THE PRESIDENT. First of all, let me say how delighted I am to be here in Youngstown, Mahoning Valley, back again with you after having visited here several times in the past.
I would like to say that this has been a time of great economic problems for the entire world, with the very unprecedented increase in OPEC oil prices foisted on the rest of the world by the OPEC nations. Last year the price of oil increased more in 1 year than it had in all the historic time since oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania in the 1800's. Most nations have been severely hurt by this unprecedented oil price increase. Our Nation has been hurt as well, but we've come through that period of trial and testing compatibly with the principles and 'ideals and strengths that our Nation has always shown.
Since I became President in January of 1977, there have been more than 400,000 net new jobs added in Ohio alone. In the Youngstown-Mahoning Valley area, because of your heavy dependence on steel and a general slowdown in construction, you have had to suffer a great deal. I sympathize with those families that have been placed on temporary unemployment, but would like to report to you, as you undoubtedly well know, in the last few months the steel industry leaders, both in management and in labor, the Steel Workers, have worked very closely with our administration.
We now have a strong trigger-price mechanism in effect for basic steel, and we are now exploring ways where, if possible, we will extend the trigger-price mechanism to specialty steels as well. We have also proposed a revitalization program for the steel industry, which will be very helpful with accelerated depreciation and by giving investment tax credits on a cash basis to encourage the steel management to put their profits back into the communities that have been adversely affected by changing times and some obsolescence in the steel industry.
The last thing that we've done with the steel has been to improve the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency and the steel industry, a harmonious relationship has now been worked out, an agreement whereby, over a longer period of time, the steel industry can comply with environmental standards and at the same time have enough capital to improve their plants and to make more jobs available to steelworkers.
Lately, we've seen the economy recovering very well. I think we've bottomed out now in the recession. I think we're well on the way toward a full recovery.
In coal—this, of course, is also a very important issue for the people of Ohio. This year, because of the new energy policy, we'll have more coal produced in our country than in any year in history. That's a superb record. And my goal is to make sure that all the utility companies in Ohio have the right and the chance to use Ohio coal for the production of electricity. We have a great way to go in the future to completely revitalize industry and to put our people back to work.
As you know the election now is only about 2 weeks away, and the issues drawn, which I'm sure you'll want to discuss with me, are very sharp between myself and my opponent, Governor Reagan, and historically between the Democratic Party of this Nation and the Republican Party.
I grew up during the Depression years, where the Democrats fought for the minimum wage, the Republicans fought against it; sought it increased regularly, the Republicans were against it. My opponent thinks that the major cause of unemployment now is the minimum wage. And he also says that minimum wage has caused more misery and more unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.
Unemployment compensation is crucial for working families. We are now working to get an extension of 13 additional weeks, for those that are temporarily unemployed. My opponent says, on the other hand, that unemployment compensation is just a prepaid vacation for freeloaders. This is the kind of difference, just to illustrate two points, that is crucial and will be decided in this election.
Later I hope we'll have a chance to discuss controlling nuclear weapons. Senator John Glenn met me this morning and is here in the studio audience with us. He's been one of the foremost proponents fighting for the control of nuclear weapons with a balanced agreement which has been the goal of every President since Harry Truman. Lately, again, as you know, my opponent has called for the scrapping of the treaty to control nuclear weapons, the initiation of a major nuclear arms race—therefore playing a trump card against the Soviet Union. This is a sharp departure from what all Presidents have done and these are the kinds of issues that I'm sure we'll be discussing this morning.
Again, let me say that I'm delighted to be with you, and now we'll welcome any questions from the audience.
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Q. Mr. President, Governor Reagan and the Republican Party have stated their opposition to the equal rights amendment. For what reason should the American women support your candidacy for President?
THE PRESIDENT. The last remaining legal discrimination on the lawbooks of our country is against women. Every Republican Party platform in the last 40 years has favored the equal rights amendment. Governor Reagan's position and the Republican convention this year under his leadership came out for the first time against the equal rights amendment. Six previous Presidents who served in the White House before me, Democrats and Republicans, were for the equal rights amendment.
There's been a great deal of distortion about what the equal rights amendment says. The equal rights amendment only says this: That you cannot take away a person's rights for equality by the Federal Government or the State government. That's all it says. It's the prohibition against the Federal or State government's taking away anybody's rights because of sex, because they're women.
I believe it's very important that we have the equal rights amendment passed. It'll be a major step forward and will help all Americans. Women, now, when they work an equal amount with men and the man makes a dollar for what he does, the woman only gets 59 cents. This is not right, it's not fair.
