A Q & A With President Clinton

 

President Clinton says e-government via the Internet will strengthen democracy by increasing citizen participation in public affairs and save taxpayers money by making the delivery of public services more efficient.

In a Q. & A., the president also said that in his State of the Union address he will urge expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to help the working poor. Clinton said his new budget will call for $110 billion to provide health insurance to low income families and small businesses.

Following is the full-text of the Q&A:

STATELINE.ORG: Columnist Tom Friedman recently wrote that the "creative destruction" of the Internet is about to hit government, and that the next decade "is going to be as revolutionary and creative a period in American politics as was the period between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787." Do you agree? How do you see the Internet changing government?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I strongly agree that the Internet and information technology has the potential to strengthen our democracy and to make government more open, efficient, and "user-friendly." Thanks to the leadership of Vice President Gore and his commitment to "reinventing government," many federal agencies have made significant progress in using the Internet:

  • People can get information on the latest health research, different medical illnesses and a host of medical resources designed to help people stay healthy from the Department of Health and Human Services's Healthfinder. (http://www.healthfinder.gov)
  • Parents, teachers and students can download high-quality educational resources from the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence -- everything from a children's guide to the U.S. Government, to virtual exhibits on famous inventions, to a virtual tour of John F. Kennedy's birthplace. (http://www.ed.gov/free)
  • College students can track their student loan status on line, reserve a camp site for their spring break, or file a change of address, all at the "Access America for Students" web site. (http://www.students.gov)
  • Entrepreneurs seeking to start their own business can get online help from the Business Advisor sponsored by the Small Business Administration -- include loans, e-mail counseling and mentoring, government contracts, and an opportunity to electronically present their business plan to potential investors. (http://www.business.gov)
  • Using America's Job Bank, developed by the Department of Labor and the Employment Service, people can find their dream job by searching a database that lists over 1.5 million jobs. Employees can search the resumes of over 1.6 million job seekers. (http://www.ajb.org)

I think that the potential payoffs are enormous, and will only increase as more Americans gain access to the Internet, and as Internet technology becomes more versatile and powerful:

  • Citizens will be able to access government information and complete secure transactions with the federal government 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, avoiding the need to wait in line.
  • The efficiency and effectiveness of government will be improved -- with real savings for the American taxpayer.
  • Government information, such as information on local environmental conditions, will be at people's fingertips as opposed to locked away in filing cabinets.
  • Citizens will be able to track legislation and the voting record of their Congressional representatives on the issues that they care most about.
  • Opportunities for "informed participation" at all levels of our government will expand -- with the possibility for increased electronic communication between citizens and their government. People who aren't satisfied with a 2-minute story on the nightly news will be able to explore issues in far greater depth.

To ensure that we make the most of these possibilities, I issued a Presidential Directive on "electronic government" last month, and directed agencies to:

  • Work together to make government information and services much easier to find;
  • Put the top 500 government forms online;
  • Increase the number of government benefits and services that can be securely delivered online;
  • Ensure that federal Web sites are accessible to people with disabilities, and to build good privacy practices into their Web sites; and
  • Conduct a 1-year study to examine the feasibility of online voting.

By working together with the private sector and with non-profit organizations, we have the opportunity to strengthen our democracy in the Information Age, and to make government more open, responsive, and efficient. The Internet of the 21st century will not only be a global electronic marketplace -- it may also become the town square.

STATELINE.ORG: Since states shoulder most of the burden of education costs and they and local school districts are most responsible for setting policy, what more can the federal government do about the slow progress in improving education and the failure to meet the ambitious Goals 2000 that you helped draft in 1989?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: During the past seven years my Administration has worked to reshape the federal role in education to invest more in our schools and demand more from them. We have worked to increase investment in elementary and secondary education and have nearly doubled the federal investment in education since I took office. Federal dollars are now invested in proven strategies for reform such as reducing class size, improving teacher quality, and fixing failing schools.

At the same time, I have consistently supported high standards and accountability to ensure that our students are prepared for success in the 21st century. Although schools are struggling to meet these standards, in setting them we moved the country in the right direction. Eleven years ago, there was a debate about setting high academic standards and whether all students could meet them. Today, 49 states have developed standards and there's consensus that all students can achieve them. Now, we need to build that same consensus around investing to help students reach those standards and holding schools accountable for results. I believe that not expecting high academic achievement from all our children, or allowing students to proceed from grade to grade without mastering appropriate academic material cheats them of the success they deserve.

We must also hold educators at the state and local level accountable for results. Last year I worked to create a fund that helps states and school districts turn around or close low-performing schools and ensure that all students have high quality public school options. This year I will call on Congress again to pass my Educational Accountability Act, which would further raise standards and increase accountability.

