MRS. CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you
for that warm welcome. Thank you for all that you have done and are
doing every single day across this country for our children. Thank
you for your leadership at the local, state and national level on
behalf of education and other issues that affect our children and our
nation's future. Thank you, Keith Geiger, for your leadership and
for your commitment to making this country be what it should be for
our children. And thank you all for honoring me with the Mary
Hatwood-Futrell* Award that Keith delivered.
I was honored to receive it and very pleased to have a
chance to visit with Keith recently when he came to the White House
to deliver it on behalf of the NEA. I am also delighted to be here
with all of your officers and your wonderful staff in Washington.
And I'm pleased that I could bring with me one of your former staff
members, Debra Delee*, who is now doing an excellent job at the
Democratic National Committee.
I was fortunate enough to view the video that you just
saw, and it was a little difficult for me seeing again the faces of
the people whom I have met, particularly the children who read their
letters about health care. And I was very pleased that you had a
chance also to see their faces and to hear their words and to know
how deep their concerns are.
But you know that because you see children on a daily
basis. You understand that our nation's obligation to improve the
health and education of our people is not simply an economic or
political imperative. It is a moral imperative. It speaks to our
basic humanity and who we are as a people.
And that is why, with your help, this President has
proposed a comprehensive agenda to safeguard the future of America's
children. And I want for a minute just to focus on what you and the
President and supportive members of Congress have already
accomplished, particularly in the field of education.
If we think back to two years ago when my husband was
running for president, and when he came and spoke to many of you, we
did not believe then that we would have 3 million new jobs as we do
today, 18 months into a new administration. We did not believe then
that we would begin to get our fiscal house in order and see the kind
of decline in the deficits that is real and absolutely putting us on
the right track. We did not believe then we would see the list of
legislative accomplishments that were listed on the video ranging
from beginning to get some control over handguns in this country
through the Brady bill and the ban on assault weapons.
We did not think we would have the kind of legislative
achievements that someone who told you, as my husband did, that he
wanted to be the education president, could achieve in a relatively
short period of time. But the record speaks for itself, and despite
often people's attempts to deny or distort what you and this
administration are accomplishing.
Finally, if you are, as I am, a believer that the truth
wins out, then the truth is winning in America and will continue to
win on behalf of the people of this country.
The President promised a lifelong learning system. And
with only a few months to go in the 103rd Congress, look at what has
already been achieved to realize that vision. The Corporation for
National and Community Service will be placing 20,000 young people in
our communities and our neighborhoods to do national service starting
this fall, thanks to you and your support for national and community
We have reformed the Head Start program and reauthorized
it. And because of that, we will, if we see our reauthorization
through and achieve the appropriations we require, many thousands
more young children having a chance for a real head start for their
We have with your help and guidance achieved a landmark
piece of educational legislation with the Goals 2000 education
legislation to educate America. It is a piece of legislation that
does not tell you from the top of Washington what you should be doing
in your classrooms and in your schools. It sets goals and standards,
but then, because of this President's belief that the best solutions
for education reside in the interactions between children and their
teachers and among teachers working together, it says you figure out
how to achieve these standards. You are the real experts in
education in America.
But let me warn you -- there are forces at work in this
country who do not believe in you and do not believe in our children
and do not believe this country should have goals for our education
system that you and our children achieve together. Those forces want
to undo the work that is represented in Goals 2000. I ask you to
stand firm for the President's vision that this country can achieve
goals because we have dedicated educators, concerned parents, and
students who want to learn and can do so if given the encouragement.
This President's vision has already resulted in the
School to Work Opportunities Act. What a great piece of legislation,
that again, you helped achieve. For too long, the children who do
not go on to college, the forgotten half who do not share the kind of
final educational experience that most of us in this hall do,
carrying our four-year degrees out of our colleges, for too long
those young people have been ignored by our education and social
systems. And it is finally time, and this President understands it,
when we hold out a hand to young people who want the additional
skills and training, not every person has to go to college to be a
success. Let's give success to these young people who can serve
their country and their families.
And for all who do want to go on to college, one of the
most important pieces of legislation that has been be passed in 50
years was passed in this Congress again, thanks to the President's
vision and to your help. We finally now have cut through the red
tape, the bureaucracy, the extra administrative costs, to create a
system that will permit direct lending for college loans to the young
people who need them in order to go on to college to realize their
own personal dreams.
That is what has been achieved, and I do not know any
president or any secretary of education or any group of people who
are concerned about education as you are, who have more to be proud
of because of what has been achieved. But we face two more
legislative challenges before Congress adjourns.