In the past, we've had women discriminated against as we have had some minority groups. I've tried to redress this in my appointments to the Cabinet offices. I've appointed more women in the Cabinet than all other Presidents combined. I've appointed more Federal judges who are women than all Presidents combined in the last 200 years.
We have a long way to go, but I think the best way to make sure that women do have a right to head families, to contribute their part to a growing society, and to have equal treatment under the law, is to ratify the equal rights amendment. It will be a major goal of mine now that we've got the extension of time for the ratification, and I believe that if I'm elected President, we will have the equal rights amendment passed. If Governor Reagan should be elected and I hope that he won't—then equal rights for women, I think, would be dead for a long time.
U.S. GRAIN SALES
Q. As you know, the Russian grain sales, a couple of years ago, caused higher food prices and this fueled inflation. Now, we're already being told there are—higher food prices are to come, due to this pending grain sale to to China. We find this, in the grassroots, hard to rationalize, providing that it's going to cost us all this extra money, and we have to pay this little penalty. Could you respond to this and tell us what you might do to help this situation?
THE PRESIDENT. I'll try to.
As you probably remember, when Presidents Nixon and Ford were in office and Earl Butz was the Secretary of Agriculture, the Republican administration on several occasions imposed an embargo against the shipment of American grain overseas just to force down farm prices and to help economically to hold down prices artificially. We have not done that. We have tried to boost American grain sales and agricultural product sales ever since I've been in office. As a farmer myself I know the devastating effect on a farm family when grain prices and other agricultural product prices go wildly up and then wildly down after the farmers sell their crops.
We've done a couple of things. One is we've provided farm storage for American grain so that farm families can keep the grain under their control on their own farms and then market it in an orderly way to provide a smooth transition on prices and at the same time give the farmer more of the profit as prices do go up somewhat, instead of middlemen who used to buy at harvest season, hold the grain back, force the price up, and then sell at the great expense to the families who were consumers and the farmers didn't benefit at all.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan I had three options to use the enormous power of our country, either military options, to go into war, or to exert political persuasion and economic persuasion on the Soviets to convince them that it's not to their advantage to invade a freedom loving country like Afghanistan. I decided to take the political and the economic steps against the Soviet Union.
We got other nations to join us in the United Nations. A hundred and four other countries condemned the Soviets' invasion and demanded their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Moslem countries later, some of whom have been very close friends with the Soviet Union, said to the Soviet Union, "Get out of Afghanistan." We organized about 50 other countries to join us in not participating in the boycott—I mean in the Olympics in Moscow, because that would have been a demonstration of our approval of their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
We've tried to compensate for that interruption of grain sales with the Soviet Union. I decided that we would not sell to the Soviet Union in 1980 any extra grain above what the governments themselves had agreed to. So, we put an embargo against the sale of that extra grain to the Soviet Union. After we did that I wanted to be sure that farmers did not suffer because they couldn't sell their grain. So, we've tried to open up in foreign countries now additional new opportunities to sell American farm products.
We are producing more grain, we are storing more on farms, and we're selling more overseas. This helps our country, in my judgment, and the price of grain and other farm products has been relatively stable, compared to what it was during previous administrations. We've sold to Mexico, for instance, this year about 10 million tons of American grain. We've just signed a new agreement with China to sell them more grain. This will provide practically a negligible increase in grain prices, but it will give our Nation a much stronger dollar overseas. It will give us great exports which will build up jobs in this country for all kinds of advantages and also give the farmers a more stable income.
So, I think in the long run what we can sell in American products overseas is good for all of us and the adverse effect on us, on inflation, will be very slight, compared to the advantages that we derive.
UNEMPLOYMENT AND INFLATION
Q. Why can't all the great minds in this country sit down and work out a commonsense solution to unemployment and inflation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, some great minds have tried to do it and with some success. You know, people tend to dwell on the temporary inconveniences and the transient problems that our Nation faces. But if you look back—you're a very young woman but if you look back on history, just in this century, our country has faced enormous problems and challenges: the First World War, the Second World War, the Great Depression, the divisiveness of the Vietnam conflict, the social changes that took place in our society when blacks and other minorities got the rights that they had not had before, the deep embarrassment of Watergate. Our country's faced those enormous challenges successfully. Whenever the American people could understand the problems and unite together, we've been able to overcome them.
We now have severe economic challenges, but compared to most other nations on Earth, we have been blessed enormously. When we are unemployed now, because of solid Democratic commitments to working families, we have unemployment compensation. When there is a temporary inconvenience because of excessive imports, we have, as you know, a special program for the retraining of workers and for the carrying them over of a time until we can get our own industry in a competitive position.
