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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks in a Teleconference With the National Governors' Association in Seattle, Washington

1991-08-18

The President. Well, Booth, thank you very much for that kind introduction. Let me also say hello to the Speaker, Tom Foley, who's come back home to his State to welcome the Governors to the Emerald City. My thanks to all of you for letting me come by in this manner, come in by satellite.

Booth, I know as NGA chairman for the past year you've been frequently doing that bicoastal redeye. So, I need to loan you this satellite here. It is the quickest way to travel coast-to-coast: smooth ride, we hope, and no jet lag.

This year's gathering is marked, obviously, by the sadness at the passing of one of your own, I want to say our own, a past chairman of NGA, Governor Richard Snelling. Barbara and I join all of you in expressing our sympathy to the Snelling family, to Dick's wife, Barbara, and their children. Everyone who ever worked with Dick, of every political stripe, knew him to be a man of character and deep commitment. He will be missed by the people of Vermont and by Americans everywhere who value that high standard that he set for the business we're all in, public service.

This is a perfect forum to highlight several issues of urgent concern to all of us. So, let's start with transportation. In just 43 days, the Federal Government's authority to fund highway and transit projects will expire. We need a new 5-year Federal reauthorization bill to maintain and improve our infrastructure.

In just a few hours from now, I'm told you'll hear from Sam Skinner. I've asked Sam to work with the Congress to redouble our efforts to produce a reauthorization bill acceptable to all parties. All levels of government must do more to meet our transportation needs. That's why I've proposed a 39-percent increase in the Federal share for highway spending. But let me be clear: I will veto any bill that includes an increase in the gasoline tax.

The clock is ticking. I urge the NGA to help keep the pressure on, to join me and the Congress to pass this critical bill.

Anyone who knows the NGA knows you've come to Seattle to get things done. Over the past several years, we've forged a partnership between the Federal Government and the States. That partnership has begun to achieve great things in education. Now, we must join forces on the tough issue of health care. Booth, you've led the NGA's task force on health care in crafting a policy on health-care reform. There are good stories in the paper about that today. Your draft policy calls for comprehensive State reforms. It outlines how the Federal Government can encourage innovation. If the NGA adopts such a policy, we want to work with you. We'll do our best to remove Federal obstacles to State-designed solutions.

Health care and transportation are just two of the many issues of our agenda that affect every aspect of American life. But we must face other challenges: making our economy stronger; our streets safe; battling drugs; building a Nation united in its desire to secure peace, prosperity, and opportunity for all Americans.

Today, let me just focus on education and to commend you on the work you've done this year to improve learning in America. It's been nearly 2 years since we met in Charlottesville. There, following in the footsteps of America's truly education President, Thomas Jefferson, we committed ourselves to the ``Jeffersonian Compact.'' That compact led us to establish six national education goals and launched the Nation on a decade-long crusade to improve our schools.

This march toward excellence has many dimensions. In the 2 years since the education summit, two key principles behind our national goals now drive the forces of reform. I'm talking about high expectations and a focus on results.

Some, and I can understand this, but some dismissed our goals as too ambitious. But you and I know if we wanted dramatic improvement, we had to set our sights higher. Improved performance begins with high expectations.

In the future, our students will have to meet or exceed objective, world-class standards. I believe that every child can learn, regardless of background or disability. We want all students to succeed.

Since Charlottesville, a second key principle has shaped our approach to education reform. We must focus on results, build a performance-based education system. Our work with the National Council on Standards and Testing, chaired by Carroll Campbell and Roy Romer, will result in a system of American achievement tests to help us mark our progress. No longer will we measure educational success by the dollars we pour into the process. We'll measure success by the caliber of students our schools produce.

We'll start measuring performance this fall when we release the first national education report card. We won't see the report card until September, but let's not kid ourselves about the news. We know right now that our schools aren't making the grade. That's why your support in addressing this critical problem is so very important.

Today, I'd like to announce that I will be addressing the state of our Nation's education here in Maine on September 3d, as our school season begins. I'm glad Governor Jock McKernan, the new chairman of the Education Commission of the States, will be with us, as I plan to make this the first in a series of such reports.

I also plan to address our Nation's school children on October 1st. And if I might, I'd like to suggest and ask that each of you do the same in your State.

