THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 21, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE 1998 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
The Rose Garden
12:23 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. In the coming weeks,Congress will be making an awful lot of important decisions about howto best prepare our children and our nation for the 21st century.First, we have an historic opportunity to pass bipartisan legislationto protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. The legislationwould put an end to the tobacco industry's calculated,multimillion-dollar media campaign to hook our children early to thedeadly habit of smoking.
For years the cartoon character, Joe Camel, was the starof their efforts to create a new generation of customers forcigarettes -- what the tobacco industry euphemistically called"replacement smokers;" what most of us call our children. Even asthe executives denied they were targeting children, Joe Camel becameas recognizable to them as Mickey Mouse.
Now, some in Congress say that teen smoking has nothingto do with Joe Camel. Medical science and common sense makes itplain: teen smoking has everything to do with Joe Camel -- withunscrupulous marketing campaigns that prey on the insecurities anddreams of our children. Indeed, a recent study by the AmericanMedical Association found that over a third of our young people whotry cigarettes do so because of advertising and promotion, and thatJoe Camel was the overwhelming favorite among 12- to 15-year-olds.
The industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollarson such marketing campaigns -- plainly not designed to appeal toadults. It is time to end this story once and for all. So again Isay to Congress, now is the time to pass strong bipartisan tobaccolegislation. And again I say, I hope that both parties will worktogether for the benefit of our children.
Today is an extremely important day for the future ofpublic education in America. Soon the United States Senate will befaced with a clear choice -- whether to modernize 5,000 schools andstrengthen educational opportunity for all children, or offerfamilies about a $7 tax rebate that would barely cover the cost ofschools supplies and, in the process, would weaken our nationalcommitment to education.
Above all, the Information Age is an education age. Andthe most important thing we can do to strengthen our country for the21st century is to give our people the best education system in theworld. In our balanced budget, I propose a plan that would help usto do that. It would help all Americans -- teachers, parents,students, principals -- bring a revolution of standards,accountability, and choice to our schools.
I am committed to seeing that our students master thebasics with national standards and an exam to measure those in 4thgrade reading and 8th grade math; to reduce class sizes in the earlygrades to an average of 18; to encouraging public school choice,charter schools, and to ending social promotion. Making sure thatevery child in America has an opportunity to learn in a modern, safestate of the arts school is also a centerpiece of our plan.
The need is great. With the number of school-agechildren at a record high and growing, schools across the countryalready are at or beyond capacity. One-third of our schools need tobe modernized. Nearly half don't have the wiring to support basiccomputer equipment. The federal government helps to build roads andbridges and other infrastructure projects because they are in thenational interest. But none of that will matter if we do not seethat our national interest in an adequate education infrastructure isalso preserved.
Today, Senator Carol Moseley Braun will offer anamendment that will help communities raise the funds to modernize5,000 schools. If we want our children to be prepared for the 21stcentury, they ought to have 21st century schools. I urge Congress toadopt the amendment right away.
Today, the Senate will also vote the wrong way -- anill-advised tax incentive for elementary and secondary expenses. Theproposal is bad education policy and bad tax policy. It won't doanything to strengthen our schools, and, in fact, would weaken publiceducation by siphoning limited federal resources away from publicschools. The $1.6 billion proposal would do very little for averagefamilies, offering an average of $7 in tax relief for parents of the90 percent of our children who are in public schools, and $37 for theparents with children in private schools. It woulddisproportionately benefit highest-income taxpayers -- families whoare struggling to make ends meet would never see a penny of it. Itwould short-change our children.
The right way to fix the schools is to fix them, notwalk away from them. We have 600 days left before the turn of thecentury. We have to prepare our children for it. We should beginwith protecting their health and giving them the best schools in theworld.
I'd like to ask the Vice President and Senator Daschleand Mr. Gephardt to make some remarks. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, do you think that other cartooncharacters used to market other products that potentially aredangerous to children, like beer, should be outlawed as well -- thefrogs in the Budweiser commercial, for example?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that, by an order of magnitude,what we saw with the tobacco marketing is far greater in its impacton children and in its destructive capacity. And so I don't want tobe deterred by focusing on other things when the business at hand isto pass this tobacco legislation. I don't think there's any -- noother thing I could think of compares with what has been done therein terms of the destructive impact on our children and their health.
And also, I would say, based on all these documentswhich are coming out now and all these lawsuits, the latest one inMinnesota, it appears unambiguous that they were designed to do justwhat they did, which is to appeal to children.
Q Mr. President, the tobacco companies --
Q Mr. President, how do you expect to getbipartisanship when you bash the Republicans and they bash you withthe kind of rhetoric that we've heard here today?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I haven't bashed all theRepublicans. Senator McCain -- I bragged on the bill that came outof his committee 19-1. I talked -- I called Senator Lott a few daysago and said that I very much wanted to get this bill passed.
What has caused our concern here is this apparentdramatic change in the statements made by Republicans about this. Imean, it wasn't so very long ago when the Speaker said that there'sno way in the world that I could ever be for a more progressive taxbill -- tobacco bill than he would be for. And I, frankly, lovedhearing that. I don't mind sharing the credit for this. I don'twant this to be a partisan thing, I want this to be an Americanthing.