When buying habits change, like Americans now buy the more efficient automobiles, it kind of caught the automobile industry by surprise. Now we are retooling and turning out American automobiles that are more durable, more safe, just as efficient as any cars on Earth. And I believe that American buyers now, when they go to the showrooms, will give American cars a chance in their own families' buying plans. This will keep American workers on the job.
Since I've been in office we've emphasized employment. We've added a net increase of 8 1/2 million jobs in this country since January of 1977. We've never added that many new jobs in any President's administration before in history, even during time of war. This is a very good step forward. We also are providing better and more stable conditions for employment. A couple of years ago every time you picked up the paper, for instance, you would see a wildcat coal strike, with mines closed down and buyers who wanted to use American coal uncertain about whether they could get coal anymore. You haven't seen that since we got a good working relationship between management or the coal operators, the coal miners, and the Government. We are increasing coal production more this year than ever before in history.
Also, the inflation rate has been primarily caused to increase by OPEC more than doubling the price of oil last year. Now we are trying to put into effect a new energy policy that's paying rich dividends. We'll have more oil and gas wells drilled in this country this year than ever before in history. And compared to last year alone, every day now we import about a third less oil from overseas than we did just a year ago—a saving of about 2 million barrels of oil per day. This means that we don't import oil, we don't import inflation, we don't import unemployment. We are conserving in this country and producing more energy ourselves.
So, you watch the evening news and you see the newspaper headlines, and it's always the arguments and the divisions and the debates and the temporary disappointments and the bad news. But when you look at how our Nation compares now with what we have faced before, this unemployment and inflation level, although it's too high and we're trying to get it down, is still under control. And now if a family is suffering from temporary unemployment, you have at least not hunger and deprivation, but a government and private industry working together to make sure that the suffering is minimized.
Don't forget how great our country is. Don't forget how able we have been in the past to meet these kinds of challenges. And don't forget that the best minds and the best hearts, represented in this room, are still working to cut down even further on unemployment and inflation and give Americans an even better life than we enjoy already.
LOAN GUARANTEE FOR STEEL MILL PROJECT
Q. Mr. President, since 1977 four major steelplants in the Mahoning Valley have closed permanently, and 10,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs. The only hope for regaining some of these jobs appears to be the $100 million in loan guarantees which your administration pledged to this valley in 1978 for viable steelmaking projects. A study recently completed by independent consultants under an EDA grant has concluded that the loan—with loan guarantees, a steelworker-sponsored plan to reopen the McDonald mill recently closed by U.S. Steel, and to put 750 to 1,000 steelworkers back in productive employment is feasible and within EDA guidelines.
What I would like to know is: One, do you support the worker plan to reopen these mills? Two, will you, at this time, make a public commitment to this community that EDA will immediately and without delay evaluate this proposal? Three, can the steelworkers expect a decision on their proposal before election day?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I will make a commitment to you that EDA will expedite this decision and make a judgment, working with the people in this community, to decide whether or not the steel mills can be put back into full operation.
As you know—as you may know, since I've been in office, we have allotted to this region, in the Mahoning Valley area, almost a quarter of a billion dollars in guaranteed loans under EDA to rebuild the steel mills, to provide for possible modernization of them, and at the same time, have let EDA loans be applied to other related industries that provide jobs in this community. About $30 million in an EDA loan was recently approved for commuter aircraft, for instance, which will provide 1,500 permanent jobs of a very high quality for this region.
I can't comment to you, as much as I would like to, here on this spot, about whether or not the ultimate $100 million loan will be approved. But I can guarantee you that if the project proves feasible, as judged jointly by EDA specialists and by those who'll be responsible permanently for the financing and operations of plants, that I will certainly approve it.
I might repeat one thing that I said in my opening statement. We've made a lot of progress in the steel industry and in the automobile industry and the coal industry by trying to bring better harmony between labor and management, by making sure that the Government environmental standards are worked out very clearly now and in the future between the industry and the Environmental Protection Agency, so that there is a predictability about it, and the shocks that had formerly occurred before I became President forcing the steel mills to shut down when they did not anticipate the requirements will be eliminated. And secondly, we will put into effect next year a tax incentive that will encourage the industry itself, with great benefit to themselves, to reinvest in the communities that have in the past been dependent on steel and to modernize plants that presently exist and also to build new plants using the high technology available at this time.
So, $225 million in guaranteed loans by EDA under my administration has been or will be made available in the Mahoning Valley area to rebuild a more modern and more viable and more permanent steel industry in this area.
Q. Mr. President, how can you as a professed Christian take the stand you do in support of abortion?
THE PRESIDENT. I do not support abortion. I am against abortion, and I personally have done everything I could as President to minimize any need for abortion. I have never been in favor, for instance, of government financing for abortions unless the prospective mother's life was in danger or unless the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. I am not in favor of a constitutional amendment to totally prohibit abortion.
