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State Of The Union Address 1996 – President Bill Clinton

This is the State of the Union Address, as prepared, delivered by President Bill Clinton.

The Address came not long after the 1995 government shutdown, a crucial battle in which Clinton prevailed over his congressional opponents.

It was Clinton’s 4th State of the Union Address.

  • Watch Clinton’s Address (67m)

President Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Address.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of the 104th Congress, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans all across our land.

I want to begin by saying to our men and women in uniform around the world, and especially those helping peace take root in Bosnia, and to their families. Thank you. America is very proud of you.

My duty tonight is to report on the State of the Union, not the state of our government but of our American community, and to set forth our responsibilities — in the words of our Founders — to “form” a more perfect union.”

The state of our union is strong.

Our economy is the healthiest it has been in three decades. We have the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation in 27 years.

We have created nearly eight million new American jobs, over a million of them in basic industries like construction and automobiles. America is selling more cars than Japan for the first time since the 1970’s, and for three years in a row, we have had a record number of new businesses started.

Our leadership in the world is strong, brining new hope for peace. Perhaps most important, we are gaining ground in restoring our fundamental values. The crime rate, the welfare and food stamp rolls, the poverty rate and the teen pregnancy rate are all down. As they go down, prospects for America’s future go up.

We live in an age of possibility. A hundred years ago we moved from farm to factory. Now we move to an age of technology, information and global competition. These changes have opened vast new opportunities, but they also present stiff challenges. More Americans are living better lives, but too many of our fellow citizens are working harder to keep ahead, in search of greater security for their families.

We must answer three fundamental questions: How do we make the American dream of opportunity a reality for all who are willing to work for it? How do we preserve our old and enduring values as we move into the future? And how do we meet these challenges together, as one America?

We know big government does not have all the answers. There is not a program for every problem. We know we need a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington — one that lives within its means. But then what is the responsibility of government? I believe government can help or government can hurt.

I believe our new, smaller government must work in an old American way — together with all our citizens, through state and local governments, in the workplace, in religious, charitable and civic associations. Our goal must be to enable all our people to make the most of their own lives with stronger families, more educational opportunity, economic security, safer streets, a cleaner environment, a safer world.

To improve the state of our union, we must all ask more of ourselves; we must expect more of each other, and we must face our challenges together.

The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. We must go forward as one America — a nation working together, to meet the challenges we face together. Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues — we must have both.


Our responsibility here begins with balancing the budget in a way that is fair to all Americans. There is now broad bipartisan agreement that permanent deficit spending must come to an end.

I compliment the Republicans for the energy and determination they have brought to this task. And I thank the Democrats for passing the largest deficit reduction plan in history in 1993, which has already cut the deficit nearly in half in just three years.

Since then, we have all seen the benefits of deficit reduction. Lower interest rates have made it easier for business to create new jobs and have brought down the cost of home mortgages, car payments and credit card rates to ordinary citizens. Our budget would be in surplus today but for the interest payments we make on the deficits run up in the 12 years before 1993. Now it is time to finish the job.

Though differences remain, after many hours of budget negotiations, the combined total of the proposed savings common to both plans is more than enough, using numbers from your Congressional Budget Office, to balance the budget in seven years and to provide a modest tax cut. And these cuts do not undermine our obligations to our parents, our children and our future by endangering Medicare, Medicaid, education or the environment.

Let’s keep negotiating over our differences. But I ask you at least to enact these savings so we can give the American people their balanced budget, a tax cut, lower interest rates and a brighter future.

I am convinced we will balance the budget, and make permanent deficits yesterday’s legacy.

Now it is time to look to the challenges of today and tomorrow. America was built on challenges, not promises — Challenges we have lived up to from our birth to the present day. When we work together, we never fail. That is the key to a more perfect union: Our individual dreams must be realized by our common efforts.

Tonight, I want to speak about the challenges we face as a people.


Our first challenge is to cherish our children and strengthen the American family.

Families are the foundation of American life. If we have stronger families, we will have a stronger nation.

Strong families begin with taking more responsibility for our children. It is hard to be a parent today, but it is even harder to be a kid. All of us — our businesses, our parents, our media, our schools, our teachers, our communities and government — have a responsibility to help children make it.

To the media: I say you should create movies, CDs and television shows you would want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy. I call on Congress to pass the requirement for a “V” chip in TV sets, so parents can screen out programs which they believe are inappropriate for their younger children.

