Podium: Bill Clinton - You have rarely had it so good

From the State of the Union address delivered by the President to the United States Congress
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The Independent Culture
MR SPEAKER, Mr Vice President, members of the 105th Congress, distinguished guests and my fellow Americans. For 209 years, it has been the president's duty to report to you on the state of the union. Because of the hard work and high purpose of the American people, these are good times for America. Our leadership in the world is unrivalled.

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is strong. However, with barely 700 days left in the 20th century, this is not a time to rest.

It is a time to build - to build the America that is within reach. An America where everybody has a chance to get ahead with hard work, where every citizen can live in a safe community, where families are strong, where schools are good and where all our young people can go on to college.

An America where our scientists find cures for diseases from diabetes to Alzheimer's to Aids.

An America where every child can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed. An America which leads the world to new heights of peace and prosperity. This is the America we have begun to build.

We are moving steadily towards an even stronger America in the 21st century, an economy that offers opportunity, a society rooted in responsibility and a nation that lives as a community.

Americans in this chamber and across our nation have pursued a new strategy for prosperity: fiscal discipline to cut interest rates and spur growth. Investments in education and skills and science and technology and transportation to prepare our people for the new economy. New markets for American products and American workers.

For three decades, six presdents have come before you to warn of the damage deficits pose to our nation. Tonight I come before you to announce that the federal deficit, once so incomprehensibly large that it had 11 zeros, will be simply zero. I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget in 30 years.

Here's the really good news: if we maintain our resolve, we will produce balanced budgets as far as the eye can see.

Let us say - let us say to all Americans watching tonight - whether you're 70 or 50 or whether you have just started paying into the system - social security will be there when you need it.

I also want to say that all the American people who are watching us tonight should be invited to join in this discussion. In facing these issues squarely. In forming a true consensus on how we should proceed. We will start by conducting non-partisan forums in every region of the country.

And I hope that law-makers of both parties will participate.

Last year, from this podium, I said that education has to be our highest priority. I laid out a 10-point plan to move us forward and urged all of us to let politics stop at the schoolhouse door.

Since then, this Congress, across party lines, and the American people have responded in the most important year for education in a generation.

I have something to say to every family listening to us tonight. Your children can go on to college. If you know a child from a poor family, tell her not to give up. She can go on to college. If you know a young couple struggling with bills, worried they won't be able to send their children to college, tell them not to give up - their children can go on to college.

If you know somebody who's caught in a dead-end job and afraid he can't afford the classes necessary to get better jobs for the rest of his life, tell him not to give up - he can go on to college.

Because of the things that have been done, we can make college as universal in the 21st century as high school is today. And, my friends, that will change the face and the future of America.

We have opened wide the doors of the world's best system of higher education. Now we must make our public elementary and secondary schools the world's best.

A strong nation rests on the rock of responsibility. A society rooted in responsibility must first promote the value of work, not welfare. We can be proud that, after decades of finger-pointing and failure, together we ended the old welfare system. And we're now replacing welfare checks with paychecks. Child care is the next frontier we must face to enable people to succeed.

We must work together, learn together, live together, serve together. On the forge of common enterprise, Americans of all backgrounds can hammer out a common identity. God bless you and God bless the United States.