"A New Approach"
Knoxville, Tennessee, June 8, 2000
George W. Bush
Thank you very much. It is good to be in Knoxville.
It has been almost a year since my campaign began. Since that first trip to Iowa, I have laid out my agenda for America both at home and abroad. My goals for America are clear. To make sure that every child is educated, by returning high standards and accountability to public schools. To bring more economic growth and opportunity, by reducing the income tax burden on all Americans - especially those aspiring to the middle class. To keep our commitment to elderly Americans, and generations to come, by saving and strengthening social security. To keep the peace, by building a national missile defense, modernizing our military, and establishing clear principles for the use of our power in the world.
These are things that must be done, the nation's pressing business.
Today I want to talk about the way we conduct the nation's
business. Many Americans believe that Washington's way of doing
things just isn't working. That government's purposes are too
often forgotten, and opportunities too often squandered - resulting
in too few results.
In so many ways, America in the year 2000 is the picture of success. Our economy is more competitive than ever - more efficient. Our technologies are marvels of creativity. Throughout the private sector, we're seeing what people can accomplish with strong leadership, clear goals, fair dealing, and cooperation.
This could hardly be said of the federal government. There is too much argument in Washington and not enough discussion. Too much polling and not enough decision making. Too much needless division, not enough shared accomplishment. Not enough final acts and resolutions, and lasting achievements. There is blame enough to go around. I do not dismiss the serious disagreements that are part of politics, but the reality is that Americans look upon this spectacle and don't like what they see. They know that this is not the way the world's great power should conduct its affairs. I agree with them. It's time for change.Consider, by contrast, many of our state and local governments, where the best ideas and boldest reforms of the last decade have taken place. All across America, governors, state legislators, and city officials have laid partisan differences aside and done what they were elected to do - serve the people.
In New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought order and civility back to the streets - cutting crime rates by 50 percent. In Cleveland, Mayor Michael White's bipartisan leadership has led to a revitalized downtown area and a higher quality of life similar to Mayor Ash, here in Knoxville.In Wisconsin, Governor Tommy Thompson led bipartisan reform and proved that welfare dependence could be reversed - reducing the rolls in his state by 91 percent similar to Governor Sundquist, here in Tennessee.
In Texas, we never lack for partisan battles. Texas is a two-party state where tough politics comes naturally. But when it counts, we work to put the public interest first. In my first term as governor, I worked with a Democratic legislature to reform education, the legal system, juvenile justice, and welfare. These were joint accomplishments of a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. Politics has not been my career. And what I've learned in the private sector has proven true in government: a little good will goes a long way. Good will is earned by respecting your opponents, telling the truth, and leaving yesterday's quarrels behind. And if good will is to prevail, a leader must set the right tone. A leader guided his convictions, not by the counsel of his pollster. A strong leader sets his mind to solving problems, not settling scores. Every successful mayor and governor understands this. And so should the next president.
With just seven months until the end of his term, we will leave our current president to the judgment of history. What matters now is whether the bitterness that now prevails in Washington will continue after his term.There is a clear choice in this campaign, and the people are seeing it in the kind of tone we set, and how we talk about the big issues facing America. Take social security, for example. Recently I laid out a plan, a framework, to guide bipartisan reform in social security, to increase its value and keep our commitments to the elderly. There will be reasonable disagreements on this important issue. Surely, all can agree that this is a serious matter requiring the best efforts of both parties. And yet all we have heard from my opponent are the familiar exaggerations and scare tactics. Ideas he doesn't share are never just the other side of an issue: They are "radical" or "reckless" ideas. Proposals he disapproves of are never just arguable; they are always "risky schemes."
This kind of unnecessary rhetoric is characteristic of the tone in Washington. It's the war-room mentality - the hostile stance, the harsh charges, the lashing out at enemies. We have had eight years of this, and eight years is enough.We need a clean break from the recent past. It is time for leadership that sets a new tone - a tone of respect and bipartisanship.A president can do this. He can refrain from personal attacks, and treat members of both parties with respect. He can reach across the partisan aisle and work with all for the good of the country. In this same spirit, there are some practical steps we can take to change Washington. I am proposing today a set of six specific reforms relating to the budget process, pork-barrel spending, and nominations.