First, we have to complete work on the reform and
reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It
has passed the House of Representatives; it awaits action in the full
And we also have to work to create support for the
Reemployment Act of 1994 which will give workers an alternative to
what we now call the unemployment system. We don't need an
unemployment system in America. We need a reemployment system in
And finally, we face the challenge of funding adequately
the education and training reforms such as Head Start and Goals 2000
that has already been passed in the Congress. We understand, and my
husband understands, because he was the first president in many years
to present a responsible budget with trustworthy numbers. He was the
first president to present three budgets in a row with declining
deficits for the first time since Harry Truman was president.
So he understands what it means to be fiscally
responsible, but he also understands that within those fiscal
restraints, there is no better investment than to invest in the
education and training of all of our children from preschool all the
way through their working lives. And we need your help to make that
So much has been accomplished despite the naysayers,
despite the pessimists, despite those who deny reality. But we still
have a long way to go before we can honestly say we have created an
environment where no child will be left behind, where every child
will be given the kind of security and education and health care that
that child needs. But we are beginning to put together not only the
vision but the structure to make that happen so that our children
will be better educated, they will be safer, they will be able, if we
pass the crime bill once and for all after seven years of trying to,
walk to school in safety again, to play in parks in safety again.
But as part of that vision that the President has talked
about, we know that too many of our children come to school every day
without adequate health care. Too many of our children face problems
because of health in their families where the families are not secure
or able to provide for their children. Health care should be, must
be, can be a right for every American if we act and we act now.
All of you know, because you see the children of our
country, why we are struggling so hard to achieve what is called
universal coverage, what the President calls guaranteed insurance for
every American. You see the stories. Every one of you, whether
you're a teacher, administrator, a cafeteria worker, a school bus
driver, or anyone else who works to keep our schools going every day,
you have a story that you could tell.
I have more stories than I wish I had. I have been
privileged for more than 25 years to work on behalf of children's
needs. I have been in and out of schools and hospitals, in and out
of homes and community centers. I have looked into the eyes of far
too many children whose health needs are not being met. I have
listened to far too many parents who tell me how they cannot manage
to meet their own children's health needs.
I don't want to have to keep hearing these stories. I
don't want to have to keep receiving the now more than 1 million
letters from children and mothers and fathers that I have read. And
yet, I know that the struggle to insure every American is far from
over, despite how much progress we have made toward that goal. In
many respects, it is now just beginning as we move to the House and
Senate floors with bills that will guarantee health care coverage and
have to fight through the opposition to that goal.
I want to speak for just a few minutes about what we
should be trying to achieve. You understand it. The NEA and many of
you in your local and state affiliates have supported health care
reform, and I am very grateful. It has made a difference. But now
we must redouble our efforts. Because, as with any significant piece
of social legislation, you will face very strong and organized
I heard Keith say, as in so many ways, Eleanor Roosevelt
was here before I. She was here before most of us. In her
persistent articulation of what needs to be fixed in America, she
pricked our consciences. It has been said that what she did was to
comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And that is what makes her live in our memories and why
she is such an example to millions of people all over the world
today. Because she used her position of privilege, her position to
speak out on behalf of those who had no voice. You must do the same.
You must join with the President, me, all of us in Washington who are
trying to give voice to the literally millions and millions of
Americans for whom this debate over health care reform is not
apolitical issue, not an abstract, academic discussion, but literally
a matter of life or death.
Who are these Americans? How do we think about them? I
suggest you look to your right, your left, in front of you and behind
you. Because the Americans of whom I speak are all of us. There is
not one of us who has the security in this, the greatest of all
countries and economies, that we will have health insurance at an
affordable price when we need it at any time in our lives now and
into the future. For too many Americans, they are one job away from
not having health security. They are one divorce away from not
having it. They are one illness or accident away. No one in America
except the very rich are secure. And that is wrong. Every American
deserves health security.
This debate will come down to whether or not the
Congress of the United States is able to hear and see the problems in
front of their eyes and extend health insurance coverage to every
American or whether they will hear the well-organized voices of
opposition. But that is the way it has always been. Think back. At
every point when we were attempting to provide security for every
American, we heard the same arguments against doing that. Social
security was an issue in the eyes of the opposition that would
bankrupt America, would make people lazy, give them no incentive to
work to save for their old age. Every argument you hear today was
heard then 60 years ago. Thankfully, we had members of Congress who
heard and acted on what they saw in front of their eyes -- namely,
that older people in American deserve to have their retirements
And then 30 years later, we face the same opposition
with Medicare. Medicare was going to absolutely destroy our American
way of life, destroy American medicine and our health care system.