Let's look what had happened here. All of us have beentalking about trying to get bipartisan agreement on this; the tobaccoindustry says they don't like the McCain bill and they refuse tonegotiate any further and they're fighting for their life and this iswar. And all of a sudden we get different public statements comingout of people in important positions in the Republican Party.
I still believe and hope that there will be enoughRepublicans to make a genuinely bipartisan effort to pass sensible,sound, strong legislation. And that is my commitment. That is allof our commitments. We are responding to events as they haveunfolded.
But I would remind you that what sparked all this wasthe bipartisan action of the Senate committee. That is what I havelauded and that is what I want.
Q Mr. President, regarding the education bill, sir,you seem to be unwavering over the vouchers issue. The Republicanshave indicated they're going to be unwavering on the vouchers issue.Isn't the reality that there probably isn't going to be an educationbill this year, over this issue perhaps?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope not. This may be just theopening foray. But I think a lot of them are genuinely opposed tothe concept embodied in Senator Carol Moseley Braun's bill. That is,they believe it's okay for Congress to invest money in highlyspecific local transportation projects, but not to give even the mostgeneral kind of support for our education infrastructure.
Now, during all the time I've been President, when wehad those tough budget years, I always tried to provide enough roomfor there to be some increase in infrastructure for transportation.But I believe the infrastructure of the '90s will be the superhighwaythat carries information, and I believe the people that can travel itwill be those that have a good education, not the finest vehicle.And so, to me, when we've got cities with the average school buildingbeing 65 years old, when we've got small communities like the one Ivisited in Florida with 17 trailers out back of the main schoolbuilding where the kids are going to school -- this is a nationalinfrastructure issue. And I think it's important.
Now, on this education IRA, I think the real thing youhave to ask yourself about that is this -- does it make sense, whenthe federal government only spends about -- provides about 6 percentof the total education budget of the country, and when everybodyrecognizes we need more general investment -- does it make sense totake $1.6 billion and put it into a program that will give theaverage public school parent 7 bucks? Let's assume the Republicanswho favor more private school education are right -- give the averagepublic school parent 7 bucks to pay tuition to a private school? Andfor those that already have their kids in private school, if they'remiddle class families, give them an average of $37 a year?
I think the $1.6 billion would be far better spentfunding charter schools, funding school standards programs, fundingthe master teacher program, and helping to fund this schoolconstruction program. That's what I believe. I don't think it'seven close. If they believe these programs are so great, then theyought to be out there in every city and every state in the countrymaking this case, instead of using the limited federal money we havewhich ought to be spent to benefit the largest number of people inthe most impactful way.
Q Mr. President, the tobacco companies --
Q -- fails to lower the spending levels in thetransportation bills, will you veto the bills? And if not, why not?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the transportationbill has not yet passed; it's going into conference. I have a lot ofproblems with it, including the dropping of the provision for atougher DWI standard in the House bill. But I think it is imperativethat we wind up with a transportation bill which increases ourinvestment in transportation, but does not do so at the expense ofeducation, of research -- medical research -- the environment, allthe things that are also important to our future, on the one hand,and on the other hand, that doesn't run away from our Social Securityfirst commitment on the surplus.
And so I'm going to do my best to fashion that sort ofinfrastructure highway bill. And I am concerned that the bills aspassed are disembodied from the budget. They don't have anyrelationship with all the other pieces in the budget, and at least ontheir surface, appear to be far in excess of anything we can affordand still continue our commitments in education and honor SocialSecurity first.
But this is a process, and we're not there yet. We'renot to the point yet where we have to make the discussion --
Q Would you veto an education bill if it includedboth the Coverdell accounts and the school construction money youwant?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes.
Q Mr. President, Speaker Gingrich yesterday said yousent the wrong signal to children by smoking a cigar when you'recelebrating. How would you respond?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think the onlytime I've done that since I was President was when we got that youngman out of Bosnia. And I think he's probably right about that. Ithink he's probably right about that. But let me say, I do not -- Ithink to contend that that isolated event has a bigger impact onchildren than these millions of dollars of deliberately calculatedads -- billions -- is just a way of avoiding taking responsibilityfor doing the right thing.
Now, secondly -- you know, he made another point withwhich I agree, which is that there is too much -- there are too manyyoung actors and actresses in alluring movies in Hollywood makingsmoking look alluring again. But we've been talking about that fortwo or three years. The Vice President I think has already had twomeetings with people in Hollywood; I have voiced the concern publiclyand privately. I agree with that.
But these things get said in the context in which hesaid it, it was like to let them off the hook for takingresponsibility for passing tobacco legislation and making cigarettesboth more expensive for kids to buy and then using the money to dealwith the health care consequences and to fund an anti-smokingadvertising campaign that they know would be effective. And I'lltell you one -- I'll bet you anything that in addition to theirpreviously effective advertising campaigns, we'll be treated toanother big ad campaign from the tobacco industries surrounding thisbefore you know it.
So you can say all these things, but none of us shouldever be guilty of that. We can point the finger at others, but noamount of finger-pointing at others, by the President or anyone else,will ever absolve us of our own responsibility to push the publicinterest. And that's what I'm trying to do.
Q Mr. President, the tobacco companies say they'll gobankrupt under McCain. Do you believe they deserve that?
Q Mr. Vice President, somebody called you "cheap Al."Would you care to defend yourself, sir? Seriously. It's out there.