THE PRESIDENT'S REVIEW OF THE CABINET MEETING
THE PRESIDENT. [1.] There were two or three developments in our Cabinet meeting that I thought you might be interested in. I will review with you briefly and will ask the staff, including Mr. Alexander and Mr. McPherson 1 who reviewed them with us, to go into them in some detail. They will take any questions and explain any gaps that may occur to you after I have finished.
1 Clifford L. Alexander, Jr., Deputy Special Counsel, and Harry C. McPherson, Jr., Special Counsel to the President.
IMPACT OF ECONOMIC PROGRESS
First of all, we have just entered our 81st month of prosperity. We had Gardner Ackley 2 evaluate other periods in our history and the average periods of economic progress that have taken place.
2 Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers.
Then we asked each Cabinet member to give us his view and to give consideration to what this economic progress had meant in his jurisdiction. From Secretary Gardner, a sample of what this progress had meant to the health of this country, to the education of its children, the social security of its people, to the pollution problem, and to the other matters that may come under the jurisdiction of HEW; what it had meant to the Labor Department, the people employed, the children and so forth; what it had meant to the State Department in our program for underdeveloped countries, and so forth.
They have a general view and general statements, but they presently are examining what it has meant to each of them--Secretary Trowbridge in business, what it has meant to the American corporation and to the American businessman; Secretary Udall in conservation; Secretary Weaver in Housing and Urban Development; and so forth.
REPORT ON SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF NEGROES IN THE UNITED STATES
[2.] Second, we had a very excellent presentation on the report of a group I had asked to study the social and economic conditions of Negroes in the United States. Following through on our national conference at El Paso, 3 which you had a brief glance at--those of you who were with us--we will ask them to make a study of the Mexican-American and report to the Cabinet at an appropriate time on the social and economic conditions of people of Mexican extraction in this country.
3 See Item 452.
I asked two Government agencies to draw together the latest, most relevant data concerning the social and economic conditions of the Negro in America--the bad with the good, the disappointing with the encouraging. They placed it in a simple format that can be understood. The staff will give you the charts and review.
The study was prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. 4 I am hopeful all Americans can give serious study to it and make some contributions, because I think probably our number one domestic problem is our urban problem, our city problem, the fact that Negroes and whites have left the rural areas and gone to the cities. There we have the problem of finding jobs, training, education, hospitals, and housing for these people.
4 For the President's statement upon making the report public, see Item 463.
We are doing our best to encourage and accelerate our efforts. on every front toward finding the best solutions. We have had some disappointments.
CONGRESSIONAL ACTION ON URBAN PROGRAMS
[3.] We are greatly distressed at the action the Congress took in the model cities program. The program was a very small beginning but it will necessarily be smaller now. But it is a beginning.
We very much regret that the Congress saw fit to cut the rent supplements from $40 million to $10 million. That would have taken care of housing for many thousands of people. But the Congress did not see it that way. They did leave us $10 million.
Ten million dollars is not as good as $40 million, but it is better than nothing.
I think you will be interested in this presentation. I will be glad to take your questions on these subjects or on any other subjects that you may want to take, subject only to your time limitation.
POSSIBILITY OF TAX INCREASE
[4.] Q. Mr. President, what is your view of the likelihood of now getting a tax increase through the Congress?
THE PRESIDENT. The final decision will have to come from the Ways and Means Committee. We very much want it. We think it is very necessary in the national interest. We think that it will cost the American people much less by taking the tax route that we have suggested than by taking the inaction route that is now being followed.
As to prophesying or predicting what the Ways and Means Committee will do-even what the House will do--when and if they act, I cannot be very accurate with you. All I can say is what we feel very strongly. We have informed the leadership and the Congress and the committees of both Houses, of both parties. I would be less than frank if I didn't tell you that we are disappointed at the results obtained thus far.
We will just continue to do the best we can here to persuade the Congress to take this action that we think is very essential to avoid inflation, to keep our interest rates down that are galloping every day, and to maintain a semblance of paying part of our bills as we go along.
We think our economy not only can stand it, but we think it requires that we be responsible and that we take some action along the lines we have suggested.
We are glad to see that there are Members that think we should have a tax bill. We are glad that the businessmen, generally, and labor, generally, and people experienced in this field, like the leading economists, believe that a tax bill now is in the best interest of the country.