First, the budget process. I will propose that the federal budget be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president into law. As it is now, the president and Congress work separately on their own budget proposals. Only very late in the year do these two branches begin working together on the details. Often their separate budgets are just a prelude to battle. A joint budget resolution signed by the legislative branch and the executive branch would start the process on the right footing, encouraging cooperation, and early agreement on fundamentals.I also support a law putting the entire budget and appropriations process on a biennial basis, as is done in my state and 20 others. If the discord in Washington never seems to end, this is partly because the budget process never seems to end. Lawmakers spend more than half of their time each year wrangling over budget resolutions, reconciliation bills, and appropriations bills. And often, as many legislators will tell you, they've hardly had time to examine the bills before the vote is taken.By putting the process on a two-year schedule, we allow more time for thoughtful debate on the whole range of issues facing the Congress - better oversight of the bureaucracy, confirmations, and other long term concerns.
I will also propose a bill ending the annual threat of shutting down the government. These threats have given both parties some moments we all prefer to forget. Disagreements have become deadlocks, the entire budget process resulting in no budget at all. Americans have had to watch federal agencies close for business and national parks and monuments turn away visitors. These standoffs have undermined public confidence in government. To ensure that the government does not shut down again, here is what I propose.
If an appropriations bill is not signed by October first of the new fiscal year, affected programs would continue to be funded at the level of the president's budget, or the previous year's level as approved by Congress - whichever is lower. Behind this reform is the simple principle that, above and beyond the quarrels of the moment, the United States government has certain basic commitments, and those commitments must be kept. Next, I will address a longstanding source of public irritation and outrage - the wasteful habit of pork-barrel spending.It's often said that one politician's "pork" is another's vital project, one district's "corporate welfare" another district's vital federal investment. But we need a more objective definition of "vital." This confusion is the source of too much waste, and too much haggling, bargaining, and resentment in Washington. We have all heard examples of wasteful spending, such as the $250,000 to research caffeinated chewing gum. Or the 750,000 dollars for grasshopper research. New examples come along every year. The process never seems to change.
I support the establishment of a bipartisan commission to eliminate
pork throughout the federal government. There is bipartisan support
for such a commission, including the backing of Senators McCain,
Thompson, Abraham, and Lieberman. But such an idea needs a presidential
push, which I will give it. This panel will submit to Congress
a list of all spending projects deemed frivolous and unnecessary.
The Congress will then cast a simple "up" or "down"
vote. No amendments, no back-scratching, no logrolling.
Further, to bring fiscal discipline to the budget, I will ask Congress to pass line-item veto legislation.The Supreme Court has made clear how such legislation can pass constitutional muster. Congress cannot give the president a permanent line-item veto. But it can give the president authority to decline to spend wasteful appropriations. As president, I will seek that constitutional authority. And I will use it to prevent spending that fails to serve the public interest. And I will use the unspent money to pay down the national debt.
These reforms can take some of the friction out of our national politics - and justify greater public confidence in Washington. But they are reforms of procedure only. In the end, only the spirit of the lawmakers themselves can bring real change to Washington. Above all else, we must call a truce to politics as combat - where differences of principle give rise to unprincipled attacks on character.A good place to start is the nomination and confirmation process.The Constitution empowers the president to nominate officers of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate. That is clear-cut, straightforward language. It does not empower anyone to turn the process into a protracted ordeal of unreasonable delay and unrelenting investigation
Yet somewhere along the way, that is what Senate confirmations became - lengthy, partisan, and unpleasant. Often they are occasions for pushing larger agendas, having nothing to do with the merits of the nominee. At some memorable low points, hearings have become a gauntlet of accusation, interest-group warfare, and public humiliation. This has done enough harm to the process.The president and the Senate have a joint responsibility here. The president must be prompt in submitting his nominations, and the Senate prompt in acting upon them.
Starting next January, I will make the prompt submission of my presidential nominees a top priority. And I will ask the Senate to act on each nominee I submit within 60 days. I would ask Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to follow this standard regardless of who may be elected next November. Public service is an honorable calling, and there are many now serving in Washington who view it just that way. But their voices are easily drowned out in the din of battle. Instead, the agenda is determined - the tone set - by the loud, the aggressive, the contentious.This should not be the spirit of Washington. This is no way to encourage good people to serve, and no way to build a legacy of accomplishment.
None of us can control how others will conduct themselves. But each of us can control our own actions and our own words. As president, I will set a new tone in Washington. I will do everything I can to restore civility to our national politics - a respect for honest differences, and a decent regard for one another.
Thank you very much.