Our summit in Charlottesville focused on results. And now, through the hard work of the National Education Goals Panel, we need to reestablish phase one of the voluntary national testing system. I call it the American Achievement Test. We need this to be ready for the 1993 school year, and we'll continue to work closely with you, the Governors, in meeting this deadline.

Tomorrow, Lamar, your former colleague and now mine, Lamar Alexander, will speak to you about America 2000, our plan to restructure, literally re-invent, America's schools. America 2000 challenges us to do more than tinker with the existing system. It challenges us to mount a national crusade: one that draws its energy from the American people's desire for change; one that enlists and engages parents, corporate and community leaders; one that makes us use the talents, drive, and desire of everyone who has a stake in America's schools. That's why America 2000 deserves the full support of every Governor.

Incidentally -- and it really was very important to us, to me, in getting perspective here -- some time ago, Barbara and I traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, to help launch Colorado 2000, a program for which Governor Romer deserves enormous credit. And thousands of people were ready to join this crusade. What struck me the most was the passion that these people shared, the passion that comes from glimpsing the world of possibilities open to every child.

That passion must spark this great crusade in every State. When I announced America 2000, I said there can be no renaissance without revolution. Well, I'm pleased to tell you today that, State by State, community by community, and school by school, that revolution has begun.

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson called education the keystone of the arch of the American experiment. Education stands as our most enduring legacy, vital to our economic strength, fundamental to our democratic institutions. Education speaks to us, always, as the dream that shapes America's destiny.

Now, as Booth said, we're going to have some give-and-take here. And I really am anxious to hear about your work in Seattle; what's going on in your States. And thank you, Booth. As they say on TV, ``Back to you.''

Governor Gardner. Thank you, Mr. President, for your comments. We have several members here that are looking forward to dialoging with you. I'll just start it off on a light note. I know you're interested in domestic affairs. I have a circumstance where my wife is just picking up golf. Believe it or not, it's true. And if you have any suggestions or comments I might make about her game?

The President. Don't say what I said about Barbara's game. I learned the hard way on that one. I've been vindicated actually, because it was she that said she stunk, not me. But I would suggest kind and gentle comments, Booth, and wish her well. [Laughter]

Governor Gardner. I'll pass that on to her.

I'd like to now call on Governor Ashcroft.

Governor Ashcroft. Mr. President, thank you very much for communicating with us again. Our opportunity to work with you has been most pleasing, particularly your coming to our meetings, hosting the education summit, and being willing to have an open door to us. In particular, I want to thank you for your commitment on the transportation issues.

We do need to reinforce our commitment to infrastructure, but our policy of the NGA calls for States to retain taxing capacity. And I think additional Federal tax would eliminate my ability to raise the right resources at the State level to match Federal resources that would come under a new reauthorized bill. And obviously, it should be a reconstructed bill in my judgment, and I think you're on the right track there. So, I want to thank you for your commitment to protect us from counterproductive Federal intrusion into an important State revenue source on the gas tax.

On a personal note, I've written to all the Governors here about my fondness for Clarence Thomas, with whom I shared an office for 16 months. And you get to know a person pretty well in 16 months sharing the same room with him. I think he's a great nominee, and I hope he has a chance to demonstrate that greatness on the Court.

The President. I think he will. And I know there's been some honest debate on that one. But you know, I don't know if you can see behind me the little tiny former tool shed, I think, and it was standing right here. I must say I got all choked up when I heard Clarence talk about his background. And he did it from the heart; there's no phoniness here. I honestly believe that he'll be a great Justice, and at this juncture I feel he will be confirmed. You might talk to Tom Foley, who's always very fair in these matters, although it's the Senate's business, and get his view. But I think he'll get a shot. I think he'll be given a chance to serve on this Court, and I think he will acquit himself.

It's funny that Missourians, who know him best, seem to be, in a rather nonpartisan or bipartisan matter, the strongest for him. And so, I appreciate your words about him. He's quite a guy, quite a guy.

Governor Romer. Mr. President, Carroll Campbell will report in a moment on the Goals Panel. I want to give you an update on the Council on Standards and Assessment. We met last Thursday and made four decisions that I think are significant.

First, as a council we decided that we would recommend to Congress and to the Goals Panel an achievement system, not one test, but an assessment system where we'd take advantage of the best that the States have now going and develop it as a total system and not just a Federal test.