As to whether Congress will act this session or not, you will have to wait and see.
[5.] Q. Mr. President, with Congress talking of adjourning the end of this month, it would appear obvious that all the legislation that you have recommended cannot be passed. Have you given the congressional leadership any kind of a priority designation?
THE PRESIDENT. None. We never do. Now, the press this morning called these measures "must bills" and that is your credibility, not ours. You call them priority bills.
I have gone through this for about 35 years. About this time every session, you get into that.
We had a routine meeting yesterday that we have generally every Monday. We made that public in San Antonio. The leaders came in. We took up first the bills that had passed the House that were pending in the Senate. Not "must bills." Not priority bills. Not bills that had to be passed or even ought to be passed, but bills that had passed one body that had not been passed in the other. We asked for their status, and we ran through those. They ran about 20, I believe, maybe 21.
Then we turned from the Senate, from Senator Mansfield sitting here, to the House Speaker McCormack and said: "Now let us see the bills that have passed the Senate before the House acted."
We took about 20 that had passed the Senate. That did not mean 40. It may be military construction appropriations, for example, that had passed the House now on the Senate's list and both finally would pass it. It would be one bill instead of two.
So we went through 20 on each side and got the status of them. Some of the hearings are being held, some reported, some on the calendar, and some seeking a rule. We reviewed them. That is all.
We did not talk about adjournment. We did not talk about "This must come ahead of this."
We said military construction has passed the House and is in the Senate. The Senate leader said, "We are doing so-and-so about it."
Then we looked at truth-in-lending that had passed the Senate and was in the House. They said, "That is in committee."
We did that to the tune of about 20 on each side. We had no news. We made no news. We left. Some of the leaders said the UPI told them they were going to call them when the meeting was over, and if they did, they were going to say just what happened. We considered the 20 bills that had passed the House and were in the Senate.
Some won't get out of the Senate. Some won't get out of the committee. Most of them, we think, will pass--particularly the appropriations bills. Then we considered those in the House. That was all.
[6.] Q. Mr. President, from your conversations with your study groups and Mr. Ackley, can you foresee a period in this country's history where there will not be inflation that is more or less a way of life?
THE PRESIDENT. We did not approach it from that standpoint at all yesterday, Smitty. 5 I did not get out my crystal ball.
5 Merriman Smith of United Press International.
Q. I was thinking of the fact that it has continued without a break since World War II and wondered if by a combination of government measures you think this could be reversed?
THE PRESIDENT. I said we did not go into that with them.
EFFECT OF THE PEACE DEMONSTRATIONS
[7.] Q. Secretary Rusk said the other day that Hanoi had been encouraged by the recent peace demonstrations. I wonder, sir, if you could give us your assessment of what damage you think has been done to the American cause by the peace demonstrations?
THE PRESIDENT. I would prefer not to be negative. I would hope that every person who has a plan, a program, or observation in connection with the war that our young men are fighting out there would engage in some introspection and ask himself whether what he is about to say is going to make a contribution to solving the problem before he speaks.
If, in his judgment, it does, then he has that opportunity and that right.
So far as I am aware, there have been no great, unexpected developments that have flowed from the various suggestions and programs that have come from people on the outside who have busily engaged in finding out what is wrong.
I meet with Congressmen and Senators every day. I read every morning their statements.
We give consideration to them. But in considering them I must always bear in mind that most of those people--not even the intellectuals or the editorial writers or the columnists, pro or con, have had the benefit of the hundreds of cables that come from 110 countries, or from the men in charge, or men who really have the responsibility for the planning and execution of some of the most intricate, detailed, dangerous, and comprehensive steps that we have ever taken.
So while we want to be reasonable, keep an open mind, and take any suggestion that is designed to help--and will--I could not honestly tell you that the various plans, programs, phrases, and key words that they use--like "snow" and "phony" and the headline-hunting phrases--i don't think they have really helped our Marines a whole lot up there on the DMZ.
I can't see that they have made any great contribution to solving the problem that we all are so earnestly seeking to solve.
I don't want to be critical of anyone. I think, though, that if the American public could read Hanoi's cables and statements and could see their reaction to some of the things that are being said in the country, that they would agree with me that all their private proposals and statements have not contributed a great deal to the solution that we so eagerly seek.