When parents control what their children see, that’s not censorship. That’s enabling parents to assume more responsibility for their children. And I urge them to do it. The “V” chip requirement is part of the telecommunications bill now pending. It has bipartisan support, and I urge you to pass it now.

To make the “V” chip work, I challenge the broadcast industry to come to the White House next month to work with us on concrete ways to improve what our children see on television. I am ready to work with you.

I say to those who produce and market cigarettes — Every year, a million children take up smoking; 300,000 of them will have their lives shortened as a result.

My administration has taken steps to stop the massive marketing campaign that appeals to our children. We are saying: Market your products to adults, if you wish, but draw the line on children.

I say to those on welfare: For too long our welfare system has undermined the values of family and work, instead of supporting them. Congress and I are near agreement on sweeping welfare reform. We agree on time limits, tough work requirements and the toughest possible child-support reinforcement. But we must also provide child care so mothers can go to work withhout worrying about their children. So I challenge Congress: Send me a bipartisan welfare reform that will really move people from welfare to work and do right by our children, and I will sign it.

But passing a law is only the first step. The next step is to make it work. I challenge people on welfare to make the most of this opportunity for independence. And I challenge American business to give them a chance. We applaud the work of church and community groups that care for the poor. More than anything else, they know the difficulty of this task, and are in a position to help. Every one of us should join with them.

To strengthen the family, we must do everything we can to keep the teen pregnancy rate going down. It is still far too high. Tonight I am pleased to announce that a group of prominent Americans is responding to that challenge by forming an organization that will support grass-roots community efforts in a national campaign against teen pregnancy. And I challenge every American to join them.

I call on American men and women to respect one another. We must end the deadly scourge of domestic violence. I challenge America’s families to stay together.

In particular, I challenge fathers to love and care for their children. If your family has separated, you must pay your child support. We are doing more than ever to make sure you do, and we are going to do more. But let’s admit: A check will never be a substitute for a father’s love and guidance, and only you can make the decision to help raise your children. No matter who you are, it is your most basic human duty.


Our second challenge is to provide Americans with the educational opportunities we need for a new century.

Every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway, with computers, good software and well-trained teachers. We are working with the telecommunications industry, educators and parents to connect 20 percent of the classrooms in California by this spring, and every classroom and library in America by the year 2000. I ask Congress to support our education technology initiative to make this national partnership successful.

Every diploma ought to mean something. I challenge every community, school and state to adopt national standards of excellence; measure whether schools are meeting those standards; cut red tape so that schools have more flexibility for grass-roots reforms, and hold them accountable for results by embracing our Goals 2000 initiative.

I challenge every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children attend and let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.

I challenge all schools to teach character education: good values and good citizenship. And if it means teen-agers will stop killing each other over gang jackets, then public schools should be able to require school uniforms.

I challenge parents to be their children’s first teachers. Turn off the TV. See that the homework gets done. Visit your children’s classroom.

Today, higher education is more important than ever before. We have created a new student loan program that has made it easier to borrow and repay loans, and dramatically cut the student loan default rate. Through AmeriCorps, our national service program, this year, 25,000 students will earn college money by serving in their communities. These initiatives are right for America; we should keep them going.

And we should open the doors to college even wider. I challenge Congress to expand work study and help one million young Americans work their way through college by the year 2000; to provide a $1,000 merit scholarship for the top five percent of graduates in every high school; to expand Pell Grant scholarships for deserving students, and again, to make up to $10,000 a year of college tuition tax deductible.


Our third challenge is to help every American achieve economic security.

People who work hard still need support to get ahead in the new economy: education and training for a lifetime, more support for families raising children, retirement security and access to health care.

More and more Americans are finding that the education of their childhood simply does not last a lifetime. I challenge Congress to consolidate 70 overlapping job-training programs into a simple voucher worth $2,600 for unemployed or underemployed workers to use for community college tuition or other training. Pass this GI Bill for America’s Workers.

More and more Americans are working hard without a raise. Congress sets the minimum wage. Within a year, the minimum wage will fall to a 40-year low in purchasing power. But millions of Americans and their children are trying to live on it. I challenge you to raise their minimum wage.

In 1993, Congress cut the taxes of 15 million hard-pressed working families, to make sure no parent who worked full time would have to raise their children in poverty. This expanded Earned Income Tax Credit is now worth about $1,800 a year to a family of four living on $20,000. The budget bill I vetoed would have reversed this achievement, and raised taxes on nearly eight million of those people. We must not do that.

We need a tax credit for working families with children. That’s one thing most of us can agree on. And it should be a part of any final budget agreement.