I might point out that although my personal beliefs are as I described them to you, as President I have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. So, if the Supreme Court should rule, as they have, on abortion and other sensitive issues contrary to my own personal beliefs, I have to carry out, in accordance with my solemn oath and my duties as President, the ruling of the Supreme Court.
So, I think I've described it to you accurately. I'm personally against abortion. I'd do everything I can to minimize abortion. I do not favor any government financing for abortion. But my duties and my oath require me to carry out the ruling of the Supreme Court and the laws already in the books.
ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT
Q. Mr. President, our democracy was based on the idea of government for the people, by the people, and of the people, but nowadays, it seems that our government can be bought for the right price. How could you, as President, help change the image of America?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there have always been, in politics, and in labor, and in all the professions, including law or education, a few people who violate their standards of morality and decency and even violate the law. I think that since the Watergate crisis, there has been a renewed and intense, investigatory attitude in the press and a very high standard of political ethics required by the American people to be sure that we don't repeat the embarrassment of Watergate.
Whenever, now, an allegation is made against anyone in my administration, for instance, the law is that a Special Prosecutor has to be appointed to investigate that particular charge. One allegation was made a few months ago against Hamilton Jordan, who was my Chief of Staff, with a very high degree of publicity. The Attorney General appointed a Special Prosecutor, an independent Republican, effective past U.S. attorney, who investigated all the charges. The findings were that the four people who accused Hamilton Jordan of having done something improper concerning drugs were all liars. They perjured themselves. Three of them are in prison now, and the other one has been acknowledged to be lying as well. But the publicity that is brought about by the investigation of these allegations and a high degree of openness in government now, I think, is very good.
We want to make sure that the standards are kept high. Recently, you've seen an additional set of stories about the so-called Abscam scandal, where a few Members of Congress did accept bribes for alleging to help some so-called sheiks from the Arab oil countries. Those investigations have gone on by the FBI, compatible with the American laws, and as you know, a maximum degree of publicity has accrued from it. And I believe, as a result of that, although it was a very embarrassing and bad situation, that again we'll have a higher standard of performance and a very careful avoidance of any repetition of bribery in the Congress.
I don't have any way to apologize to you for the things that have been done wrong. But I do point out that when something is done wrong now, it is investigated more thoroughly; more publicity is focused on the violation of standards or ethics or propriety; and all the laws now require a public revelation of involvement of this kind that did not exist before.
So, I think that in the post-Watergate era, we will see less violation of the law, more publicity when it does occur, and a steady progress towards more ethical government.
AUTOMOBILE AND STEEL INDUSTRIES
Q. Mr. President, I was wondering why you took and bailed out Chrysler Corporation and you didn't bail out the steel industries and your saying that the steel industries were helped out and are improving, but why was Chrysler bailed out before the steel companies were?
THE PRESIDENT. I'll try to answer that. Let me say that steel is such a basic industry that what happens to automobile production in this country is vital to the steel industry. One of the reasons that we have a slowdown now in steel production in our country has been because of changed buying habits in the Nation concerning auto. mobiles and, therefore, reduction in how many cars the American automobile manufacturers produce.
When Chrysler was threatened with bankruptcy, it was my judgment, confirmed later by the Congress, that the United States Government should guarantee loans to Chrysler. This is a very safe loan guarantee. Chrysler was required to reorganize itself to have a much more efficient plan, to have much more careful supervision of the management of the company, and to get sound loans from private banks in order for them to stay in business and avoid bankruptcy. Under those circumstances, the Federal Government agreed to guarantee some of those loans. But the loans were made not by the Federal Government, but by private banks and insurance companies and others to Chrysler. I think this is a very good thing for our Government to do. We will not lose any money on it and Chrysler has been kept intact as a viable automobile industry, and about 225,000 jobs were saved.
I might add that when Governor Reagan was questioned about this Chrysler loan, he says, "What's wrong with bankruptcy?" I think this deep concern about my administration for the protection of an industry like Chrysler, keeping sound loans, not giving away or wasting or endangering the integrity of the taxpayers' money, is a good step.
We are working very closely with steel management now. And Lloyd McBride, who's the president, as you know, of the Steel Workers, flew in with me from Washington to Pittsburgh this morning, and he's accompanying me on this trip. The steelworkers' union knows how much we have done jointly to keep the steel industry intact. The president or chairman of the board of U.S. Steel announced recently in this area that he expected the steel production to increase steadily in the months ahead, with at least a 12-percent increase in steel production in our country next year alone.
