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President Clinton asks cities to help bring change: says courage to change will ensure bright future.

President Clinton came to the Congressional-City Conference seeking a commitment from local officials to help secure congressional passage of his NLC - endorsed economic recovery plan and make fundamental changes in the way government spends money.

The president also promised delegates a greater voice in his administration's policies during a general session address on Monday, March 8.

"All of you are on the front lines of change," he said. "For a long time you've been making tough choices, struggling to balance your books, trying to spend less on yesterday's mistakes and more on tomorrow's needs."

Without fundamental changes, the president said, the nation will face an annual deficit of $650 billion by the turn of the century, will spend nearly 20 percent of income on health care while insuring fewer people and expend a fifth of federal tax revenues on debt service.

He spoke of the high interest rates, inadequate private sector investment and ill-prepared work force that have stymied economic growth and job creation.

"If we keep on doing business as usual, we'll just stumble into the next century burdened by the baggage of the past," he declared. "But if we have the courage to change, the next 20 years could be the best in our nation's history."

The president noted the enthusiastic reception his plan has received throughout the nation: "All across this country people have been taking off their special interest hats and putting on their thinking caps."

The altruism of Americans he had met on the campaign trail, who sought a means to make ethnic diversity a source of strength or alleviate homelessness, impressed him.

Clinton challenged those who questioned the need for his three- pronged strategy of short-term economic stimulus, long-range investment and deficit reduction, or who felt spending cuts alone would be sufficient.

The president stressed the need to pass the program, intended to create 8 million jobs over four years, as a package, due to the differences in the character of government spending.

"One of the central debates now raging in this capital is whether there is any difference in the kinds of government spending," he said. "Is there a distinction to be made between, for example, spending more for the same health care every year and accelerating the funding of the Surface Transportation Act? Is there a distinction to be made between a subsidy that was justified 50 years ago because we needed more wool in our uniforms and a subsidy that might be justified tomorrow to give to people who start new businesses and new high-tech enterprises to grow jobs for the future?"

He mentioned other initiatives, such as White House staff cuts, a federal employee pay freeze and the appointment of Vice President Albert Gore to review federal programs and agencies in order to identify those which do not work or can be provided better.

The president noted that the 150 specific spending cuts which he has already proposed, such as terminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development designated project program and reducing highway demonstration projects, should save $247 billion, more than the cost of proposed new investments.

He called for doubling the number of housing vouchers, creating a network of community development banks, expanding enterprise zones, building high-speed rails and other job-creating transportation projects and enacting a permanent small business investment tax credit.

"In short, we have to cut and we have to invest," he said. "We have to reject trickle-down economics, and we have to reject tax- and-spend economics. We have to stop spending money on things that don't work, but we have to continue to invest in things that do."

He explained that many of the proposed investments are incentives for the private sector, as the nation cannot afford not to make communities attractive to new businesses and new jobs.

Turning to the deficit, he spoke of its relation to interest rates. "If we can keep [interest rates] down and everybody - all of you and all of the people you represent - will go out and refinance all the debt they've piled up in the 1980s, that will free up another $80 billion to $90 billion to $100 billion this next year to grow this economy."

Clinton called for preparing Americans to meet the challenges of an economy in which there is investment by boosting childhood immunization rates, fully funding Head Start starting this summer and creating 700,000 summer jobs for youth.

"Wouldn't it be nice if in the next election cycle in 1996 no one could argue about Head Start or immunization, they had to argue about something else?" he queried. "I'd like to leave my successor a new set of problems."

He highlighted the program's life-long learning component including revamped student loans and retraining for workers displaced by defense cutbacks.

The president reiterated his vision of putting 100,000 more police officers on the streets of the nation's cities, and announced federal support for local community policing initiatives.

"You've got to be fair to the members of the United States Congress, " he asserted in asking delegates' assistance to secure passage of the program. "We are asking them to do something our country has never tried to do before, which is to hammer the deficit down and increase investment significantly at the same time."

"Let's do something, and let's do it now," he concluded.
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Author:Turner, Laura
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 15, 1993
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