The second recommendation is that we work with clusters of States, that each State not proceed alone, but they try to group and use some combined efforts to save money and to get the job done better and quicker.

Third, we recommend that we begin at the 4th grade and work toward the 8th and the 12th, rather than reverse; and to begin in the year '93 - '94, which is in keeping with your suggested timetable.

The fourth decision we made was to begin with the subject matter of reading, writing, and arithmetic because those are the most available to us in a quality form by '93 - '94.

And I just wanted to give you that update because it was a lot of action and we did it, I think, expeditiously.

The one other comment I'd like to share with you, Mr. President, is that a number of Governors view the standards and assessment like two pieces of bread on a sandwich, and they're both very important. We do need to set standards, and we do need to assess how well we do. But inside those two pieces of bread we need to fill that sandwich. In other words, we need to cause those students to be able to reach those high achievement levels. And inside that sandwich we need to have obviously better teacher education. We've got to have better instructional materials, textbooks, and other matters. We've got to have better management of the school and substantial reform of the school system.

And so, I think some of my colleagues wanted to share with you -- we need your help, not just in setting the standards and in holding our feet to the fire on assessment but we need your help to fill the middle of that sandwich. Because many of us are having to go back to our taxpayers -- you know, I know Governor Wilson in California did, and many of us are having to go back to our taxpayers and say, you've got to put some things on the table to help us get this job done. You can help reinforce that message at a local level. And I just want to share that with you.

The President. Well, Roy, thanks. And talk to Lamar in a little more detail about this and let us see what we can do. Let me just, without filibustering here -- when you did that statewide program after I saw you with these participants from towns and cities across Colorado, did you run into any resistance to the concept of testing at all?

Governor Romer. No, there's apprehension about testing, but there's not resistance. I think what they're concerned about is that they may have a heavy load laid on them. And say you're going to hold our feet to the fire, but you're not going to give us the resource or the reform to get there. And I think we need to do both.

The President. Okay. I think there's been some resistance, but I don't think it's unmanageable, particularly if we're able to do what you say here. But anyway, thanks.

Governor Campbell. Mr. President, how are you?

The President. Good, Carroll.

Governor Campbell. We have been working very, very diligently trying to get ready to give you a report on the Nation on September 30th. And we'll have a lot of information at that time, and it's going to give us a better idea of where we stand. We do not yet know exactly how to measure goal three. But Roy Romer has been leading the measurement effort. And I've served on that panel with him, and he's making great progress. And we think that we will have the things in '93 - '94 that are necessary, particularly in the 4th grade.

Let me say this: People want to know what we're really testing. We set standards, and then we have to know how to measure against those standards. And it's my belief that the system is going to respond. You made the comment just a moment ago that things are happening all over America. They are. In every State, people are striving to meet the goals on their own. And that's what our effort's about, is to try to stimulate the system to meet these goals. But we need your constant, your sustained effort on this subject and your continued speaking-out to remind and challenge this Nation. Because I think that the Nation is ready to respond. And through your leadership, I think it will respond.

The President. Well, I plan to do that, and if I didn't, Lamar would kill me. And he's pretty much of a taskmaster, but we will be spending a lot of time on it. I think in terms of total commitment of Presidential time, there's been a fair amount so far. But I just keep seeing the need to do more and more, and supplementing what not only the Department is doing under Lamar and David Kearns and some really vital new leadership, but also what the Governors are.

So, I will participate and I will do my level-best. And talk to Tom again. We're going to need help with Congress on how we get some of these initiatives that I know most Governors support, passed through the Congress. But I sense a spirit of real cooperation now and I really know I have to do as much as I possibly can in doing exactly what you've said. So, thanks for the suggestion.

Governor Roberts. Mr. President, I had the opportunity last February, at the Governors' Convention, to talk to John Sununu on two issues that I raised a question with him on: the issue of energy conservation and particularly as it related to the issue of mass transit. Mr. Sununu, at that time, referred me to the about-to-be-released ``national energy policy'' which followed our conference by a couple of days.

With all due respect, Mr. President, I was disappointed in the energy policy, particularly as it related to issues of conservation, which I thought the policy was somewhat devoid of, and as it really pushed on the issue of mass transit in growing city environments that are really being clogged and environmentally affected by the lack of mass transit.