So, I think the steel industry is sound. I think Chrysler is also sound. And keeping a viable coal industry, a viable automobile industry are both very important to steel. It's just a different proposition. We don't see any need at this time to have the Government take over part of the management of the steel industry nor provide for guaranteed Government loans. The steel industry is perfectly able to get what loans they can as a nationwide problem, but in the Mahoning Valley, where some of the steel industries do need guaranteed loans, then we are providing, as I said in an earlier answer, almost $250 billion in Government guaranteed loans for the steel industry.
We are not discriminating against steel, as we helped Chrysler. We are providing guaranteed loans for both steel and Chrysler, but the two situations are somewhat different.
Yes, sir? Back there in the pink shirt.
PROTECTION OF U.S. PERSONNEL ABROAD
Q. Mr. President, what precautions have you taken to avert a similar situation such as the takeover of our hostages in Iran happening in another country?
THE PRESIDENT. Since the wave of terrorism went across the world, not only with our hostages being taken but, as you know, other nations' hostages being taken in this hemisphere and also in the Mideast and other places, we have beefed up security at our Embassies. But I don't want to mislead you about it. It's not possible for us to station enough U.S. Marines in any capital in the world to withstand the mob action of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of terrorists or demonstrators, unless the host country gives us their support and adequate protection.
In all the history of diplomacy, I guess all the recorded history of diplomacy, we've never seen a case where a government like the one that existed in Iran not only did not protect the Embassies of foreign countries but actually encouraged terrorists or militants to attack the American Embassy. This is an extraordinary circumstance, and I don't believe it will be repeated. But we will continue to work closely with the governments.
When we had a threat to our Embassy in Pakistan, Islamabad, I personally called President Zia on the phone that morning, and he deployed Pakistani soldiers to protect the Embassy people there. We had the same thing happen in Libya. We've had the same thing happen to some degree in other countries, including Columbia, with our Ambassador.
So, they are safer than they used to be. We are much more cautious. We don't have as many Embassy staff members present in areas where disharmony or violence might occur, and we have called on foreign countries to help us as a preparatory or precautionary thing to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Iran. I don't think there's any real likelihood that a government like Iran, combined with demonstrators and terrorists like occurred in Iran, will repeat itself.
Yes, ma'am—in the back row.
Q. Mr. President. I would like to know how your mother is feeling?
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. My mother is getting along fine. She's 82 years old. She had a very severe hip fracture, and they had to put one of those stainless steel pins in her hip and along the femur, which is the upper leg bone. She's sitting up a little bit now in the hospital room. We hope she'll be out of the hospital at the end of this week.
One time when I called her, she said, "Don't bother me now, Jimmy. I'm watching the ball game." And I might say that—I want to be perfectly frank with you, since the Dodgers were eliminated, she's been a real strong Phillies fan, and she's been pleased last night.
But I think Mother will be out of the hospital at the end of this week. And then she'll have to be confined to a wheelchair for 2 to 3 more months before she can start to walk again. She's in good spirits. Her heart and everything are just like a young person's.
Q. Mr. President, what would be your most explicit statement on the future of Jerusalem?
THE PRESIDENT. First of all, I look upon a strong and secure Israel as an integral part of the security of our own country. And the help that we give Israel in retaining their freedom—economic aid, military aid, and a chance for security, is a direct investment in better security for my own country and yours.
Secondly, the biggest thing that's happened to provide Israel with freedom and security has been the treaty between Israel and Egypt. Egypt is by far the most powerful, strong, Arab country there is. And as you know, 7 years ago there was a war between Israel and Egypt, the fourth war in the 25 years that Israel had been in existence. Now Israel is at peace with Egypt.
Third, when we were at Camp David, we worked out between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, with my help, an agreement on Jerusalem, and this mirrors our position. We think that Jerusalem should be forever undivided. We think that worshipers should have free access to the holy places of Jerusalem. Third, we believe that the ultimate permanent status, legal status, of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations, and last, that the final agreement reached in those negotiations would have to be acceptable to the Government of Israel.
Q. Mr. President—[inaudible]—I am concerned with high interest rates. Homebuilding all over the country is down. The Youngstown-Mahoning County area is down 40 percent from last year. When you are reelected, what do you propose to do to lower these rates, if in fact they can be lowered? And will you be successful, and when can we hope to see some relief?
THE PRESIDENT. Obviously the interest rate is tied directly to the inflation rate. There are several ways that we can reduce the inflation rate, and we'll be working on all of them simultaneously.
First of all, we need to increase the productivity of American workers to make sure that the American worker, now the most productive on Earth, has modern tools and modern plants in which to work. That is an anti-inflationary trend.