I challenge every business that can possibly afford it to provide pensions for their employees, and I challenge Congress to pass a proposal recommended by the White House Conference on Small Business, that would make it easier for small businesses and farmers to establish pension plans. That is something Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

We should also protect existing pension plans. Two years ago, with bipartisan support, we protected the pensions of eight million working people and stabilized the pensions of 32 million more. Congress should not let companies endanger their workers’ pension funds. I vetoed such a proposal last year, and I would veto it again.

Finally, if working families are going to succeed in the new economy, they must be able to buy health insurance policies they don’t lose when they change jobs or when someone in their family gets sick. Over the past two years, over one million Americans in working families lost their health insurance. We must do more to make health care available to every American. And Congress should start by passing the bipartisan bill offered by Senators Kassebaum and Kennedy to require insurance companies to stop dropping people when they switch jobs, or denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And we must preserve the basic protections Medicare and Medicaid give, not just to the poor, but people in working families, including children, people with disabilities, people with AIDS, and senior citizens in nursing homes. In the past three years, we have saved $15 billion just by fighting health care fraud and abuse. We can save more. But we cannot abandon our fundamental obligations to the people who need Medicare and Medicaid. America cannot become stronger if they become weaker.

The GI Bill for Workers, tax relief for education and child-rearing, pension availability and protection, access to health care, preservation of Medicare and Medicaid, these things — along with the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 — will help responsible hard-working American families to make the most of their own lives.

But employers and employees must do their part as they are in so many of our finest companies, working together, putting long-term prosperity ahead of short-term gains. As workers increase their hours and their productivity, employers should make sure they get the skills they need and share the benefits of the good years as well as the burdens of the bad ones. When companies and workers work as a team, they do better. And so does America.


Our fourth great challenge is to take back our streets from crime, gangs and drugs.

At last, we have begun to find the way to reduce crime — forming community partnerships with local police forces to catch criminals and to prevent crime. This strategy, called community policing, has begun to work. Violent crime is coming down all across America.

In New York City, murders are down 25 percent, in St. Louis 18 percent, in Seattle 32 percent. But we still hava a long way to go before our streets are safe and our people are free of fear.

The Crime Bill of 1994 is critical to the success of community policing. It provides funds for 100,000 new police in communities of all sizes. We are already a third of the way there. I challenge the Congress to finish the job. Let’s stick with a strategy that’s working, and keep the crime rate coming down.

Community policing requires bonds of trust between our citizens and our police. I ask all American to respect and support our police. And to our police, I say: Our children need you as role models and heroes. Don’t let them down.

The Brady Bill has already stopped 44,000 people with criminal records from buying guns. The assault weapons ban is keeping 19 kinds of assault weapons out of the hands of violent gangs. I challenge Congress to keep those laws on the books.

Our next step in the fight against crime is to take on gangs the way we took on the mob. I am directing the F.B.I. and other investigative agencies to target gangs that involve juveniles in violent crime and to see authority to prosecute as adults teen-agers who kill and maim like adults.

And I challenge local housing authories and tenant associations: Criminal gang members and drug dealers are destroying the lives of decent tenants. From now on, the rule for residents who commit crimes and peddle drugs should be: One strike and you’re out.

I challenge every state to match Federal policy to assure that serious violent criminals serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

More police and punishment are important, but not enough. We must keep more of our young people out of trouble, with prevention strategies not dictated by Washington, but developed in communities. Houston has the fewest murders in 19 years and juvenile crime has declined because it both expanded community policing, and got thousands of young people into sports leagues and other projects where they get good values, see good role models and learn the right kind of teamwork. I challenge all communities and adults to give these children futures to say yes to. And I challenge Congress not to abandon the Crime Bill’s support of these grass-roots efforts.

Finally, to reduce crime and violence, we must reduce the drug problem. The challenge begins at home, with parents talking to their children openly and firmly. It embraces our churches, youth groups and our schools. I challenge Congress not to cut our support for drug-free schools. All over America, anti-drug efforts in our schools are changing the lives of our kids. People like D.A.R.E. officers are making an impression on grade school children that will give them the strength to say no when the time come.

Meanwhile, we continue our efforts to cut the flow of drugs into America. Tonight I am nominating a hero of the Persian Gulf and the commander in chief of the U.S. Military’s Southern Command, General Barry McCaffrey, as America’s new drug czar. He skillfully led our military in its unprecedented efforts to help curtail drug trafficking.

