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Remarks by the President on Signing of Veterans/HUD Bill
The Oval Office
October 20, 1999

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, let me, first of all, welcome you all here for the signing of the VA/HUD bill, and say what I would like to do. I want to make a statement, sign the bill, pass out the pens, and then if you have questions, I'll answer the questions then. Okay?

I would like to welcome Senator Edwards and Congressman Walsh and Congressman Mollohan, Secretary Cuomo, Secretary West, NSF Director Colwell, NASA Director Dan Goldin, and FEMA Director James Lee Witt, as well as the representatives of all these groups who are here who work so hard with us to fashion what I think is a truly remarkable and positive piece of legislation.

I also want to say a special word of thanks to our OMB Director Jack Lew, to Sylvia Mathews and his whole staff, for the wonderful work that they did on this in working with the Congress and all the people here represented.

For over 200 years, Presidents have been called upon to approve or not approve spending bills passed by the Congress. Because these bills can profoundly affect the future of our nation, Presidents must carefully weigh their decisions about signing them. In the six and a half years I have been President, I have put my signature on spending bills only when convinced they reflect the values of our people, respected the need for government to live within its means, and looked toward the future. The VA/HUD bill I'm about to sign clearly meets these standards.

It not only maintains the fiscal discipline that has led us to this moment of prosperity, it also honors our highest values. We value fairness and work; this bill reflects that by strengthening fair housing enforcement and by providing housing vouchers to help 60,000 more hard-working, low-income families move closer to where their jobs are. I want to thank Secretary Cuomo, especially, for his initiative on this.

The bill also provides significant increases in housing for elderly Americans, and puts in place a plan to ensure that they will continue to have safe and affordable places to live.

We value opportunity. This bill expands opportunity to those who have not felt the full benefits of our prosperity yet. It maintains our commitments to empowerment zones and enterprise communities, while adding part of my New Markets Initiative, to give investors the same incentives to invest in our inner cities and poor rural areas they currently get to invest in new markets overseas.

And the Vice President and I have worked very hard on this for many years, and I thank the Congress. I think the idea of bringing free enterprise and empowering poor communities is something that is becoming a bipartisan consensus in our country. I hope it is. We know that the government can never provide enough economic opportunity in these areas. And we know if we can't bring private sector enterprise to these areas now, when our economy is so strong, we'll never get around to doing it. So I thank the Congress for putting these provisions in.

We value clean air and clean water. This bill provides the Environmental Protection Agency with the resources it needs to protect our air and water.

We value our fighting men and women, and, thanks to the leadership of the Vice President and the commitment of this Congress, this bill adds the extra resources necessary to improve our veterans' health care.

We value strong communities. This bill will help young people continue to serve their communities through AmeriCorps. And later today, we'll celebrate the fifth anniversary and I'll have more to say about that.

The bill also provides critical funding for FEMA, to help communities cope with hurricanes and other unforeseen natural disasters -- especially now, the disasters caused by Hurricane Floyd. Senator Edwards is here, and I want to thank him for his work on that.

Last night, I asked the congressional leaders when we met to look at doing more to pay for the agricultural disasters caused, particularly in this part of our country, by the hurricanes coming on top of the droughts.

This bill also looks to the future. It gives NASA the resources it needs to probe the mysteries of space, and provides the National Science Foundation with the extra resources it needs to fund research on the frontiers of information technology. This is a little-noticed, I think, but profoundly important part of this bill, which I predict will have a big impact on our future for years and years to come.

The legislation is important not just for what it will achieve, but for how it was achieved. I'm pleased that our administration and the Congress were able to work together successfully on this bill in a genuine spirit of bipartisan cooperation to resolve our respective differences. Together, we produced legislation that is fully paid for and effectively addresses the critical needs of the American people.

We're especially pleased we were able to achieve acceptable funding levels in a number of areas by providing offsets that were agreed to by both sides. There is no debate on this bill that there is any Social Security surplus money involved at all.

Now, as all of you know, I met last night with congressional leaders of both parties. We agreed to work together in that same spirit to resolve our remaining differences and make the tough choices necessary to reach an overall agreement on our other outstanding values and budget priorities. First and foremost, we must protect Social Security and strengthen Medicare. I regret that the leaders of the Republican Party have said they won't take up the Medicare reform and the prescription drug benefit this year. I did ask them to consider my proposal, which would lengthen the life of the Social Security trust fund to 2050 and take it out beyond the life expectancy of the baby boomers, without a tax increase or without any benefit cuts. And I hope they will do that.

I believe the priorities that we have must also include making the largest and most diverse group of students in our schools ever the smartest and best-educated students ever, by giving them a world-class, 21st century education. That includes reducing class size by hiring 100,000 more teachers; building or modernizing 6,000 schools; connecting every classroom to the Internet; investing in after-school programs to keep our children safe; and demanding accountability, so that we can turn around failing schools.

We must also work together to keep the crime rate going down. I say again, I'm glad we've got the lowest crime rate in 26 years and the lowest murder rate in 32 years. No American believes our country is safe enough. We should set a goal of making this the safest big country in the world. That means doing more of what we know works, including putting 50,000 more community police into our toughest neighborhoods.

It also means, achieving this agreement, that we will have to put aside our differences and honor our commitment to our environment and our national security.

Again, I say, in spite of all the conflicts of the last few weeks, we still have a great opportunity to make this a season of progress, and work together to pass a budget that lives within its means and lives up to our values. We've done it before and we can do it again. We will be stronger in the new century because of what we have achieved here today, and I hope it is just the beginning.

Again, let me thank all of you for your role in this, and especially the members of the Congress who are here.

(The President begins signing the bill.)

(The bill signing is completed.) (Applause.)

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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