Secondly, we need to make sure we continue to cut down on imports of foreign oil, because the amount of foreign oil we've been importing in the past has been excessive. That has been a major inflationary factor.
Third, we need to make sure we continue to reduce Federal Government spending and reduce the Federal Government deficit. We now have the Federal Government spending, growing at less than one-half the rate it was when I was elected President in 1976. And as a percentage of the gross national product, the Federal deficit now is less than one-half what it was when I was running for President in 1976. We're going to continue to work for a balanced budget.
The other thing is that—I've mentioned before—we need to have a much better working relationship among the Government, the workers and management in industry to eliminate the disharmony that exists. Let me just use the coal industry as a repetition.
In the past, we always had a continual stream of arguments and wildcat strikes in the coal industry until I became President. We sat down in the Roosevelt Room next to the Oval Office, and we worked out a procedure by which, instead of just facing each other as enemies or antagonists or adversaries across a bargaining table when the contract was about to expire, now the coal workers, United Mine Workers, the coal mine operators, and the Government work together to make sure that we have a steady supply of coal on the market, which tends to stabilize price, and maximum emphasis on the export of American goods overseas, which helps to control inflation.
The other point is this. It's very important for us to avoid protectionism. If we ever start trying to erect barriers between nations to prevent the free flow of trade, it would not only eliminate American jobs that produce goods that are sold overseas, including farmers and others, but it'll also mean that the products we buy here will be much more costly. I hope that Americans in the months ahead, when they get ready to buy a camera, when they get ready to buy an automobile or other products or a television set, will give American products a chance, because now we've got American automobiles, for instance, as I said earlier, that are more durable, more safe, and just as fuel-efficient as any imported cars. And I hope that Americans will give those American cars a chance, to keep American workers employed. These are the kinds of things, collectively, that will be done.
The other thing is, I think we need to continue the pressure, proper pressure on banks and other institutions not to boost their interest rates higher than economic circumstances warrant. In the past, the prime rate that banks charged was the rate they would charge their best customers, and then, for an average customer like myself who is, a farmer and a very small businessman, they would charge me maybe 1 percent or 1 1/2 percent above the prime rate. That's the way it used to be.
Now, the banks set a prime rate artificially, and still charge me 1 to 1 1/2 percent above the prime rate, but they charge their best customers a lot lower interest rate than the prime. So, this tends to jack up interest rates above what they ought to be. And I think the Congress and I and others need to look more closely in the future at this particular issue that I just described to you. A couple of lawsuits have been brought now in this country accusing the banks—I don't know what the ultimate result will be—accusing the banks of setting their prime rate higher than the prime ought to be. And, as you know, the prime rate affects the price of homes.
This last month, we had very good news on homebuilding. We are now at a rate of building homes more than 1 1/2 million per year, which is very good. And general construction went up about 12 or 15 percent last month, compared to the previous month. So, the building industry, the construction industry is coming back well, but as we get inflation under control and interest rates down, it'll do much better.
Q. Mr. President, the hostages in Iran right now—what kind of relationship will we have with Iran once they're released?
THE PRESIDENT. You probably realize that this has been one of the most difficult things that I've ever had to face. I never go a day or even an hour without thinking about our hostages and what we can do to get them back.
I've had two guiding principles in my life, as President, since the hostages were first taken. One is to protect the integrity and the interest of my country, and secondly, not to do anything, as President, under political pressures or any other reason, that would endanger the lives or safety of the hostages or interfere with their safe return to freedom as soon as possible.
We've imposed strict prohibitions against any trade or commerce with Iran. We don't sell them oil equipment; we don't sell them spare parts for their military; we don't sell them anything that we can control under these circumstances. If Iran should release the hostages, then I would unfreeze their assets, which are several billions of dollars that were in banks here and in Europe. I would drop the embargo against trade with Iran and work toward a resumption of normal commerce with Iran in the future. It's to our advantage to have a strong Iran. It's to our advantage to have a united Iran, and we don't want to see the war that presently exists between Iraq and Iran be expanded any further in those two countries, and we don't want to see it involve other nations either.
So, we want a peaceful Iran, a united Iran, a strong Iran, with a government that they choose. And we want to restore normal commerce and trade with Iran once those hostages are released.
YOUTH EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT
Q. Mr. President, I am—[inaudible]—and I would like to know what programs—[inaudible]—you have planned-[inaudible]—reelected?
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. One of the goals that I had when I became President was to make sure that any young person in this country who was qualified to do college work would have a chance to go to college, no matter how poor the family might be. I believe that I can tell you that we have reached that goal. We've had now a combination of laws passed by the Congress, with Senator Glenn's help, that would give guaranteed loans or grants or work-study programs or special scholarships for young people. I don't believe now that any young person that's able to do college work is kept out of college because the family's poor.
