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'The state of this union isn't determined in Washington'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Following are excerpts from the Republican response to President Clinton's State of the Union message, delivered by Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla.

THOSE OF US WHO have been sent to Washington have a moral responsibility to offer more than poll-tested phrases and winning smiles. We must offer a serious vision. We must share our intentions. We must make our plans clear. That's my job tonight: to tell you what we believe, what the Republican Party believes, and what we will work for.

We believe first of all that the state of this union really isn't determined in Washington, D.C. It never has been, and it never will be. But for a long time the federal government has been grabbing too much power and too much authority over all the people. And it is those people, it is all of us, who decide the real state of the union.

. . . The strength of America is not in Washington, the strength of America is at home in lives well lived in the land of faith and $$ family. The strength of America is not on Wall Street but on Main Street, not in big business but in small businesses with local owners and workers. It's not in Congress, it's in the City Hall.

And so we have made it our mission to limit the claims and demands of Washington; to limit its call for more power, more authority and more taxes. Our mission is to return power to your home, to where mothers and fathers can exercise it according to their beliefs.

So let me tell you three actions the Republicans will take in the coming year.

Ancient wisdom

First, we can help our country by bringing back the knowledge, the ancient wisdom, that we're nothing without our spiritual, traditional and family values. The Republicans will take action to give those values a bigger place in solving America's problems. After all, our values are more important to our future than any so-called bureaucratic breakthrough. Think about your life and how you built it.

I didn't get my values from Washington. I got my values from my parents, from Buddy and Helen Watts, in Eufaula, Oklahoma. I got my values growing up in a poor black neighborhood on the east side of the railroad tracks, where money was scarce but dreams were plentiful and love was all around. I got my values from a strong family, a strong church and a strong neighborhood. . . .

The Republican Party has been trying to return these values to government, and it hasn't been easy, because for a long time the government has acted as if it didn't have any common sense.

Here's an example: For the past 30 years our nation has spent $5 trillion trying to erase poverty, and the result, as you know, is that we didn't get rid of it at all. In fact, we spread it. We destroyed the self-esteem of millions of people, grinding them down in a welfare system that penalizes moms for wanting to marry the father of their children, and penalizes mom for wanting to save money. Friends, that's not right.

Ladder of opportunity

Last year the Republican Congress moved to reform the welfare system, and for the first time in my lifetime, we're helping people climb the ladder of economic opportunity.

Let me tell you the next step.

hTC A number of my Republican colleagues and I are working on a package called The American Community Renewal Act. It seeks to return government to the side of the institutions that hold communities together: faith, family, hard work, strong neighborhoods. This will help rebuild low-income communities through their own moral renewal and giving them economic opportunity. It also recognizes that faith-based institutions contribute to the healing of our nation's problems.

So our first priority is to bring values back and give them pride of place in our moral and economic renewal. . . .

The second thing Republicans will do is face a problem that demands immediate attention. We must get our government's financial affairs in order. The biggest step in that direction is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that demands that the federal government balance its books.

We are more than $5 trillion in debt. This year we will spend $330 billion on interest payments alone on the national debt. Not one dime of that $330 billion will go to strengthen Medicare, Medicaid. Not one dime of it will go to find a cure for cancer or fight drugs and crime. Not one dime will go toward learning, making the classrooms a centerpiece of our education.

Immoral debt

Over $5 trillion worth of national debt is more than financially irresponsible. It's immoral, because someone is going to have to pay the piper. And you know who it's going to be? It's going to be our kids and our grandkids. . . .

The balanced-budget amendment will force the government to change its ways permanently. No longer will the president or Congress be able to spend money we don't have on benefits our children will never see.

. . . And here's the good news. A balanced budget will lower your house payment, lower your car payment, lower your student loan payments. The savings could be as much as $1,500 a year. Well, to some up here in Washington $1,500 may not be much, however, it's a new washer and dryer, it's a home computer, or money toward a much needed second car for a hard-working family. . . .

Third and finally, I want to say a few words about the Republican vision of how we can continue to make this one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Government and race

I'm just old enough to remember the Jim Crow brand of discrimination. I've seen issues of race hurt human beings and hurt our entire nation. Too often when we talk about racial healing, we make the old assumption that government can heal the racial divide.

In my lifetime there have been some great and good laws that took some evil and ignorant laws off the books, so legislation has its place. But we have to ask ourselves some questions, and I ask you -- if legislation is answer to the racial divide in our nation, then why in God's name in our time has the division grown? Why is the healing we long for so far from reality? Why does it seem that the more laws we pass, the less love we have?

The fact is our problems can't be solved by legislation alone. Surely we have learned from our long, difficult journey a great truth: government can't ease all pain. We must deal with the heart of man.

Republicans and Democrats -- red, yellow, black and white -- have to understand that we must individually, all of us, accept our share of responsibility. We must decide as we stand on the edge of the new age if we will be captive of the past. America must be a place where all of us -- red, yellow, brown, black and white -- in some way feel a part of the American Dream.

It does not happen by dividing us into racial groups. It does not happen by trying to turn rich against poor or by using the politics of fear. It does not happen by reducing our values to the lowest common denominator. And, friends, it does not happen by asking Americans to accept what's immoral and wrong in the name of tolerance. . . .

This is our agenda: to put our men and women back together, to put ourselves back together, and, in that way, get our country back together.

I am reminded of the final words of President John Kennedy's inaugural address. He said this: "Let us go forth to lead the land we love, knowing that here on Earth, God's work truly must be our own." I say amen to that.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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