STATELINE.ORG: Despite the many successes of welfare reform, evidence has emerged that some families -- albeit a much smaller number than initially predicted -- are falling through the cracks. The Urban Institute has reported that 12 percent of former welfare recipients are not working, do not live with someone who works and are not receiving child support, social security or SSI. There are other similar findings. As you know, states may exempt 20 percent of their caseload from the 5-year time limit. But many states report that those who could easily leave welfare have already done so and that the remaining caseload is largely composed of families that face many barriers to independence. If states reach out to those families who have left the rolls but aren't able to earn a living, the proportion of "very hard-to-serve" will only increase. How can this problem be dealt with?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: In 1992, I promised to end welfare as we know it, and more than three years after the enactment of the welfare reform law, millions of people have moved from welfare to work, and child poverty is at its lowest level since 1980. More than 1.3 million welfare recipients nationwide went to work in 1998 alone; the percentage of adults still on welfare who were working nearly quadrupled between 1992 and 1998 with all fifty states meeting the welfare reform law's overall work requirement; numerous independent studies confirm that people are moving in record numbers from welfare to work; and welfare rolls are down by more than half since 1992 to their lowest level in 30 years. Today, there are 2.2 million fewer children living in poverty than in 1993, and the child poverty rate declined from 22.7 percent to 18.9 percent -- the largest five year drop in nearly 30 years. The overall poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent in 1998, with 4.8 million fewer people in poverty than in 1993.

I believe we can and will help the "hardest-to-serve" still on the welfare rolls as well as those families working to stay off welfare. As a result of record caseload declines, states now have more welfare reform resources per person to invest in those remaining on the rolls and to help those who have left welfare succeed in the workforce, support their children, and avoid returning to welfare. The final welfare reform regulations I announced last April make it easier for states to use welfare reform funds to pay for child care, transportation, and job retention services to help people who have left welfare, stay off the rolls or avoid going on welfare in the first place. We also clarified that such supports for working families would not count toward the five-year time limit for welfare benefits. Along with this flexibility, we are holding states accountable for moving people from welfare to work, and I have urged them to use the resources to invest in those who need the most help.

To help those still on the rolls who need more help moving into the workforce, I fought for and obtained $3 billion in Welfare-to-Work funds in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. These funds help those individuals and communities facing the greatest challenges in making the transition from welfare to work. We've enlisted businesses, civic and faith-based groups, and federal agencies to join in moving people from welfare to work, and all have risen to the challenge: for example, 12,000 companies joined the Welfare to Work Partnership and hired nearly 650,000 people. My Administration has also worked hard to ensure that all working families eligible for health insurance and nutritional assistance get these important work supports. We've put tough child support measures in place to make sure that absent parents who can afford to pay do so, and we're providing resources to help low-income fathers work and pay child support. Since 1992, child support collections have nearly doubled.

To promote and reward work, we've also increased the minimum wage, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, invested in child care and health care for low-income families, provided welfare to work transportation, and secured more housing vouchers to help welfare recipients and other hard-pressed working families move closer to job opportunities.

In this time of unprecedented prosperity, we must redouble our efforts to extend opportunity to all Americans. In the State of the Union address and my new budget, I will put forward a range of initiatives, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, that reward work and responsibility and help more hard-pressed working families who are playing by the rules.

STATELINE.ORG: Some states, such as Massachusetts, Oregon and Illinois, have tried to revive the push for universal health care coverage that you were forced to abandon in 1994, but their efforts have not gone far. Do you think there's a chance for universal coverage anytime in the near future, whether through states or the federal government or a combination of efforts of the two?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: The Vice President and I feel strongly that we should never abandon the quest for affordable, quality health insurance for every American. We must develop policies which build on and improve the health care system on a step by step basis. The budget I will submit to Congress this year will do just that, investing over $110 billion to provide health insurance to low income families and other vulnerable populations and small businesses. If enacted, this investment would be greater than anything that had been accomplished since the enactment of Medicare in 1965. I will do everything I can to get this extremely important step enacted this year.

STATELINE.ORG: You recently created three new national monuments and expanded a fourth in western states and spoke of the effort to free these lands "from the pressures of development and the threat of sprawl for all Americans." At least 35 governors have made statements or proposed legislation sympathetic with "smart growth" policies, which would tend to favor the basic conservation decision. Is your work done on this issue or will you take further steps before leaving office?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Protecting extraordinary lands as national monuments is just one of the ways this Administration is working to preserve America's natural heritage for future generations. A new century poses new conservation challenges. Chief among them is helping our communities save small but precious green space close to home, and grow in ways that enhance every citizen's quality of life. The latest Department of Agriculture figures show that the loss of farmland and other open space more than doubled through the 1990's. Communities across the country are taking action to save the best of what's left, and the federal government must help.

That is why last year Vice President Gore and I launched two new initiatives providing states and communities with new conservation options. Through our Lands Legacy initiative, we secured more than $200 million to help states and communities protect farmland, forests, urban parks, coastland, and other local green spaces. Through our Livable Communities initiative, we secured record funding for mass transit and proposed Better America Bonds, a new financing tool that states and communities could use to improve water quality, redevelop brownfields, and preserve open space.

My budget for the coming year will propose significant increases to strengthen both of these initiatives and to ensure that every community has the opportunity to grow in ways that respect and preserve its natural heritage. We also will continue our efforts to strengthen protections on the federal lands that belong to each and every American, including our plan to protect more than 40 million acres of "roadless" areas on our national forests. Working in partnership with our states and communities, we can fulfill Theodore Roosevelt's vision of leaving this land "a better land for our descendants than it is for us."

STATELINE.ORG: Thank you, Mr. President

 
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