Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Speech: Excerpts
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KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton worked his way through a gauntlet of smiles and handshakes on his way to deliver the fourth State of the Union Address of his administration. The House of Representatives has been anything but a warm and friendly place for the President since the Republicans took control, but last night, the majority at least was civil in reacting to the President’s speech and even cheered when he mentioned a major theme of the Republican agenda.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We know there’s not a program for every problem. (applause) We know and we have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington, and we have to give the American people one that lives within its means. (applause) The era of big government is over. (applause) But, but we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite his call for smaller government, the President proceeded to tick off a wish list of new legislation he said would improve the economy, strengthen the family, and make quality education available to all. Democrats responded enthusiastically; Republicans remained silent through most of it.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: 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, these things will help responsible, hard working American families to make the most of their own lives.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the President also endorsed some conservative-sounding themes on illegal immigration, gang violence, and drug use.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I challenge local housing authorities 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 crime and peddle drugs should be one strike and you’re out. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: It wasn’t until the end of his speech that the President addressed the most immediate problems, the danger of default on government loan obligations if Congress doesn’t increase the debt ceiling and the specter of another partial shutdown of the federal government after Friday.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I challenge all of you in this chamber. Let’s never ever, ever shut the federal government down again. (applause) On behalf of all Americans, especially those who need their Social Security payments beginning in March, I also challenge the Congress to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States, to honor the obligations of this great nation as we have for 220 years, to rise above partisanship and pass a straightforward extension of the debt limit and show people America keeps its word. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: For just over an hour, Republicans sat patiently, allowing the President his moment. Their time came a few minutes after the President completed his speech. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole delivered a sharp response.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: Well, the President spoke with great eloquence tonight about a future with unlimited possibilities. It is a vision we all share, for it is a story of America. But while the President’s words speak of change, his deeds are a contradiction. The President claims to embrace the future, while clinging to the policies of the past. For three years, this administration has valued dependence on government over self-reliance, federal power over community, federal planning over individual enterprise.
It has tried to place government experts in charge of our economy and our health and our lives. It has put liberal judges on the bench to war with our values, and it questions the participation of religious people in public life, treating them as fanatics out of step with America. President Clinton shares a view of America held by our country’s elites, a nation of special interest groups, united only by a dependence on government, competing with each other for handouts, and held back by outdated values. Now, for those who hold this view there is only one answer for our problems, more government, bigger government, and more meddlesome government. And if you listen closely tonight, that’s what President Clinton talked about.