Secondly, we've tried to increase the allocation of Federal funds for education, particularly to those students who live in poor communities or who need special help, and we've done it with a philosophy that I have of not letting the Federal Government interfere in the operation of the schools, either public or private. I think the operation of the schools, the curriculum, the hiring of teachers, and so forth ought to be strictly local and State officials, not the Federal Government.
We've improved considerably opportunities for work among young people. Now we have before the Congress a major piece of legislation—it's already passed the House; it's now in the Senate—that would provide about $2 billion over the next 2 years to add about 600,000 more jobs for young people at the junior and senior high school level on up. At the same time, I was interested in seeing these jobs provided not as government jobs, but jobs that are permanent, career jobs in the private sector, so that if a young person has a hard time getting a job, if he gets one with a TV studio or Coca Cola company or one of the automobile manufacturers or in a steelplant, the government would help provide some training for that young person, maybe in the high school or local vocational-technical school, and after a few weeks—and the young person was able to hold that job permanently-then the government would get out of it and the young person would be employed.
We have kept about a million summer youth jobs in this country ever since I've been in office. In addition to that, we have had, I think, a very good career emphasis on young people that want to go into the military. I spent 11 years in the Navy. Senator Glenn was also in the military for a long time. And I would like to encourage young people who want to go through a transition phase and have a fine career either as President of the United States or a U.S. Senator or whatever they want to do, to spend a couple years maybe in the American military, in the volunteer forces. It's a very wonderful way to see the world, to perform a patriotic duty, to get a good education, to get a good career planning. And that's the kind of opportunity that our Government would welcome and would be very helpful.
These are some of the things that come to my mind just offhand about the future. But I think our country is already the greatest nation on Earth, and I don't have any doubt that in the future it will be even greater for your generation.
NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE
Q. Mr. President, as a senior citizen I would like to know why countries like England and Germany have national health insurance and a great country like ours doesn't? What do you think about national health insurance?
THE PRESIDENT. I think we ought to have it. I'm strongly in favor of it. As you know, this has been one of the programs for senior citizens that has most vividly separated the Republicans from the Democratic Party.
You remember in the Depression years, when President Roosevelt came out and proposed social security. The Republicans were strongly against it. Lately, my opponent has advocated making social security voluntary, which means that people that don't want to participate in social security don't have to. It would damage social security and maybe even bring it into bankruptcy. I think it would.
Governor Reagan got his career started in politics by campaigning around the Nation against Medicare. This is a very serious threat to the security of people your age or older. We also have a real need to extend the benefits of Medicare to a nationwide comprehensive health insurance program.
I strongly support it. We've made our proposal to the Congress, and this will be a major goal for me in the future. You might be interested in knowing that Governor Reagan has come out strongly against national health insurance. We want the emphasis to be on the prevention of disease, strict hospital cost containment to hold down the cost of medical care; an emphasis on outpatient treatment rather than treating people in the hospitals; an emphasis on home care for those that have a family and can live at home; an emphasis on catastrophic health insurance, first of all, so that the family that has a very high medical bill can have help from the Government in paying those bills; and an emphasis on—this doesn't affect you directly, but I'm sure affects those you love—an emphasis on the prevention of illnesses in a little baby, both before the baby is born, when the mother is pregnant, and also in the early years of childhood, with immunization programs and the proper diet that will get that baby off to a good start. The sum total of this would be to give Americans much better health care, prevent disease, and hold down severely the extraordinary costs that Americans are paying for health care now.
So, this is a sharp distinction between the basic philosophy and commitment of the Democratic Party, that stands for social security, Medicare, national health insurance, contrasted with the Republican Party, including my opponent, whose party has been against social security, against Medicare, and against national health insurance.
PROGRAMS FOR THE HANDICAPPED
Q. Mr. President, we have a deaf child who has to ride a bus for 1 hour and 15 minutes to the nearest school suitable for his needs. They have parents of a mentally retarded child who have to search for 8 years for a school suitable for their child's needs. My question is: What programs are presently under way to better the education of all children, handicapped and otherwise, and what, if reelected, do you plan to do for the betterment of education for elementary school age children?
THE PRESIDENT. We've had a more than 200-percent increase since I've been in office in special education, education for the disadvantaged children of all ages. Also, we've had a very difficult challenge in changing the basic law of our land for the handicapped people. Now we've made great strides. We've implemented the handicapped act, that was passed before I became President, and there's a much more clear commitment of the Government to provide special care for handicapped people of all kinds.
