September 15, 1999

This is an important time for the American people. Congress is back in session, and expected to tackle many of the issues that affect our citizens in very direct ways -- from taxes, to health care, retirement, education, campaign finance reform and the minimum wage. We should all pay close attention to the deliberations, because the decisions made by our representatives will have real and long-lasting consequences, and will determine whether we continue along the road to security and prosperity, or return to the short-sighted and ill-advised policies of the past.

Under my husband's leadership, this country has witnessed the creation of 19.4 million new jobs, the longest peacetime expansion, and the largest budget surplus in history. The latest economic reports show unemployment dropping to 4.2 percent, the lowest rate since January of 1970.

In order not to squander this hard-won prosperity, we must commit ourselves to saving Social Security and strengthening and modernizing Medicare. We must pay down our debt, continue to improve educational and economic opportunity, and inject new investment in areas still untouched by our recovery. And we must do these things now.

A proposed increase in the minimum wage is a good example. Working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, a minimum-wage worker earns just $10,300 annually -- not enough to makes ends meet for many families, and below the poverty level for a family of four. The President and Democratic members of Congress have proposed an increase of $1 -- from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour -- over two years, which would boost a family's income by an additional $2,000.

Although critics traditionally predict that raising the minimum wage is bad for business and benefits mostly middle-income teenagers, the evidence points in the opposite direction. Since the last increase three years ago, more than 8 million new jobs have been added to the economy, and unemployment has declined. And of those who would benefit, 70 percent are adults, and three-fifths are women, many of whom are the sole breadwinners in their households.

Raising the minimum wage will be considered as the Senate debates bankruptcy reform -- another bill that will have far-reaching implications for America. Bankruptcy reform is in order, and anyone who can repay a portion of his debts should be required to do so. Bankruptcy reform, however, should be balanced, and should require greater responsibility from creditors and debtors alike.

As we approach the end of the federal government's fiscal year on Oct. 1, lawmakers must pass the 13 appropriations bills to fund the government for the next 12 months. As I write this, members of Congress are woefully underfunding programs like education and health care. In other areas, they are cutting key programs altogether.

I am appalled that one of the bills passed by the House cuts entirely one of the great success stories of the last five years -- AmeriCorps. Since 1994, with broad bipartisan support, AmeriCorps has given over 100,000 young people the opportunity to serve. It has enabled Americans from every walk of life to work together to revitalize our neighborhoods and our schools.

Cutting funding for AmeriCorps sends exactly the wrong message to our young citizens who want to make a difference in their communities, and the President has promised a veto if funding is inadequate.

Not only is AmeriCorps in jeopardy, but other important programs are threatened by another bill the President has vowed to veto -- the Republican tax cut bill. This risky proposal does nothing to save Social Security or modernize and strengthen Medicare. Moreover, in 2009, the Republican plan would slash domestic programs across the board by nearly 50 percent.

Cuts of this magnitude could mean roughly 425,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start, over 7,000 fewer FBI agents protecting our streets, and the elimination of funding for all toxic-waste cleanup projects nationwide. The costs of this tax cut would explode just as the baby boom generation begins to retire, Medicare is projected to become insolvent, and Social Security begins to come under significant strain.

Now is not the time to abandon our elderly, our children and our future for the sake of short-term political gain. Now is the time to adopt a budget plan that addresses critical priorities, such as Social Security and Medicare, and takes action on the other important challenges facing our country.

Now is the time to pass common-sense gun measures to prevent youth violence and keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals. Now is the time to pass a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights. Now is the time to rebuild and modernize America's schools. And now is the time for Congress to keep its promise to hire 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes.

We can meet our most pressing national needs. That's what the American people want, and that's what Congress should give them.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at