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THE PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

'The People of America Have Been Overcharged'

February 28, 2001

This is the text of President Bush's address to Congress Tuesday night as released by the White House.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress:

It is a great privilege to be here to outline a new budget and a new approach for governing our great country.

I thank you for your invitation to speak here tonight. I want to thank so many of you who have accepted my invitation to come to the White House to discuss important issues. We are off to a good start. I will continue to meet with you and ask for your input. You have been kind and candid, and I thank you for making a new president feel welcome.

The last time I visited the Capitol, I came to take an oath. On the steps of this building, I pledged to honor our Constitution and laws, and I asked you to join me in setting a tone of civility and respect in Washington. I hope America is noticing the difference. We are making progress. Together, we are changing the tone of our nation's capital. And this spirit of respect and cooperation is vital--because, in the end, we will be judged not only by what we say or how we say it, but by what we are able to accomplish.

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America today is a nation with great challenges--but greater resources. An artist using statistics as a brush could paint two very different pictures of our country. One would have warning signs: increasing layoffs, rising energy prices, too many failing schools, persistent poverty, the stubborn vestiges of racism. Another picture would be full of blessings: a balanced budget, big surpluses, a military that is second to none, a country at peace with its neighbors, technology that is revolutionizing the world, and our greatest strength, concerned citizens who care for our country and for each other.

Neither picture is complete in and of itself. And tonight I challenge and invite Congress to work with me to use the resources of one picture to repaint the other--to direct the advantages of our time to solve the problems of our people.

Some of these resources will come from government--some, but not all. Year after year in Washington, budget debates seem to come down to an old, tired argument: on one side, those who want more government, regardless of the cost; on the other, those who want less government, regardless of the need.

We should leave those arguments to the last century and chart a different course. Government has a role, and an important one. Yet too much government crowds out initiative and hard work, private charity and the private economy. Our new governing vision says government should be active, but limited; engaged, but not overbearing.

My budget is based on that philosophy. It is reasonable and it is responsible. It meets our obligations and funds our growing needs. We increase spending next year for Social Security and Medicare and other entitlement programs by $81 billion. We have increased spending for discretionary programs by a very responsible 4%, above the rate of inflation. My plan pays down an unprecedented amount of our national debt, and then when money is still left over, my plan returns it to the people who earned it in the first place.

A budget's impact is counted in dollars, but measured in lives. Excellent schools, quality health care, a secure retirement, a cleaner environment, a stronger defense--these are all important needs and we fund them.

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The highest percentage increase in our budget should go to our children's education. Education is my top priority and, by supporting this budget, you will make it yours as well.

Reading is the foundation of all learning, so during the next five years, we triple spending, adding another $5 billion to help every child in America learn to read. Values are important, so we have tripled funding for character education to teach our children not only reading and writing, but right from wrong.

We have increased funding to train and recruit teachers, because we know a good education starts with a good teacher. And I have a wonderful partner in this effort. I like teachers so much, I married one. Please help me salute our gracious first lady, Laura Bush.

Laura has begun a new effort to recruit Americans to the profession that will shape our future: teaching. Laura will travel across America, to promote sound teaching practices and early reading skills in our schools and in programs such as Head Start.

When it comes to our schools, dollars alone do not always make the difference. Funding is important, and so is reform. So we must tie funding to higher standards and accountability for results.

I believe in local control of schools: We should not and we will not run our public schools from Washington. Yet when the federal government spends tax dollars, we must insist on results.

Children should be tested on basic reading and math skills every year, between grades 3 and 8. Measuring is the only way to know whether all our children are learning--and I want to know, because I refuse to leave any child behind.

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