced budget, as you heard Chuck say, in 29 years, and a surplus. For the first time in history, last week, thanks in part to the heroic efforts of New York's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo, we announced a year and a half ahead of time that we had met our goal. Now over two-thirds of the American people live in their own homes for the first time in the history of the United States. So we are moving in the right direction. That is a good thing. (Applause.)
And as I told somebody, we had also reduced the size of the federal bureaucracy so that the federal government is now the smallest it was since the last time John Glenn went around the Earth.
Now, I thank Tom for what he said. Our administration has tried to be a force for peace and freedom around the world. We've worked hard to help the Irish reconcile with one another. We're working hard to promote peace in the Middle East, and we had a big breakthrough there last week on this day -- we announced it on this day last week. If I seem a little slow of speech today, you'll have to forgive me, but on that last day I was up 39 hours without sleep. And the real way we made the agreement was I was the last one standing -- (laughter) -- and so they finally agreed so they could go to bed. (Laughter.)
I say that because America has unique responsibilities and unique opportunities. Today I announced a program that I believe will help us to keep the world economy growing and to roll back some of the financial turmoil you read about that's engulfing the rest of the world. Now, that's a big deal because a quarter of our growth in the last six years has come from our ability to sell what we have to sell to other people. So that more and more, the success of every American business -- even small businesses here in Queens -- will be indirectly affected, at least, by the success of our friends and neighbors throughout the world.
Now, against that background, at this golden moment for our country, I think we have to look ahead to the future and say, well, what are we going to do with the first surplus in 29 years? What are we going to do with the lowest unemployment rate in 29 years? What are we going to do with this time when we seem to be doing pretty well, but a lot of our friends are in trouble around the world. What are we going to do with all those neighborhoods in New York City and elsewhere which haven't yet felt the economic recovery of the last six years?
Shall we just sort of relax and enjoy it, which means that at midterm elections half the people just stay home? Or shall we instead look ahead to the future and say, you know, times like this don't come along very often. Those of you out here who've seen a lot of years, how many periods in American history have we had like this? Not many in your lifetime. Not many. And nothing lasts forever. So that when you have these times like this, it is terribly important that we as Americans look to the future and take on our real challenges.
To me, that's the most important decision the American people have to make. Do you want to think big, think about what America should be like for your children, your grandchildren, your great grandchildren. What can we do now when we are strong to give that kind of America to the Americans of the 21st century.
That's what this whole saving Social Security issue is about. When I heard Gert talking about it, I thought, you know, Social Security for us has become even more than a check in the mail -- even though fully one-half the seniors in America would be in poverty today without it. Even though most people have some other source of income in addition to their Social Security, nonetheless, if there were no Social Security, half the seniors in the country would be in poverty without it -- instead of the 11 percent, which is the actual rate today. It's a huge deal. We're talking about untold millions of lives changed.
But in addition to the money, it is the symbol of our determination to honor family, to honor the contributions of those who went before us, to honor the proposition that in America we want to reward people who are good at what they're doing. We don't begrudge the athletes their success, the businesspeople their success. But we know that a country is great because of the great mass of people who get up every day, work their hearts out, obey the law, pay their taxes, raise their kids, and build up neighborhoods. And they should be a part of our prosperity. We don't believe in leaving people behind who do their part for America. And Social Security symbolizes that.
Now, what's the issue here? Why is Social Security in trouble? First of all, if you're getting a check now, relax, you're going to be fine. That's not the issue. The issue is this: we are living longer. The baby boomers are coming up for retirement, and those of you who gave birth to baby boomers know that until this crowd started school last year -- this crowd of children in school -- the baby boomers were the largest American generation ever, and larger than our children.
So that when we retire, the baby boomers, there will only be about two people working for every one person drawing Social Security. To give you an idea, today there are more than three people working -- about three and a half people working for every one person drawing Social Security. In addition to that, there will be more and more and more women retiring and living on Social Security because women, on balance, have a longer life expectancy. And they are less likely to have pensions or personal savings. For 25 percent of the women on Social Security, it's the only income they receive.