General McCaffrey has earned three purple hearts and two silver stars fighting for America. Tonight I ask that he lead our nation’s battle against drugs at home and abroad. To succeed, he needs a force larger than he has ever commanded. He needs all of us. We all have a role to play on this team. Thank you, General McCaffery, for agreeing to serve your country one more time.


Our fifth challenge is to leave our environment safe and clean for the next generation.

Because of a generation of bipartisan effort, we have cleaner air and water. Lead levels in children’s blood had been cut 70 percent, and toxic emissions from factories cut in half. Lake Erie was dead. Now it is a thriving resource.

But 10 million children under 12 sitll live within four miles of a toxic waste dump. A third of us breathe air which endangers our health. And in too many communities, water is not safe to drink. We still have much to do.

Yet Congress has voted to cut environmental enforcement by 25 percent. That means more toxic chemicals in our water, more smog choking our air, more pesticides in our food. Lobbyists for the polluters have been allowed to write their own loopholes into bills to weaken laws that protect the health and safety of our children. But some in this Congress want to make taxpayers pick up the tab for toxic waste and let polluters off the hook.

I challenge Congress to reverse those priorities. I say the polluters should pay. We can expand the economy without hurting the environment. In fact, we can create more jobs over the long run by cleaning it up.

We must challenge business and communities to take more initiative and make it easier for them to do so. To businesses, we are saying: If you can find a cheaper, more efficient way than government regulations to meet tough pollution standards, then do it as long as you do it right.

We are strangthening community right-to-know laws requiring polluters to disclose their emissions, and challenge community groups to use the information to work with business to cut pollution. People have a right to know that their air and water is safe.

Our sixth challenge is to maintain America’s leadership in the fight for freedom and peace.

Because of American leadership, more people than ever before live free and at peace, and Americans have known 50 years of prosperity and security. We owe thanks especially to our veterans, and to the people on freedom’s home front who kept the flame burning.

All over the world, people still look to us. And trust us to help them seek the blessings of peace and freedom.

But as the cold war fades, voices of isolation say America should retreat from its responsibilities. I say they are wrong. The threats we Americans face respect no nation’s borders — terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, drug trafficking, ethnic and religious hatred, aggression by rogue states, environmental degradation. If we fail to address these threats today, we will suffer the consequences of our neglect tomorrow.


We can’t be everywhere. We can’t do everything. But where our interests and our values are at stake — and where we can make a difference — America must lead. We must not be isolationist or the world’s policeman. but we can be its best peacemaker. By keeping our military strong, by using diplomacy where we can, and force where we must, by working with others to share the risk and the colst of our efforts, America is making a difference for people here and around the world.

For the first time, since the dawn of the nuclear age, there are no Russian missles pointed at American children. North Korea has now frozen its dangerous nuclear weapons program. In Haiti, the dictators are gone, democracy has a new day, and the flow of desperate refugees to our shores has ended.

Through tougher trade deals for America, over 80 of them, we have opened markets abroad, and now exports are at an all-time high, growing gaster than imports and creating American jobs.

We stood with those taking risks for peace — in Northern Ireland, where Catholic and Protestant children now tell their parents that violence must never return — and in the Middle East, where Arabs and Jews, who once seemed destined to fight forever, now share knowledge, resources and dreams.

And, we stood up for peace in Bosnia. Remember the skeletal prisoners, young men in mass graves, the campaigns of rape and torture, endless lines of refugees, the threat of a spreading war — all these have now given way to the hope of peace. Now our troops and a strong NATO, together with its new partners from Central Europe and elsewhere, are helping that peace take hold.

Through these efforts, we have enhanced the security of the American people. But important challenges remain. The Start II treaty with Russia will cut our nuclear stockpiles by another 25 percent; I urge the Senate to approve it — now. We must end the race to create new nuclear weapons by signing a truly comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty — this year. We can outlaw poison gas forever, if the Senate approves the Chemical Weapons Convention — this year. We can intensify the fight against terrorists and organized criminals at home and abroad, if Congress passes the anti-terrorism legislation I proposed after the Oklahoma City bombing — now. We can help more people move from hatred to hope, if Congress gives us the means to remain leaders for peace.


The six challenges I have discussed thus far are for all Americans. But our seventh challenge is America’s challenge to us here tonight.

If we in Washington are going to fulfill our responsibilities to help the American people meet these challenges, it will require a very different kind of government. It will have to be smaller and less bureaucratic; it will have to focus more results than rules; it will have to work more in partnership with state and local governments, community groups and the private sector. And it will have to earn the respect and trust of the American people.

