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Last year, President Clinton’s State of the Union address came just as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was exploding into public view. Clinton nevertheless gave a rousing speech, memorable for his call to “save Social Security first.” This year, the address came as Clinton stands trial in the Senate. Once again, he avoided any mention of his political troubles, instead stressing that the country’s prosperity must be used to prepare for the burden of a rapidly aging population in the next century. President Clinton addresses certain major topics in the State of the Union addresses each year. The address delivered on January 19, 1999 was about ‘A Stronger 21st Century America.’
The state of the nation's economy is strong, indeed. Moreover, we have a duty to keep it strong. The Year 2000 problem will hit us in 346 days, whether we're ready or not. Paying only lip service to the issue will not make it go away. The president needs a real plan to ensure that our nation's closely entwined computer networks are ready. Maintaining our strong economy, in the face of international uncertainty, requires our government to relieve American families from the highest-ever peacetime tax burden that today makes the tax payers unable to save for their retirements and their children's education.
Keeping the economy strong means keeping government's hands out of the stock market. Consider the potential for abuse if the federal government controlled $700 billion of investments in private companies -- 10 times the assets of the largest mutual fund. The 'independent board' that overseas the management of the hundreds of billions of investment dollars will be appointed by politicians and be inherently political. Before long, politicians will call for withdrawing funds from any company that doesn't do their bidding. Government ownership of private companies can only create incentives for political corruption. How could corporations and their executives refuse campaign contributions to politicians who, by withdrawing government investment in their company, have the power to undermine their stock price and wipe out their access to capital?
There were positive elements of the president's speech that show potential for moving forward together. I am glad the president acknowledged the need for private accounts to empower individuals to better prepare for their retirement. This is the right path -- more IRAs and fewer IOUs. In addition, I welcome the president's admission that not the entire surplus is needed to save Social Security. He proposes to spend the rest on Washington programs, and we propose to return it to working Americans as tax relief. In all our tax policies, we start from this premise: The people's money belongs to the people, not the government.
Like most Americans, recent news reports led me to believe that we would hear details on the President's missile defense plan. The President's silence alarms me, especially when we live in a world where North Korea shoots missiles over Japan while India and Pakistan test nuclear weapons. Not addressing missile defense sends all the wrong signals to the international community. Published news reports during the month of January had suggested that President Clinton was considering declaring during his State of the Union address that his administration was set to begin funding the first components for a nationwide anti-missile system. However, that was not the case after I had read the full text of the address.
Words may be a comfort, but we need action. There is one thing we can all agree on – one non-negotiable principle . . . we must keep our contract with our senior citizens that depend on Social Security for part or all of their retirement income. This nation made that promise long ago and we will keep that promise. Nevertheless, Social Security needs not just to be saved; it needs to be updated for the 21st century. People today want and expect to have more control over their lives and their money. Nevertheless, President Clinton's approach gives the government more control of your retirement income.