Now, when the 75 million baby boomers retire and when there are only two people on Social Security for every one person --two people working for every one person drawing -- we will in about 20 years start having to pay out of the Social Security trust fund, as provided by law, benefits, because the annual income won't be enough to cover the annual outgo. Then in about 34 years, even the trust fund won't be enough to cover the benefit.
Here's what this is all about. If we start now and make some modest changes now that don't have to affect people on Social Security at all, and if we use this money that we have in the surplus -- which I think I should add was produced entirely by the Social Security tax itself -- then we can make modest changes and preserve Social Security in the 21st century in a way that will accommodate the changing population patterns and still make sure it's there for the people who need it.
If we do not do that, if we say, well, heck, we waited 29 years for this surplus, let's take the money and run, let's have a little fun, give me a tax cut, give me a new program, give me this, give me that -- before we know whether we need this money to save Social Security -- and keep in mind it was produced by the Social Security tax -- and we miss this opportunity, then what's going to happen? Sooner or later, within a few years -- keep in mind, every year that goes by the problem is only going to get tougher, it's not going to get easier, because you have less time to fix a big problem -- then sooner or later we'll be forced with the choice of either saying, well, I'm sorry, we can't do this so we're just going to have to cut benefits 22 percent, in which case a lot of seniors will be in deep trouble. Or we'll say, our conscience won't let us live with ourselves so we're going to raise the taxes 22 percent -- and that's a whopping tax increase -- and keep in mind the payroll taxes paid by small businesses in years where they make money and years when they don't make any money. The payroll taxes paid by people on modest incomes as well as by wealthy people.
And if we did that, we'd be saying, okay, we didn't fix this when we had a chance back in 1999, and because we didn't do it now we're going to have to lower the standard of living of our children and their ability to raise our grandchildren because we didn't do the right thing.
Now, the generation that got us through World War II and built the greatest middle class in history and was educated by the GI Bill knows that America should do right by the future. This is a huge issue.
For a long time I thought that this would be a completely bipartisan issue. All year long we had forums around the country, Democrats and Republicans together, talking about these ideas, honestly debating what the options were. But then the leadership in the House of the other party wanted to have a huge and permanent tax cut right before the election -- disproportionately benefitting upper income people like me -- before we did anything to fix Social Security and before we knew what it would cost.
Well, we beat that. Thanks to Chuck Schumer and Tom Manton and a lot of other people, we rolled that back. But just the other day they reaffirmed their desire to do that, to deplete this surplus before we know how much we need for Social Security. And the Majority Leader in the Senate said that he might not even want to work with me on fixing Social Security.
So I say to you, I did not come here to trouble you about your Social Security. Your Social Security is okay. If we don't do anything, you'll be fine. But if you believe it's been a good thing and if you want it there for the baby boomers, for your children, and if you want your children to be able to retire without having to undermine the incomes and the standard of living of your grandchildren, then I implore you to speak with a loud and clear voice and say, look, we have lived a long life and sometimes you can't do the easy thing. We shouldn't take the money and run. We should save the money, save the surplus, and fix Social Security. If there's anything left over, then we can talk about what to do about it. But we cannot endanger this fundamental compact between the generations that has helped to make America what it is today. Save Social Security first. (Applause.)
That's the big reason I wanted to come here, the big reason I'm proud to stand with Chuck Schumer. There are other things. You heard -- I think it was Tom who said we voted in this budget -- we got one of our most important ideas in this budget: to hire 100,000 teachers to take class size down to an average of 18 in the early grades. But if you go around New York, you will see a lot of school buildings with rooms that can't be used. If you go to Florida, where I was yesterday -- I went to a little town in Florida not very long ago, a small town. I went to one elementary school, there were 12 trailers out back -- one school, 12 trailers to accommodate all the extra kids.
So one of the things we didn't succeed in doing in this election -- and again I ask you to think about your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren -- if we're going to have more teachers and smaller classes, they have to have someplace to teach. That means we have to build schools where we need them and we have to repair schools where we have them.
We have school buildings in the cities of this country -- like New York and Philadelphia and Chicago -- that are priceless buildings. No one could afford to build such buildings today. They're great buildings, but they've been allowed to fall into such disrepair that they can't even be hooked up to the Internet. And all this work we're doing to bring our kids into the modern age is not possible.
