9:18 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, honored guests, my fellow Americans:
We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. (Applause.) Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats. Never before have we had such a blessed opportunity -- and, therefore, such a profound obligation -- to build the more perfect union of our founders' dreams.
We begin the new century with over 20 million new jobs; the fastest economic growth in more than 30 years; the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years; the lowest poverty rates in 20 years; the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates on record; the first back-to-back budget surpluses in 42 years. And next month, America will achieve the longest period of economic growth in our entire history. (Applause.)
We have built a new economy.
And our economic revolution has been matched by a revival of the American spirit: crime down by 20 percent, to its lowest level in 25 years; teen births down seven years in a row; adoptions up by 30 percent; welfare rolls cut in half to their lowest levels in 30 years.
My fellow Americans, the state of our union is the strongest it has ever been. (Applause.)
As always, the real credit belongs to the American people. (Applause.) My gratitude also goes to those of you in this chamber
who have worked with us to put progress over partisanship.
Eight years ago, it was not so clear to most Americans there would be much to celebrate in the year 2000. Then our nation was gripped by economic distress, social decline, political gridlock. The title of a best-selling book asked: "America: What Went Wrong?"
In the best traditions of our nation, Americans determined to set things right. We restored the vital center, replacing outmoded ideologies with a new vision anchored in basic, enduring values: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, a community of all Americans. We reinvented government, transforming it into a catalyst for new ideas that stress both opportunity and responsibility, and give our people the tools they need to solve their own problems.
With the smallest federal work force in 40 years, we turned record deficits into record surpluses, and doubled our investment in education. We cut crime, with 100,000 community police and the Brady law, which has kept guns out of the hands of half a million criminals. (Applause.)
We ended welfare as we knew it -- (applause) -- requiring work while protecting health care and nutrition for children, and investing more in child care, transportation, and housing to help their parents go to work. We've helped parents to succeed at home and at work, with family leave, which 20 millions Americans have now used to care for a newborn child or a sick loved one. We've engaged 150,000 young Americans in citizen service through AmeriCorps, while helping them earn money for college.
In 1992, we just had a road map; today, we have results. (Applause.)
But even more important, America again has the confidence to dream big dreams. But we must not let this confidence drift into complacency. For we, all of us, will be judged by the dreams and deeds we pass on to our children. And on that score, we will be held to a high standard, indeed, because our chance to do good is so great.
My fellow Americans, we have crossed the bridge we built to the 21st century. Now, we must shape a 21st century American revolution -- of opportunity, responsibility and community. We must be now, as we were in the beginning, a new nation.
At the dawn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt said, "the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight...it should be the growing nation with a future that takes the long look ahead." So, tonight, let us take our long look ahead -- and set great goals for our nation.
To 21st century America, let us pledge these things: Every child will begin school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed. (Applause.) Every family will be able to succeed at home and at work, and no child will be raised in poverty. (Applause.) We will meet the challenge of the aging of America. We will assure quality, affordable health care, at last, for all Americans. (Applause.)
We will make America the safest big country on Earth. (Applause.) We will pay off our national debt for the first time since 1835. (Applause.) We will bring prosperity to every American community. We will reverse the course of climate change and leave a safer, cleaner planet. America will lead the world toward shared peace and prosperity, and the far frontiers of science and technology. And we will become at last what our founders pledged us to be so long ago -- one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)
These are great goals, worthy of a great nation. We will not reach them all this year. Not even in this decade. But we will reach them. Let us remember that the first American Revolution was not won with a single shot; the continent was not settled in a single year. The lesson of our history -- and the lesson of the last seven years -- is that great goals are reached step by step,
always building on our progress, always gaining ground.
Of course, you can't gain ground if you're standing still. And for too long this Congress has been standing still on some of our most pressing national priorities. So let's begin tonight with them.
Again, I ask you to pass a real patients' bill of rights. (Applause.) I ask you to pass common-sense gun safety legislation.
(Applause.) I ask you to pass campaign finance reform. (Applause.) I ask you to vote up or down on judicial nominations and other important appointees. (Applause.) And, again I ask you -- I implore you -- to raise the minimum wage. (Applause.)
Now, two years ago -- let me try to balance the seesaw here -- (laughter) -- two years ago, as we reached across party lines to reach our first balanced budget, I asked that we meet our responsibility to the next generation by maintaining our fiscal discipline. Because we refused to stray from that path, we are doing something that would have seemed unimaginable seven years ago. We are actually paying down the national debt. (Applause.)
Now, if we stay on this path, we can pay down the debt entirely in 13 just years now and make America debt-free for the first time since Andrew Jackson was President in 1835. (Applause.)
In 1993, we began to put our fiscal house in order with the Deficit Reduction Act, which you'll all remember won passages in both Houses by just a single vote. Your former colleague, my first Secretary of the Treasury, led that effort and sparked our long boom. He's here with us tonight. Lloyd Bentsen, you have served America well, and we thank you. (Applause.)
Beyond paying off the debt, we must ensure that the benefits of debt reduction go to preserving two of the most important guarantees we make to every American -- Social Security and Medicare. (Applause.) Tonight, I ask you to work with me to make a bipartisan down payment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social
Security Trust Fund so that it will be strong and sound for the next 50 years. (Applause.)
But this is just the start of our journey. We must also take the right steps toward reaching our great goals. First and foremost, we need a 21st century revolution in education, guided by our faith that every single child can learn. (Applause.) Because education is more important than ever, more than ever the key to our children's future, we must make sure all our children have that key. That means quality pre-school and after-school, the best trained teachers in the classroom, and college opportunities for all our children. (Applause.)
For seven years now, we've worked hard to improve our schools, with opportunity and responsibility -- investing more, but demanding more in turn. Reading, math, college entrance scores are up. Some of the most impressive gains are in schools in very poor neighborhoods.
Read Part II here