Remarks to the National Conference of State Legislators
delighted to welcome President Ted Strickland and all the officers and
leadership of the National Conference to the
it's an honor to have this opportunity to speak to you who work at levels of
government so close to the people themselves. In a moment, I'd like to discuss
the domestic agenda for this, the remaining year of our administration. But if
you'll permit me, first I'd like to stress something that we've been working on
from the very first: federalism, a topic Secretary [of Transportation]
all, it was with the intention of keeping government close to the people that
the Founding Fathers entrusted the State governments with duties like the
protection of property rights and the enforcement of criminal justice -- duties
that affected the people in their everyday lives. And when Alexis de
Well, when our administration came to office, we took it as one of our chief aims to reawaken the federalist impulse and approach the Constitution with a new fidelity -- in short, to restore power to the States. By now you should know how, since 1981, we've worked to widen the scope for independent State decisionmaking. I'm proud to say that our federalism focus is continuing. This past October, I issued an Executive order requiring all Departments and Agencies to do a federalism assessment of all their policies, to make sure they aren't doing things better left to the States.
despite all we've been doing to promote federalism here in
And as I now turn to our domestic agenda, I believe you'll see that, here, too, the States have their role to play. The first item I'd like to mention is one that seems to have made quite an impression during my State of the Union Address this past Monday: the urgent need for budget reform. You may remember that I placed on a table, for everyone in the Nation to see, all 43 pounds of the continuing resolution, the accompanying conference reports, and the reconciliation bill. As if anybody needed any more evidence that the budget process here has completely broken down.
And when I say that producing that huge pile of documents made an impression, I mean literally. You see, when I banged down one of those stacks of paper -- if I remember correctly, it was the one weighing 15 pounds -- when I banged that document down, I got my finger stuck underneath. [Laughter] And here it is 4 days later, and I'm still sore, but not as sore as I am when I consider the budget process we've had to go through, year after year here. This coming year, I intend to use all my powers as President to enforce some simple discipline upon the Federal budget.
In a word, discipline -- that's what is missing from the Federal budget process. In 30 days I will return to Congress certain items that should be rescinded. Sure, it will improve our deficit targets, but also it will be a first sign of discipline in a process that's out of control.
we need other measures to reform the budget process permanently, and here I
take a page from the States. The great majority of your State constitutions
require balanced budgets. I'd submit that it's about time we passed a balanced
budget amendment for the Federal Government. And in your statehouses, no fewer
than 43 Governors have the line-item veto. I had it back in
Next, a subject that really belongs to the States: education. You know the story how from 1960 to 1980 overall spending on education more than doubled, while college board scores during the same period fell drastically. We've worked hard to put education at the top of the Nation's agenda and to make certain that we concern ourselves not only with what we spend but with how we spend it. This response has been dramatic. Many States formed task forces on education. In some States, promising new programs, like merit pay for teachers, are being put in place. Still other States have opened the teaching profession to a wider pool of qualified candidates. And in recent years we've seen college board scores actually go up for the first time in nearly 20 years.
This year at the Federal level, we're doing still more to promote imaginative reforms. We're adding money to the budget for the magnet schools program, an idea that has already done much to foster greater achievement among our public schools. We're building greater accountability into our Federal programming by tying funding to results. Secretary [of Education] Bennett has proposed, among other reforms, a much stronger curriculum for our high schools. As Bill puts it, his aim is to promote a ``national conversation'' on what works in education.
I don't intend to stop here. Polls show that millions of Americans would like,
but do not have, the ability of choosing the education program and institution
that is best for their children. A voucher system at the State level would
empower parents. I'll ask the Department of Education to develop model voucher
legislation and make it available to the 50 States so that they can implement
programs that promote choice in education. As we do all this here in
Permit me to turn now to an area of shared Federal and State responsibility: welfare. The sad truth is that our welfare programs, State and Federal alike, too often have only made poverty harder to escape. In the fight against poverty, we now know, it's essential to have strong families -- families that teach children the skills and values they'll need to succeed in the wider world, families that provide mothers and fathers with comfort, inspiration, and a focus for their labors. Yet when we ask ourselves whether our welfare programs have encouraged family life and values, we must answer: Far from it. Instead, they've subjected poor families to a subtle but constant undermining force, pulling them apart.
Many of you already preside over important welfare innovations. Some of you have shown us how child support enforcement can be improved. Others have launched innovative new programs which require welfare recipients to work or prepare for work. You in the States are attempting to meet what I believe must become the central criterion for all forms of public assistance: not how much money we spend on welfare but how many Americans our programs make independent of welfare. This is what we should be doing at the end of each year, not boasting about how many more people are on welfare that we're taking care of but how many people have we been able to remove from welfare and make independent and self-sufficient. The 50 States present us with the opportunity to apply this criterion in endless ways, experimenting and testing in a manner from which all can profit. Our administration will give the States even more flexibility and encourage still greater reform. Our aim is simple: to replace today's poverty trap with a welfare system that fosters genuine economic opportunity.
like to turn now to a subject that's especially close to Nancy and me: a drug
States, of course, have a critical role in amplifying the antidrug
measure. Efforts to reduce demand must occur at the State and local level, and
they are. The recently enacted legislation in
it was my intention to focus today on our domestic agenda, but one foreign
policy issue has become so important in recent days that I want to share with
you my thoughts. That issue, of course, is
same approach may be working today in
believe we owe it to ourselves and the people of
Well, having said that, I thank you all once again for being here today. And by the way, I know that as fellow politicians your hearts start to quicken just a little bit, the way mine does, when we start to head into a campaign season. No two ways about it, last year was not one of my favorites. But that was then, and this is now -- an election year, when the people will be heard from. And to tell you the truth, I'm starting to have some fun again. [Laughter] Well, again, I thank all of you for being here and for what you're doing, and God bless you all.
Note: The President
spoke at in Room 450 of the