So that's another big issue that I think is important. And I thank Chuck Schumer and Tom Manton for their support for building and repairing 5,000 schools. And we need to do that next year.
We've tried to get a patients' bill of rights passed for a year, and the health insurance companies persuaded the majority in Congress to beat us. But, you know, Chuck talked about Medicare. We have the same challenges in Medicare, by the way, we do in Social Security. But one of the things that bothers me is more and more Americans are in managed care plans and HMOs. Now, that can be good if they just save money that would have otherwise have been wasted. Don't forget, six years ago inflation in health care costs was going up at three times the rate of inflation. And for elderly people that was a really troubling thing, since you use more health care. It was going to bankrupt the country.
So to manage the system better is a good thing. But to manage the system only to save money without regard to whether it's good for health care is not a good thing. Doctors, not accountants, should ultimately make health care decisions. (Applause.)
We're trying to pass this patients' bill of rights that simply says, look, we believe very strongly that we should have a law which says every person should have a right to see a specialist if his or her doctor recommends it; that every person in an accident should have a right to go to the nearest emergency room, not one halfway across New York City just because that's the one that's covered by the plan; that if a person is in a treatment -- a chemotherapy treatment or a young woman being by an obstetrician, who's pregnant, and their employer changes health care plans, well, you ought to be able to keep the doctor you're dealing with until the treatment is over, until the baby is born; and that your medical records ought to be private.
Now, this is something that affects Americans of all ages, but disproportionately seniors who are in managed care plans. A lot of seniors want to go into managed care plans -- Medicaid, Medicare -- because they give prescription drugs which otherwise aren't covered. There are a lot of good things. But in the end everybody ought to have those rights, those basic rights. And that's a big issue in this election that affects you and your children and your grandchildren.
So finally let me just say that there are a lot of things out here that you have to think about. And I've been urging the American people to vote and hoping we can get a little more balance in this Congress so that we can have people like Chuck Schumer who will put Social Security first, who will pass a patients' bill of rights, who will make it possible for us to modernize and build our schools; in short, who will be thinking about the long term.
The temptation is great for people just to pass -- they say, gosh, things are going so well, why is the President so agitated? Because my job is to think for all the American people about next year and five years and 10 years and 20 years down the road. And I would argue that those of you who are senior citizens, your job is to think for all the American people about next year and 10 years and 20 years down the road.
We were sitting here talking about John Glenn going up 36 years ago, and Tom Manton said, I remember when he went the first time and it seems like it was yesterday. Doesn't it to you, the ones that remember it? It seems like it was yesterday.
I remember once I met a man who is a friend of mine, who was 76 at the time, at an airport in Little Rock, and he looked terribly sad. And I said, why are you so sad? He said, well, my sister just died and I'm here to meet some family members. And he said, when you came up to me, Bill -- he said, I was thinking about when we were five years old. He was 75. And he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, let me tell you something, it doesn't take long to live a life.
And all of you know that. We all are given our share of time here. We all try to make the best we can. We all try to build our families and build our lives, enjoy our friends, pursue our faiths. America is the greatest country in the world for giving us that chance.
All we all owe back to America is good citizenship. So I ask you, please, at this golden moment for our country, stand up for the proposition that we should save the Social Security system before we throw this money that we've worked six years to build up; stand up for the proposition that every person ought to have decent integrity in their health care system; stand up for the proposition that children you and I may never know should have a world-class education in the 21st century.
I ask you for that and for your help for this good man, Chuck Schumer, and for all people who are always thinking about America's tomorrows.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
24. REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT BEFORE MEETING ON SOCIAL SECURITY- November 4, 1998
The Cabinet Room
1:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Now that the election is over, it is time to put politics aside and once again focus clearly on the people's business. In yesterday's election I think the message the American people sent was loud and clear: We want progress over partisanship, and unity over division. We should address our country's great challenges. Above all, now we must address the challenge to save Social Security for the 21st century.
