Members of the Cabinet, distinguished Members of the Congress, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen:
During World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first Veterans' Readjustment Act, he stated on the occasion of that signing, "This law gives emphatic notice to the men and women of our Armed Forces that the American people never intend to let them down."
That first GI bill, and later the Korean GI bill, brought, out of the hardship of war, hope for all of our American service people. They returned home to find not just gratitude, but concrete help in getting a fresh start: with educational assistance, with medical care, with guarantees that permitted them to buy homes to live in.
They found opportunity which they used to enrich themselves and to enrich the Nation.
As we meet here today in this historic East Room and look around and see our friends gathered, we see the results of that first legislation.
One hundred and sixteen Members of the House of Representatives, in our Congress, received training under the GI bills, as did 11 United States Senators, 12 of the Governors of our States, 3 members of the President's Cabinet, 1 Justice of the Supreme Court, 6 of our astronauts, and 5 of the President's Special Assistants here in the White House.
The first two GI bills cost $21 billion. Our economists now estimate that they resulted in a return of some $60 billion in Federal taxes for that $21 billion invested.
The educational level of World War II and Korean war veterans averages about 2 years above the level of nonveterans. This difference exists primarily because of what the GI bills were able to do.
We made the most promising investment that a nation can make, an investment in the talent and the ambition of our citizens. The return on that investment has doubled and has redoubled ever since.
Today we come here in a time of new testing. Today, by signing a new Veterans' Readjustment Act--that was authored in the Senate by my colleague and friend of many years, Senator Yarborough, and reported in the House by Chairman Teague, with the unanimous support of his committee--we are reaffirming President Roosevelt's pledge of 22 years ago. We are saying to the brave Americans who serve us in uniform, in camps and bases, in villages and jungles, that your country is behind you; that we support you; that you serve us in time of danger.
To say this does not mean that all Americans agree on everything that is done or on every policy or on every commitment. But it does mean that once that policy is established, once that commitment is made, once that pledge is given, we support fully the young men who are the spearhead of that policy.
The Congress has passed this legislation. It passed it without a single dissenting vote. In doing so, it said: We will support these men who are defending our freedom to debate, who are joining in a most historic protest for their country--a protest against tyranny, a protest against aggression, and a protest against misery.
The budget I sent to Congress this year resulted from a very careful study of the Nation's resources. My Cabinet officers brought to my home in Texas, where I was recuperating from an operation, budget requests that they had gone over very carefully that amounted to $130 billion. They felt that they could not reduce beyond this amount. It was my sad duty to bring those requests in line with what I thought our resources were and what I thought the Congress would approve. And we got them down to a little under $113 billion.
Of that $113 billion, over $10 billion-$10.2 billion to be exact--will go this year to education and training. When I became President in fiscal year 1964, we were spending $4,750 million. Although I have been in the Presidency but a little over 2 years, we have more than doubled the amount that we are spending for education and training-from $4.75 billion to $10.2 billion-from fiscal 1964 to fiscal 1967.
Education gets more money in this budget than any other items except interest on the public debt, some $12 billion, and the Defense Department, which, as you know, exceeds $50 billion.
Well, I must be frank. I had felt that we could start the new GI program, and that we should, by providing special funds for soldiers who served in combat areas. Others could be provided opportunity grants through the Higher Education Act. In that way, I was hopeful that we would not ask for more than we could get, or bite off more than we could chew in educational costs.
The Congress considered these measures, and in their judgment, as I say, passed this by a unanimous vote. They felt that we should go far in excess of what I asked for this year. The bill before me this morning exceeds my budget request by more than $245 million for fiscal year 1967, and by more than $1,800 million over the next 5 years.
Because it is for education, I am going to sign this bill, even though it provides hundreds of millions of dollars more than I thought it advisable to recommend or to ask for this year.
This is the first major measure enacted in this session of Congress, and a President just must not ignore the unanimous vote of both Houses of the Congress, the two Texas chairmen, Yarborough and Teague, and some 5 million men who will be the beneficiaries who have worn the uniform.
I want to call attention, however, and make a most solemn warning about future legislation. Unless we can balance our requests with prudence, and our concern with caution, then we are likely to get our figures back to that $130 billion that came over from the departments.
I am going to sign this measure this morning notwithstanding the fact that it goes further than I was willing to ask for this year, because, paraphrasing what Secretary Rusk said the other day in response to a question from Congress, he said, "Well, Senator, could it be that they could perhaps be wrong?" And it just could be that the President was wrong when he made his original request.
I supported this legislation when I was a Member of the Senate, and sometimes you look at things a little differently from one end of the Avenue than you do from the other.
I have tried to take into consideration all of the factors that should be weighed. I have heard the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, and every commander--General Walt this week, General Westmoreland a couple of weeks ago--tell me about the dedication of our fighting men. I am convinced that these brave Americans who serve us on many fronts today, particularly in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, and others, are the very best men that our country has ever produced. They are great soldiers.
I am going to resolve this doubt in behalf of the Congress, which has spent more hours considering this than I have, and sign this legislation in the hope that when the peace is won, we can provide the means of making great civilians in time of peace out of these great soldiers who served us in time of need.
Thank you very much.