Thank you so much for that warm welcome, and welcome back to the White House. I just had a chat with Ellen Sauerbrey outside and delighted to see her and all of you; Sam Brunelli, the executive director. And, of course, I'm delighted to be side-by-side today, as I have been for the last couple of years and especially the last few months, with our very able Secretary of Defense.
I know Dick feels, as I do, that when you get a nice reception like that, people are really expressing their gratitude to the fighting men and women of the United States halfway around the world. What a job they've done! And nobody, no individual, deserves more credit for all of that than the man sitting over here behind me, our able Secretary of Defense. I will always be indebted to him, and so will our country.
I understand that you've heard from Mary McClure and Deb over here -- Deb Anderson, and Richard Haass will be speaking to you in a minute. He has had a key role, is a key member of our National Security Council, every step of the way in what's happened over in the Gulf. So, you're going to be hearing from one upon whom I have relied heavily, upon whom General Scowcroft relies heavily. So you'll get the facts from him, and I'm sandwiched in between these two experts. [Laughter] But when I mention Deb and Mary, of course, I'm talking about two of your own -- two State legislators, and both proof, if ever there was, of Finley Dunne's rule ``Every now and then an innocent person gets sent to the State legislature.'' [Laughter]
So, I hope that you found these visits with our other -- Dick Thornburgh and I don't know whether John Sununu has been over yet or not. I guess he has. And Jack Kemp is coming on. So we want you to hear in detail about our program -- our legislative program, as well as what's transpired in the Gulf.
Like so many other fine members of our team, most of those you'll hear from have something in common with each of the talented people out here in the audience. Most of them know what it meant when -- Sam Rayburn put it this way when he said he knows what it is to run for sheriff. And one of his criticisms of a lot of people around Washington was that they never ran for sheriff. Well, you know what it's like, and I know what it's like. And so I hope that you recognize that we have able people who have been elected; many able who have not. But we put great emphasis on the elective political process.
The presence of the veterans that we have, veterans of State politics, is important because they kind of remind us all the time of the philosophical underpinnings of our administration. And I want to just renew in a very few minutes here my own commitment not only to federalism but also to the principle that the States are what we call the laboratories of democracy, forging ahead at the cutting edge of the world's greatest experiment in freedom and diversity.
It is, of course, an ongoing experiment, a continuing experiment. From parental choice in child care and education to tenant ownership in housing, from enterprise zones to create jobs to what we call these drug-free zones to take back the streets, State and local governments are finding the new approaches to solving these problems and looking not just at America's problems but also at our possibilities.
Just a little over a month ago, I went up to the Congress and reported on the state of the Union. And I called it then a ``defining hour'' for our nation, and I spoke of the promise of a renewed America. And I issued a call not merely for new Government initiatives but for new initiative in government. And as has been true throughout our history, the wellspring of these new initiatives is likely to be the 50 dynamic State laboratories that are represented by all of you here today.
I've often said that the State legislatures are some of our most practical and resourceful leaders. Close to America's roots, close to the people -- I think that's what does it -- close to the concerns of the communities.
And that's why in that State of the Union Address I included a bold new proposal to select at least billion in Federal programs and then turn them over to the States in one single consolidated grant, fully funded, for hands-on management by the States.
And I want to thank Ellen and Sam, who sent me a letter just 2 days later telling us of your strong endorsement, your enthusiastic support for this proposal. Over the past months, we've worked with you and with the Governors and others in State and local government to select the programs that go into this turnover. We are committed to funding these programs, Sam, funding them for the next 5 years. And we are committed to moving power and decision-making closer to the people. Because at the bottom line, our idea of federalism comes down to four simple words: ``more flexibility'' and ``fewer mandates.''
I think John was to speak to you about this earlier, but I did want to come by and thank you for your support and for all you're doing to make this initiative a success. We're getting some flak from predictable places on it, but I think on balance it's been received very, very well. And I can guarantee you we're going to fight for it.
I want to conclude by thanking this group particularly but so many people across this country for the tremendous support for our men and women serving overseas. And I want to particularly single out those that are actually serving in the Gulf or in support of Desert Storm, to click off just a few ALEC members like Louisiana's Hunt Downer -- was on active duty, supposed to be here -- right here. Hunt, glad to see you. We're delighted you're here. Nevada's Jim Gibbons; and Mike Coffman from Colorado; Connecticut's Chris Burnham, a Marine captain who took his third oath of office while stationed in Saudi Arabia.
So, we've got citizen legislators today doing double duty as citizen soldiers. And ladies and gentlemen, these are America at its very, very best.
So, thank you. I know you share this wonderful feeling that I have of joy in my heart. But it is overwhelmed by the gratitude I feel -- not just to the troops overseas but to those who have assisted the United States of America, like our Secretary of Defense, like our Chairman of our Joint Chiefs, and so many other unsung heroes who have made all this possible. It's a proud day for America. And, by God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.
Thank you very, very much.
Note: The President spoke at 11:08 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Samuel A. Brunelli, national chairperson and executive director of the council; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Mary A. McClure, Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; Debra Anderson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Richard N. Haass, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp; State legislators Hunt Downer, Jim Gibbons, Mike Coffman, and Chris Burnham; and Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.