We have work to do in other areas as well. We should move forward to pass a patients' bill of rights. We should strengthen our schools by finishing the job of hiring 100,000 teachers and then passing the school modernization initiative, to give us 5,000 remodeled or new schools. We should increase the minimum wage. We should pass campaign finance reform. We must maintain our fiscal discipline to strengthen our own economy and maintain our efforts to stabilize the global economy.
But above all now, we have to seize this opportunity to save Social Security. And we're about to have another meeting here, one of many, in anticipation of the White House conference. I have spoken tonight and today with Senator Lott and Speaker Gingrich, with Senator Daschle and Mr. Gephardt, to ask them to join with me in this effort. On December 8th and 9th we will hold the first ever White House Conference on Social Security, bringing together people from Congress and the administration, from the public and experts of all persuasions. We will only be able to do this if we reach across party lines, reach across generational lines, indeed reach across philosophical lines, to forge a true national consensus.
I believe we can do it. I believe we must do it. Yesterday's election makes it clear that the American people expect us to do it.
Q To what do you attribute, Mr. President, the Democratic gains? I mean, was there one factor that you think was really the motivation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say I'm very proud of what our party did yesterday in the face of the tide of history and an enormous financial disadvantage. I think it's clear what happened. I think that they stayed together; they had a message that was about the American people, their needs, their opportunities, and their future. I think that they won because they had a clear message that was about America -- about saving Social Security, and improving education, and passing the patients' bill of rights, and raising the minimum wage and those other things. I think that's why they won. And they were able to get an enormous outpouring of support in all quarters of the country. And I'm very proud of what they did. But I think they did it by putting progress over partisanship.
Q Mr. President, do you think the election results will have an impact, or should have an impact on the impeachment inquiry?
THE PRESIDENT: That's in the hands of Congress and the American people. I've said that before; I'll say it again. I have nothing else to say about that.
Q Mr. President, the Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they intend to look at these elections and draw a lessons in terms of how they conduct an impeachment inquiry. What lesson would you hope they draw from these elections on that point?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a decision for them to make. I'm not involved in that and I'm not going to comment on it. I think that the lesson all people should draw is that the people who were rewarded were rewarded because they wanted to do something for the American people. They wanted to do something to pull this country together and to move this country forward.
If you look at all the results, they're clear and unambiguous. The American people want their business, their concerns, their children, their families, their future addressed here. That's what the message of the election was. And because the Democrats were able to do that in a unified fashion, even while being badly outspent and while running against a tide of history that goes back to, really to 1822, they were able to have an astonishing result. And I'm grateful for that.
But I think that people of both parties who care about these issues and want to pull the country together should now put the election behind us, put Social Security reform and education and health care reform before us, and go forward. That's what I want to do.
Q -- the outcome is a vindication of your policies?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it is a vindication of the policies and of the general policy of putting partisanship behind progress and of putting people before politics, and of trying to find ways to bring people together instead of to divide them. It was clearly a vindication of the message that the Democrats put out there on education, health care, Social Security and the minimum wage, campaign finance reform, the environment, a number of other things.
A lot of people worked very hard in this election -- the Vice President did, the First Lady did, a lot of people did -- but I think the American people basically said to all of us -- all of us -- we sent you there to work for us and we want you to find a way to do it, to address the challenges we face and to bring this country together and move this country forward. I think that was the loud, clear, completely unambiguous message of the election.
Q -- the election of Ventura in Minnesota --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I think that you're going to have a lot of politicians spending time in gyms now. (Laughter.)
END 1:20 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I would like to welcome you all here today and thank Margaret Dixon for those fine remarks. I thank Deborah Briceland-Betts for representing the Older Women's League so well, and Nancy Ann Min-Deparle for the great job she does as our HCFA Administrator. I welcome our friend, George Korpius and representatives from the National Council of Senior Citizens.
And I want to say a special word of appreciation to Senator Tom Harkin, who has been on top of this issue for a very, very long time, and has long needed more support from administrations. And we certainly tried to give him ours, but he has been a real trailblazer and we thank him.
I'd like to also thank, as others have, the HHS and especially June Gibbs Brown, the Inspector General; and Mike Mangano, the Deputy Inspector General, who is here today.
