Today, as of noon, almost half of the federal government employees are idle. The government is partially shutting down because Congress has failed to pass the straightforward legislation necessary to keep the government running without imposing sharp hikes in Medicare premiums and deep cuts in education and the environment.
It is particularly unfortunate that the Republican Congress has brought us to this juncture because, after all, we share a central goal -- balancing the federal budget. We must lift the burden of debt that threatens the future of our children and grandchildren, and we must free-up money so that the private sector can invest, create jobs, and our economy can continue its healthy growth.
Since I took office, we have cut the federal deficit nearly in half. It is important that the people of the United States know that the United States now has proportionately the lowest government budget deficit of any large industrial nation. We have eliminated 200,000 positions from the federal bureaucracy since I took office. Our federal government is now the smallest percentage of the civilian work force it has been since 1933, before the New Deal. We have made enormous progress, and now we must finish the job.
Let me be clear -- we must balance the budget. I proposed to Congress a balanced budget, but Congress refused to enact it. Congress has even refused to give me the line-item veto to help me achieve further deficit reduction. But we must balance this budget without resorting to their priorities, without their unwise cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, in education and the environment.
Five months ago I proposed my balanced budget plan. It balances the budget in the right way. It cuts hundreds of wasteful and outdated programs, but it upholds our fundamental values -- to provide opportunity, to respect our obligations to our parents and our children, to strengthen families and to strengthen America -- because it preserves Medicare and Medicaid, it invests in education and technology, it protects the environment, and it gives the tax cuts to working families for child rearing and for education. Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Washington have put ideology ahead of common sense and shared values in their pursuit of a budget plan.
We can balance the budget without doing what they seek to do. We can balance the budget without the deep cuts in education, without the deep cuts in the environment, without letting Medicare wither on the vine, without imposing tax increases on the hardest-pressed working families in America. I am fighting for a balanced budget that is good for America and consistent with our values. If they'll give me the tools, I'll balance the budget.
I vetoed the spending bill sent to me by Congress last night because America can never accept under pressure what it would not accept in free and open debate. I strongly believe their budget plan is bad for America. I believe it will undermine opportunity, make it harder for families to do the work that they have to do, weaken our obligations to our parents and our children, and make our country more divided. So I will continue to fight for the right kind of balanced budget.
Remember, the Republicans are following a very explicit strategy announced last April by Speaker Gingrich, to use the threat of a government shutdown to force America to accept their cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, to accept their cuts in education and technology and the environment.
Yesterday they sent me legislation that said -- we will only keep the government going, and we will only let it pay its debts if and only if we accept their cuts in Medicare, their cuts in education, their cuts in the environment, and their repeal of 25 years of bipartisan commitments to protect the environment and public health.
On behalf of the American people, I said no. If America has to close down access to education, to a clean environment, to affordable health care, to keep our government open, then the price is too high.
My message to Congress is simple -- you say you want to balance the budget, so let's say yes to balancing the budget, but let us together say no to these deep and unwise cuts in education, technology, the environment, Medicare and Medicaid. Let's say no to raising taxes on the hardest- pressed working families in America. These things are not necessary to balancing the budget. Yes to balancing the budget, no to the cuts.
I know the loss of government service will cause disruption in the lives of millions of Americans. We will do our very best to minimize this hardship. But there is, after all, a simple solution to the problem. All Congress has to do is to pass a straightforward bill to let government perform its duties and pay its debts. Then we can get back to work and resolve our differences over the budget in an open, honest, and straightforward manner.
Before I conclude, I'd like to say a word to the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who will be affected by this partial shutdown.
I know, as your fellow citizens know, that the people who are affected by this shutdown are public servants. They're the people who process our Social Security applications, help our veterans apply for benefits, care for the national parks that are our natural heritage. They conduct the medical research that saves people's lives. They are important to America, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I will do everything I can to see that they receive back pay and that their families do not suffer because of this.
But it is my solemn responsibility to stand against a budget plan that is bad for America and to stand up for a balanced budget that is good for America. And that is exactly what I intend to do.
Thank you very much.
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