We had a White House conference on the handicapped. You may or may not know about it, but I attended that conference and worked on it. When I first became President, I appointed my wife as the Honorary Chairman of a special commission on mental health. She worked for 2 years. And late in 1978, early in 1979, we made a proposal to the Congress encompassing the recommendations of her mental health commission to the Congress. Recently, with Senator Kennedy's help, Senator Glenn's, and others, we passed the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. It is landmark legislation that will provide increased funding, increased educational opportunities for young people who are emotionally disturbed, who are mentally retarded, or who have some other mental illness.
We had a signing ceremony for that only 2 weeks ago in Virginia, when my wife and Senator Kennedy and others who had worked on it were there for the ceremony. The implementation of that act will be another major step forward in the care of disadvantaged people in our society. The thrust of it is manifold, but one thing that I'm very interested in is that all of the efforts have been to give a handicapped person not only treatment and care but primarily to give them a chance to take whatever talent God gave them and to use that talent to strengthen our society and to let them be more selfsufficient and let them live normal lives.
We've also emphasized the hiring of handicapped. Max Cleland, who is the director of the Veterans Administration, had a special program for hiring handicapped veterans who were hurt, for instance, in the Vietnam war like he was. So, these are the kinds of programs that are being pursued now. The major step forward that will be realized in the future-not yet—has been the result of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.
THE NATION'S ECONOMY
Q. Mr. President, you have so many questions. I would localize my question though. You mentioned and concocted the misery index in 1976. You put unemployment together with inflation, and you came up with an intolerable figure of 12 percent. Right now in Mahoning Valley our misery index is 24 percent, at least. In other words, our unemployment rate is 12 percent. And when I talk to business people, they don't know whether to manufacture items for Christmas, whether to hire people for Christmastime. They don't seem to have faith in our system and in our economy. What can you do to help us? Please help.
THE PRESIDENT. I think that the last few months have shown major signs of economic recovery. For instance, every week for the last 6 weeks we've had a steady increase in the number of automobile workers employed in this country. About 4,000 automobile workers every week, on the average, have gone back to work. As you know, the new models of American cars are selling like hotcakes. There's a waiting list of 40 or 50 thousand, for instance, for the new Chrysler model.
In addition to that, the last 3 months the economic indicators—that's a conglomerate of about 9 or 10 different indicators of economic prosperity—have grown faster than they have in the last 31 years. I just gave you the results of our new information on housing starts. They've jumped substantially, back up to over 1 1/2 million homes per year.
So, I think the severe recession that we anticipated, coming from the very high increase in OPEC oil prices, has not been nearly so severe as we thought, and we are well on the road back to recovery. I think we'll have a good Christmas. And my judgment is that the rate of employment of Americans will continue to grow very rapidly, and I believe that we'll see, because of the factors that I outlined earlier, an attenuation or reducing of the inflationary pressures in the future, too. I think the future looks very bright for us.
ANNOUNCER. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, we have time for just one more question.
THE PRESIDENT. I'll let you pick this one.
ANNOUNCER. All right. We'll take the lady right here in the front.
THE PRESIDENT. Okay.
Q. My husband's employed in the steel industry, and I've been employed—we've both been employed steadily. Still, with the tax rate and the inflation rate, everything seems to be getting worse and worse. The economic policies you've proposed over the past few months just don't seem to be helping. What's going to help the common man, who is carrying the heaviest part of the tax burden?
THE PRESIDENT. I had the choice to make of trying to pass an election-year tax program or waiting until after the election. I could probably have picked up some political points by putting forward a massive tax reduction proposal knowing that the Congress wouldn't pass it or knowing that the Congress would make a Christmas tree out of it, and it would cost us severely in inflation.
Governor Reagan has proposed the so-called Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal which would cut taxes between now and 1987 about a thousand billion dollars and primarily add the tax money into consumers' hands to bid up the price for available products.
We have put forward an economic program that will be implemented next year, about half of which will go for investment in new industry, new tools, new plants, to employ American workers. Above and beyond all the other programs already-that I've outlined, this would increase employment by at least a million people by the end of next year, end of 1982.
The other thing that we've done is to have a personal income tax reduction making up about 50 percent of the total that would eliminate the increase in social security taxes that are now on the lawbooks. And we've tried to eliminate as well the so-called marriage penalty, where now if a husband and wife both work, they pay higher income taxes than if a man and woman live together and both work and they're not married.
So, we want to eliminate that marriage penalty, cut down on the impact of social security increases in taxes, and have major investments in industry to keep American workers more productive with new tools and new plants.
Q. Is the social security system in as bad a shape as they say it is?
THE PRESIDENT. The social security system is sound. It will not be bankrupt as long as a Democratic President's in the White House. You can depend on that.