Thankfully, we had leadership that saw what was happening with older
Americans and acted to provide them with health security. We've
heard the same arguments when it comes to the minimum wage. Oh, my
goodness, if you raise the minimum wage, no businesses will be able
to continue. Small business will be bankrupted. There will be no
opportunities for economic expansion.
Again, the opposition was wrong and the people who care
about what happens to ordinary, average working, middle-class
Americans were right. And what we have to do is to build on social
legislation like social security, Medicare, the minimum wage, all of
which made America stronger to make sure we give universal health
care coverage to every American because that will make America
stronger as well.
Now during the next weeks, people will say, well, we
don't really need universal coverage. We can get by without it.
Well you know that that is just not the case. Universal coverage is
essential to help control and contain health care costs. Without it,
those of you in this hall who have health insurance will continue to
subsidize people who do not. You will continue to pay for those
whose employers and those employees do not pay for themselves. That
is not fair.
If you have everyone in the system, you can begin to
make sure that costs do not get shifted from the uninsured and the
underinsured to those of us with insurance. That is the kind of
system that will make it possible for us to take care of more people,
to emphasize primary and preventive health care, to make sure that we
retain choice because we will have a system in which individuals will
get to choose who their doctor is, to make sure that what we do will
put us on a firm financial footing for the future.
And yet there will be those who say, no, we cannot do
this. It will not work. Let me suggest to you there's a very simple
set of questions to ask. Those who say universal coverage will not
work, ask them if they want to repeal social security or Medicare.
Ask them if they're willing to give up on what those two programs
have done to make Americans secure. If you hear from members of
Congress that they do not believe that hard-working, middle-class
Americans should have health insurance coverage, ask them then why
they have figured out a way to give members of Congress guaranteed,
affordable health care coverage.
Some members of Congress do not like it when I say that.
They do not like it when I suggest that you ask your member of
Congress, especially those who are not in favor of universal
coverage, why they can do it for themselves and not for your
neighbors, friends and relatives. But for those members of Congress
who are fighting hard to give Americans what they have which is
guaranteed, affordable health care coverage, make sure they know that
you will recognize their commitment and help support them in the
battles to come.
If you strip away all of the rhetoric, what you have
basically are several camps of opponents. You have opponents who
ideologically do not believe that we should extend health care
coverage to every American. I respect that position, but I think
they are dead wrong, and they are not living in the real world that
you and I see every single day.
There are opponents of health care reform who are
concerned that health care reform, especially building on our
employer-employee system, will cost jobs. Remind them that that was
the same argument used against social security, Medicare, and the
minimum wage, and it never, ever was proved to have any effect. What
we are asking for is health security for everyone in a private system
where the employers and the employees bear their fair share. That is
an American solution to the health care system problem that we
confront in our country.
And finally, there are opponents, who for their own
political purposes, do not want this president to continue the
success he has enjoyed for the last 18 months. They want to turn
back the clock to a time when the rich were taken care of, the poor
were subsidized, but everybody in the middle was basically left out.
This president ran for the presidency because he was sick and tired
of everybody in this country who works hard for a living, plays by
the rules, makes a contribution, being forgotten in Washington. And
that is why he has worked so hard to change this national agenda.
But unless Americans understand what is at stake in this
health care debate and how many issues are wrapped up in it, then the
opponents will think they have a free ride, that they can continue to
be negative, they can continue to say no, they can continue to feed
gridlock and partisanship when what this country needs is to move
beyond politics as usual, to move beyond partisan rhetoric. Health
care is not a political issue. When you look in the eyes of a sick
child, you are not looking at a Republican or a Democrat, you are
looking at an American who deserves to be taken care of.
And so as we leave this hall, as you finish your
assembly in a few days, please take home to every corner of this
great country why you personally and why the NEA and why a majority
of Americans favor universal coverage. In every single poll that has
been done, more than 70 percent of Americans know what is right --
that is, universal coverage built on employer-employee system that
And explain to your friends and neighbors that this is
not just an economic issue -- although it is that -- it is because we
are spending more money than we need to on our health care system.
We can do better. We can actually extend care to more people if we
are more efficient and careful and if we emphasize primary and
preventive health care and begin to convince people that the
emergency room is not their family doctor. We can save money and do
a better job.
And tell your friends and neighbors that it's also a
social issue. You know sometimes people say, and I know they write
about me, they say, you know, I get so intense, I get so serious, you
know, all of that. I really do have a sense of humor. I promise.
But it's hard for me to be humorous about the problems I see in the
health care system. I don't know how to make a joke out of the
stories that I've heard. I don't know how anyone can ignore what all
of us see. This is a social problem that needs to be resolved. It
is not fair -- (Tape ends.)