Last year, this Congress applied to itself the laws that it applies to everyone else, banned gifts and meals from lobbyists, and forced lobbyists to disclose who pays them and what legislation they are trying to pass or kill. I applaud that.

Now I challenge Congress to go further: curb special interest influence in politics by passing the first truly bipartisan campaign finance reform bill in a generation. Show the American people we can limit spending and open the airwaves to all candidates.

And I appeal to Congress to give me the line-item veto you promised to give me.

Beyond that, we are creating a government that works better and costs less. Thanks to the work of Vice President Gore, we are eliminating 16,000 pages of unnecessary rules and regulations and shifting more decision-making out of Washington back to states and communities.

As we move into an era of balanced budgets and smaller government, we must work in new ways to enable people to make the most of their own lives. We are helping America’s communities, not with bureaucracy, but with opportunity, through our successful empowerment zones and community development banks to help people in urban and rural areas find jobs and start businesses. And with tax incentives for companies that clean up abandoned industrial propery, bringing jobs back to the places that desperately need them.


But there are some areas that the Federal government must address directly and strongly. One of these is the problem of illegal immigration. After years and years of neglect, this administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen protection on our borders. We are increasing border patrols by 50 percent; we are increasing inspection to find illegal immigrants in the workplace. And tonight, I announce I will sign an executive order to deny Federal contracts to business that hire illegal immigrants. But let me be clear: we are still a nation of immigrants, and we honor all those immigrants who are working hard to become new citizens. But we are also a nation of lawas.

I want to say a special wrod for those who work for the federal government. Today, the Federal workforce is 200,000 employees smaller than the day I took office — The Federal government is the smallest it has been in 30 years, and getting smaller every day. Most of you probably didn’t know that, and there’s a good reason. The remaining Federal workforce is composed of Americans who are working harder and working smarter to make sure that the quality of our services does not decline.

Take Richard Dean. He worked for Social Security for 22 years. Last year, he was hard at work in the Federal building in Oklahoma City when the terrorist blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble around him. He re-entered the building four times and saved lives of three women. He is here with us this evening. I want to recognize Richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary heroism.

But his story doesn’t end there. In November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. The second time the government shut down, he continued helping Social Security recipients, working without pay. On behalf of Richard and his family, I challenge all of you in this chamber: never — ever — shut the Federal Government down again. And on behalf of all Americans, I challenge Congress to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States, to honor our obligations as we have for 220 years, to rise above partisanship and pass a straightforward extention of the debt limit.

I have asked a lot of America this evening. But I am confident. When Americans work together in their homes, their schools, their churchs, their civic groups or at work, they can meet any challenge.

I say again: The era of big government is over. But we can’t go back to the era of fending for yourself. We must go forward to the era of working together — as a community, as a team, as one America — to solve our problems.

And none of this will work unless all of you, every person in America reach across the lines that divide us and try to find common ground. We must reject any atmosphere of division, discrimination and rancor. We must work together.

I want you to meet two people tonight who do that. Dr. Lucius Wright is a teacher in the Jackson, Mississippi, public school system. A Vietnam veteran, he has created groups that help inner city children turn away from gangs and build futures they can believe in. And Sergeant Jennifer Rodgers is a police officer in Oklahoma City. Like Richard Dean, she helped to pull her fellow citizens out of the rubble and deal with that awful tragedy. She reminds us that, in their response to that atrocity, the people of Oklahoma City lifted us all with their basic sense of values and community.

Lucius Wright and Jennifer Rodgers are special Americans. I have the honor tonight to announce that they are the very first of several thousand Americans who will be chosen to carry the Olympic torch on its long journey from Los Angeles to the centennial of the modern Olympics in Atlanta this summer — not because they are star athletes; they are star citizens, community heroes meeting America’s challenges, America’s real champions.


Each of us must hold the torch of citizenship in our own lives. But none of us can finish the race alone. We only achieve our destiny together, one hand, one generation, one American connection to another.

There have always been thing we could do together — dreams we have made real — which we could never have done apart. We Americans have forged our identity, our very union, from every point of view and every point on the planet. Bound by a faith more powerful than any doctrines that divide us — by our belief in progress, our love of liberty and our relentless search for common ground — America has always sought and risen to the challenge.

Who is to say that, having come so far together, we cannot go forward together now? Who is to say that the moment of our greatest potential is not for all Americans?

America is, and has always been, a great and good country. But the best is yet to come. If we all do our part.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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