I'd also like to say one other word about Senator Gore, Sr., who was mentioned by Nancy Ann. Al Gore, Sr. was a leader in the development and the passage of the original Medicare bill over 30 years ago. And that is one of the many, many things we remember him for at this time of his passing.
For more than 30 years now, Medicare has been more than a government program. It has been a way that we could honor our obligations to our parents and our grandparents; an expression of the old profound American belief that the bonds of mutual love and support among the generations must remain strong. Any threat, therefore, to the integrity of Medicare is a threat to these bonds. And that is one of the main reasons that our administration has worked so hard to strengthen Medicare.
The balanced budget bill I signed last year extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund for a decade. We also established a commission currently working to help Medicare meet the needs of the baby boom generation and the rising costs that inevitably come as we all live longer and longer and require more health care.
It is a troubling financial problem, but as a social matter it is a happy challenge. It is what I would call a high-class problem that we are all living longer and longer. But it does present us with certain real challenges which we have to face, and I look forward to getting the report from Senator Breaux and the Medicare Commission, and the working on a bipartisan basis with the next Congress to resolve this important matter.
Today, I'm announcing additional steps to strengthen Medicare by fighting the threat of Medicare fraud. Every year, Medicare is cheated out of billions of dollars, money that translates into higher taxes on working Americans, higher copayments in premiums for elderly Medicare recipients. This has become, as I said, especially significant as we grow older and more and more of us become eligible for Medicare.
I'm proud of what we have already done to fight fraud and abuse and waste. Since 1993, we've assigned more federal prosecutors and FBI agents to fight health care fraud. We've increased prosecutions by over 60 percent, convictions by 240 percent, saved $20 billion in health care claims. Money that would have lined the pockets of scam artists now is helping to preserve the Medicare Trust Fund and to provide high-quality, affordable health care.
But there is still more we can do. The private sector health care contractors that are responsible for fighting waste, fraud and abuse too often are not living up to their responsibilities. We recently learned that one-fourth of those contractors have never reported a single case of fraud, even though the Inspector General is quite certain that fraud is pervasive in this area.
Therefore, we are using new authority we fought for to create new weapons in the fight against fraud. Beginning this spring we will empower new, specialized contractors, Medicare fraud hunters, who will focus on waste, fraud and abuse. These new fraud hunters, by tracking down scams and waste, can bring real savings to Medicare and strengthen the system for the 21st century.
I'm also requiring all Medicare contractors to notify the government immediately when they learn of any evidence of fraud, so that we can detect patterns of fraud quickly and take swift action to stop them. And I'm asking HCFA to report back to me early next year with a comprehensive plan to fight waste, fraud and abuse further in the Medicare program.
In the fight against Medicare fraud, Congress must also do its part. And I am encouraged by the bipartisan oversight hearings being held in Chicago this week by Senators Collins and Durbin. When it returns next year I'll ask Congress to pass legislation that can save Medicare another $2 billion over the next five years. First, legislation that will allow us to empower our new fraud hunters to spot overpayments and keep crooked medical service providers from getting into the Medicare system to start with.
Second, the legislation will allow Medicare to pay much lower rates for prescription medications. Under current law Medicare loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year by paying as much as 10 times more than the private sector does for certain drugs. It's just wrong.
Third, the legislation will force private insurers to pay claims that they are legally responsible for, so that Medicare does not get stuck with the bill. This happens more often than you would think.
Fourth, legislation will allow us to crack down on medical providers, particularly those claiming to deliver mental health care who bill for services they never, in fact, provide, a large and, unfortunately, growing problem, according to our recent reports.
By passing these common-sense measures to fight Medicare waste and fraud, Congress can do more than help save taxpayers' money. It can demonstrate a bipartisan desire to preserve and strengthen Medicare for the future. If we took these actions now, we can help to assure that the system that has served our parents and grandparents so well will be there to serve our children and grandchildren well into the 21st century.
Thanks to the advocates who are here -- Senator Harkin and others -- I'm confident that is exactly what we will do next year.
Thank you very much, and happy holidays. (Applause.)
26. REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN OPENING WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON SOCIAL SECURITY-- December 8, 1998
Room 450 -- Old Executive Office Building
10:35 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, one of the things that she might have told you is that before she volunteered for the National Council of Senior Citizens for 20 years, she was an employee until 1972, when she retired, of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Therefore, she worked for the Treasury Department. And on New Year's Eve, she will be 90 years old. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, before I get into my remarks, because this is the only opportunity I will have to appear before the press today, I think I should say a few words about an incident early this morning over the skies of Iraq, where American and British air crews were enforcing a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq. They were fired on by Iraq surface-to-air missiles. They took evasive action, returned fire on the missile site, and returned safely to their base in Turkey.
We enforce two no-fly zones in Iraq, one in the North, established in 1991; another in the South, established in 1992, which now stretches from the southern suburbs of Baghdad down to the Kuwaiti border. The no-fly zones have been and will remain an important part of our containment policy. Because we effectively control the skies over much of Iraq, Saddam has been unable to use air power to repress his own people or to lash out again at his neighbors. Our pilots have the authority to protect themselves if they're threatened or attacked. They took appropriate action today in responding to Iraq's actions.
Once again, I want to tell you I am very proud of the work they do, the risks they take, the skill and the professionalism with which they do it. They attacked because they were attacked. And they did the appropriate thing. We will continue to enforce the no-fly zones.
Now, let me say, this is a very happy announcement today. And I want to thank Secretary Rubin -- who most people associate with saving the economy, not saving Social Security, but that's an important part of his job, too. I want to thank Kathy Adams, who is one of the those people in the government that makes it go and never gets enough credit for it. So I'm delighted to see her up here and through her, all the other people who work every day to make America work.
I've already told you about Pauline Johnson Jones. And I want to say, too, I have been very moved by how passionate Ken Apfel has been about making sure that this problem got solved, and today we saw that he has a vested interest in it -- (laughter.) He doesn't want his father to cut him out of his will -- (laughter) -- and everybody always needs to be in better stead with their in-laws. (Laughter.)
You know, this Y2K problem is a stunning problem -- oh, one other thing. I want to acknowledge the presence here in the audience of the member of Congress from Guam, Congressman Robert Underwood, his wife and their five children. They're here; we're delighted to see all of them. We're delighted that they're here with us in this cold weather, instead of on warm and sunny Guam today.
We just heard that the new millennium is only 368 days away. And we want it to be a carefree celebration. The reason we're here today is to announce that on New Year's Day 2000, and on every day that follows, people like Pauline can rest easy because the millennium bug will not delay the payment of Social Security checks by a single day.
The Social Security system is now 100 percent compliant with our standards and safeguards for the year 2000. To make absolutely certain, the system has been tested and validated by a panel of independent experts; the system works, it is secure. And therefore, older Americans can feel more secure.
I thank all those who are responsible. This is a good day for America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
The Social Security Administration and the Financial Management Service can be proud. The Social Security Agency was the very first one to start work on the Y2K problem; it's been a leader and a model ever since. They couldn't have done it, these two agencies, if they hadn't worked as a team. Social Security generates the Social Security payments; the Financial Management Services issues those payments. They are in this together.
Indeed, we're all in this together. This involves not just federal agencies, but every one who depends upon a computer, which is every one directly or indirectly. Federal and state governments and local governments, businesses large and small, the year 2000 problem reveals the connections between all of us.
We also, I want to point out, have been working very hard with other countries -- Sally Katzen just told me that there was a meeting at the United Nations recently where we met with representatives of 120 other countries who are all now working together to solve this, because, as all of you know, a lot of our economy is tied up with economic endeavors throughout the world, so even a problem a long way from our shores can have ramifications within our borders. And of course, we don't want any of our friends and neighbors hurt by this change, either.
People are meeting this challenge, but I think a lot of people can still hardly imagine what caused this. I mean, computers, after all, are supposed to save us time, right? And I was describing this Y2K problem to Hillary, and she got so technophobic that I gave her a little digital alarm clock for Christmas and she gave it back to me after I talked to her about it, and she said, why don't you just go get me one that winds up that I can change in my hand. (Laughter.)