I think my question to you today would be how is this country going to move to be less dependent on foreign oil unless we move aggressively on the issue of mass transit in city areas of this Nation? And I think the flip side of that coin would be how can we become more environmentally sound in this country if policies continue to the degree that I think they are now, to make choices that cause the pollution of air and that encourage the offshore drilling or at least the pressures toward that in States like mine, basically don't encourage American people to save those resources and don't really encourage us to conserve the resources of this country?

The President. Well, of course, Governor, I would disagree with your hypothesis. I think that our energy program does have good sound conservation measures in it. I think our transportation program, I hope it will be helpful in helping unclog the systems here.

But you talk about becoming independent from foreign oil, and then you say no offshore drilling. I don't know whether you realize how much of our domestic oil comes from offshore drilling. It's not off of Oregon, but it's like closing a military base. Everybody wants to close military bases, but they want to close them in the other guy's district or the other guy's State. You want to see the United States independent, and there is no way that you can project energy independence without continuing to, in a sound environmental way, use hydrocarbons.

So, I think, take a hard look at it, analyze it, talk to Jim Watkins, and then let me know specifically where you think it falls short. But your State has some problems that I am very sympathetic to, and I know you're trying to sort out. You started off saying you wanted to mention the environment. I find myself torn between what are extremes sometimes, but are really a choice between environment and people working. And that may be an oversimplification, but there's an awful lot of people in your State, and a lot of people in the State I'm sitting in right now, who feel that maybe we're leaning too far over on the side of environment.

So, I just want to say I am committed. I think I know something about the energy business. I think we are making headway. This reformulated gasoline for cars, I think we're doing well there. I don't want to shut down the auto industry. I don't want to impose these rigid CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards. Some environmentalists say that's the answer, to conserve. I tell you, we are concerned about jobs, and I just don't want to go to the extreme.

But look, I accept your constructive comments or criticism if you will. And we'll take a look every way we can to see that we're doing our level-best. But I would enlist your help and your suggestions from your State as to what I should tell the people that write in that are getting thrown out of work by some of the extreme positions in the environmental mode. So, please help us on that one.

I don't think you and I are far apart on it. I did a little homework here, but maybe we are. But it's a tough one out there. I'm talking about the endangered species -- I'm off of the energy thing a little bit. But we've got to find our way, and we've got to do it without throwing an awful lot of people out of work. And yet, I think our clean air bill was a major step forward. I think we've got other environmental initiatives that I think can help in this regard.

But look, this country cannot instantly turn to sun and wind and solve all our problems. Someday maybe we can do that, and I think we've got some good research money in our program to do that.

But let's keep talking about it. Let's keep in dialog on it. Because, look, I'm not saying we've got all the answers, but I do think we have a pretty well-balanced energy program. It's being attacked from both sides, so it must have something to recommend it.

Governor Roberts. Thank you, Mr. President.

Governor Weld. Mr. President, we in Massachusetts are very excited about the North American free trade agreement that you are negotiating with Canada and Mexico. We think it's going to enable us to increase our production and our exports and create a lot of jobs, and we think it's going to be good for the country to be part of a 600-million-person market so we can compete with Europe starting in 1992.

Some people, as you know, have criticized the agreement because of environmental problems in Mexico and wage rates in the other countries. I know that you have dealt personally with both President Salinas and Prime Minister Mulroney on these issues. Can you tell us, so that we can help to persuade our people, based on your personal work with them, on what basis we can say that we envision that so far from costing us jobs or hurting our economy, this agreement is going to be a real stimulus and lead to job creation in the American States?

The President. I can. And first, the guy sitting not too far from you is my monitor -- I'm looking down now instead of at you, looking to see where the Speaker is. I expect he's off to your right, I don't know. But in any event, he can tell you that if we bring back a trade agreement negotiated with Mexico that is not considerate of the disparity in wages or does something to exacerbate those differences, and does not produce environmental change, why, that bill won't pass. The agreement won't pass. All we got was the right to negotiate on the so-called Fast Track. And so, there's some checks and balances that I think properly lie in the United States Congress.

But some felt in the debate, Governor, that we shouldn't do anything with Mexico along these lines until Mexico had cleaned up its environment and stopped polluting the rivers and brought themselves up into the, roughly to the standard area where we are. It was my feeling and the feelings of the majority in the Congress that we ought to go ahead now, get the Fast Track, negotiate, and hopefully, through expanded trade, Mexico would gain the wherewithal to do much more in the way of environment.