It happened, you know, because in the older computers the memory put on the chip was precious and much more limited than the phenomenal capacity of computer chips today, so that, in effect, they were all programmed, these older computers, just to change the last two digits on the four numbers of any date. And so what would happen is, when you get to the year 2000, it would show 1900 instead of 2000, because there is no provision for the 19 to go to 20, because of the limitations of memory in the older computer chips. The problem is, obviously, that a lot of new computers are also interconnected with older computers and a lot of people can't even be sure what chips are in what computers and what links are there. That's what makes this labor-saving device of the computer present the most labor-intensive problem imaginable. Retired people have had to come back -- people with skills in working with the old computers have had to come back to help all kinds of businesses figure out how to unravel this problem. It sounds so simple, but it is so mammoth because you have to identify what computers and what chips are where and what the interconnections are.
And so it's an enormous, enormous effort, and we really, all of us, are so indebted to these people who have been recognized today with these two agencies, and to others all across the country who are working on this problem in the public and in the private sectors.
I say again, the American people don't know who -- or didn't before today -- know who Kathy Adams was. They don't know any of the people who are working with her. But when they get the checks for the first Social Security payment in the new millennium, it will be because of them. And I would just ask the American people today to be very sensitive, because there are people like Kathy Adams working in all these agencies, in state and local government and all these businesses throughout the country, and they need to be encouraged. And those who have not yet undertaken this task need to get on it and get on it now because we just have a little more than a year to get the job done.
Now, we have made sure that Social Security checks will keep coming in the year 2000. I'd also like to say that after we got the computer problem behind us, we have to continue to focus on the larger issue, the policy issue, which is to make sure the Social Security checks keep coming throughout the 21st century. All of you know that at present rates of contribution and payment, present rates of retirement, present rates of aging and birth and immigration, we estimate that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in about 34 years. We have typically tried to keep the life of the trust fund at about 75 years to make sure it was absolutely stable. Thirty-four years seems like a long time away -- I suppose the younger you are, the further away it seems. It doesn't seem so far to me now, because things that happened 34 years ago are implanted in my mind as if they occurred only yesterday.
But we are going to face early next year a great challenge of fashioning a bipartisan solution to save Social Security for the 21st century. I tell everybody it is a formidable problem, but it will only get worse if we delay it. And it is a high-class problem -- we have this problem because we're living longer. The average life expectancy of the American people, as reported just a few weeks ago, exceeds 76 years. And that is a high-class problem. We should be grateful for this problem.
When Social Security was established and there was no early retirement at 62, and you couldn't draw until '65, the average male life expectancy in America was 56 -- in the 1930s. So we've gone from 56 to over 76, and of course, for women it's a couple of years higher. And as Pauline says, women are especially dependent on Social Security for reasons that I think would be obvious to anyone, and therefore, have a particularly large stake in our resolving this problem in a prompt and appropriate way.
Now, in the last year -- in this year, 1998 -- I have gone around the country and held these bipartisan forums. Members of Congress in both Houses and both parties have taken a special interest and have been very good to attend these forums. Just a few days ago, we had a two-day first White House Conference on Social Security. The second day I went over to Blair House and met with nearly 50 members of Congress from both parties and both Houses. It was an astonishing outpouring of genuine interest.
Now, I don't want to minimize the problems, and they're different from the Y2K problem. The Y2K problem, you know what to do to fix it once you identify it. Here we've identified it and there are obvious differences about what should be done to fix Social Security for the 21st century. But we all know that there are basically only three options: We can raise taxes again, which no one wants to do because the payroll tax is regressive. Over half the American people who are working pay more payroll tax than income tax today. We can cut benefits and it might be all right for someone like me who has a good retirement plan, but it's not a very good idea for someone like Pauline. Or we can work together to try to find some way to increase the rate of return. And there are a number of options that we are discussing.
The point I want to make to all of you is that we have the same obligation to fix the system in policy terms for the 21st century that these fine people we honor today have discharged in fixing the Y2K problem. And if we approach it with the same can-do attitude and the same determination to reach a result, we can achieve that.
So today we celebrate and I hope the celebration that we have today will steel our determination to make sure that people like Pauline can be making this speech 50 years from now.
Thank you very much, and happy New Year. (Applause.)