But you put it on a personal basis. Carlos Salinas is committed unlike any previous President, I think Tom will confirm this, to improving the environment for his people. And again, at the risk of being not only repetitious but maybe perhaps emotional about it, when he told me that the school kids in Mexico painted in the sky at night in their classes, 1st-grade classes, with no stars and no moon. And he said my ambition is to have those children paint in the stars and the moon because they can see them so clearly every night.

And I think most people that have followed it will tell you he's moving in that direction. He is a new breed, a young aggressive leader, and I think in the environment he will do exactly what we're talking about.

In terms of labor disparity, it is my belief that increased trade will raise wage standards in Mexico, rather than drag them down. It's isolation and it's degradation and it's excessive poverty that keeps the wage rates disproportionately low. And I think there's plenty of examples to prove it. But you're on to the two key points of this agreement. And we will do our level-best to hammer out a very sound one.

And you know, on this one, we had difference with many of the trade unions. They just differed and felt that, look, this is going to export jobs. I think it's going to increase jobs in the United States because of the vigorous increase in exports that we'll see.

So, there's some big problems out there. I've got confidence in our negotiators. And I have great confidence in President Salinas of Mexico. And we will do our level-best to bring to Tom Foley and the others an agreement that does take care of the two areas which are the two most significant areas of debate in this FTA [free trade agreement] with Mexico.

But I agree with you, it's a good, important step that's been taken by the Congress and the administration, and now we've got to flesh it out.

I might say parenthetically, and I'd ask for the Governors' support on this one, help us, with your European friends and your sister cities and whoever it is, get this trade agreement going for the GATT. The big, broad picture of booming international trade depends on a successful conclusion to the Uruguay round. And we're still having enormous difficulty with Europe, particularly on agriculture. And so, a lot of you go over there with trade missions, a lot of you know those leaders, and please at every turn, emphasize the need to move forward with agricultural reform. Because if we don't get that, there will not be a successful conclusion to the Uruguay round. I wouldn't be a part of it, and I wouldn't ask that Tom Foley and the leaders in the Senate be asked to vote on a treaty that leaves agriculture sitting off on the side.

So, we need the help of every American leader to convince these European, particularly Europe, European leaders that the best way to help undeveloped countries, the best way to guarantee an increase in the world economy is to get a successful conclusion to the GATT round. So it's FTA with Mexico, but it's also the Uruguay round.

Governor Weld. Thank you, Mr. President. Tom Foley, as you spied on your monitor, is here to my right -- --

The President. Now I see him.

Governor Weld. -- -- and he sends you his greetings. And we all thank you on behalf of all the Governors for being with us today.

The President. Well, do you want a little recreational report for Governor McKernan, and Governor Weld can eat his heart out? I don't know if Governor Gregg is there. I think my cousin caught a 14-pound bluefish today. It's about to rain like hell on us here, it looks like, because we may catch some of Carroll Campbell's business, or maybe it's in North Carolina, but I'm worried a little bit about the hurricane.

But I appreciate your willingness to entertain my appearance in this manner. It's a good way to do it.

Tom, I'm looking forward to seeing you and Heather when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is here, and I hope the regional Governors will be able to join us. I use this unusual invitational method to say to the new Governor of Vermont, if he's there, he's most welcome to come over. But I'm enjoying this rest and I expect, like all of you feel, you should take a little R R. So, I'm not faking it. It's not a business trip. Thank you so much, and thanks for letting me come over this way.

Note: The President spoke at 4:03 p.m. from his home in Kennebunkport, ME, via a two-way video and audio hookup with the meeting in Seattle. During the teleconference, the following persons were referred to: Governor Booth Gardner of Washington; Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives and his wife, Heather; late Governor Richard Snelling of Vermont; Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner; Governors Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, Roy R. Romer of Colorado, and John R. McKernan, Jr., of Maine; Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander; Governor John D. Ashcroft of Missouri; Clarence Thomas, nominee for Supreme Court Associate Justice; Governor Pete Wilson of California; David T. Kearns, Deputy Secretary of Education; John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; Governor Barbara Roberts of Oregon; Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins; President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico; Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada; Governors William F. Weld of Massachusetts and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire; Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom; and Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.

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