Q. Who are Hanoi's cables to, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. They are statements to people in this country. They are statements to people in other countries. They are statements on their radio. They are statements in their press. They are statements in their propaganda. I use cables symbolically of what their expressions or statements are. I will substitute the word expression for you--or their statements--if it is better.
ASSESSMENT OF VIETNAM SITUATION
[8.] Q. Mr. President, sir, do you see any lessening of their determination to go on fighting?
THE PRESIDENT. I would not want to make a prediction as to their condition now. I have my views on it, but they involve a certain amount of speculation and judgments that I am making, so I couldn't underwrite and guarantee.
I would not want to pay the price of stating it and then back up later and say I misled you somewhere or made a mistake.
Q. Are you optimistic, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I believe that we are making progress. I believe that we are doing what we ought to do. I think we are going to continue doing what we ought to do. I think that it is going to be exacting, difficult, and going to require the best that is in all of us-but not nearly as much from us as it is from the men fighting out there.
If we can manifest on the home front the same courage, the same stability, and the same good judgment they are manifesting out there, I have not the slightest doubt that we will find the solution--and find it much earlier united than we will divided.
U.S. POLICY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
[9.] Q. Mr. President, sir, one of the main points in the domestic arguments about the policy of the war has been the fact that in 1964, when you were campaigning, you spoke of not wishing to send American boys to fight a war that Asian boys should fight. Then a year later, the Government did that. I wonder if you could give us your thinking on the change in policy?
THE PRESIDENT. There has not been a change of policy. You have quoted one sentence in a speech that contained many sentences and many paragraphs. We always have said--and we repeat now--that we do not want American boys to do the fighting that South Vietnamese boys ought to do or that Asian boys ought to do.
We are asking them all to do all they can. But that did not imply then, and does not imply now, that we would not do what we needed to do to deter aggression.
As a matter of fact, before that statement was made, we began discussing at this table in May of that year the desirability of asking the Congress to join with us in deterring aggression.
In presenting that resolution to Congress, we made clear to Congress some of the things that I would ask you not to overlook now, namely, that we had a vital security interest in Southeast Asia, that Asian security was important to our own American security.
Second, we intended to comply with what we believed to be our commitments under the SEATO Treaty signed by Senator Mansfield and others at Manila in September 1954.
Finally, that we asked the Congress not only to approve what we had already done in resisting aggression in the Tonkin Gulf, and elsewhere in that area, but to also authorize us to take whatever steps necessary to deter further aggression.
[10.] Q. Mr. President, you spoke of the urban problem as being our number one domestic problem. I would like to ask you a sort of double-barreled question.
THE PRESIDENT. I would say urban with all the other things related to it--jobs, housing, ghettos, et cetera--included.
Do you understand what I mean by that?
Q. Yes, sir. Do you think now, sir, that that will be an issue in the next year's political campaign?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't tell what will be an issue. I am not thinking about what is going to happen in next year's campaign now. I am thinking about what we have to do right now--as quickly as we can.
If you are asking me whether it is a Democratic Party matter or whether it is a political matter, I do not think it ought to be. I would hope that most Democrats and a substantial number of Republicans would signify by their votes that they are willing to pay the price necessary to meet this problem.
I have been, as I said before today, disappointed at the vote on the model cities in the House. We talk about urban coalition, but when we call the roll on the floor, we find that the only coalition is the one that is against us on the cities problem.
We talk about the great need for housing, but when we ask for $40 million for rent supplements out of almost a $145 billion budget expenditure this year, we get it cut by $30 million. We have over 100 cities in the model cities program and we had our authorizing legislation cut in half. Then we ask for only half of what had been authorized.
We had $600 million of really the $900 million. Then we got only about half of the $600 million we asked for. That is not the way to meet the problem. It is going to be slow, painful, and costly. I would hope the American people would support the leadership that urges the Congress to take action in these fields: model cities, urban renewal, rent supplements, Turnkey housing, et cetera.
I am very pleased at what has been done by private industry. I saw yesterday, as a result of our meeting with the insurance people--the billion dollars they pledged-that the mayor of New York announced that part of that money that was pledged is now going to the insured housing for a big New York project. I am pleased that private industry has responded the way it has.
I am disappointed that the Congress has made the serious, drastic reduction it has in these already inadequate programs.
THE NEW GOVERNMENT IN VIETNAM
[11.] Q. Mr. President, with the new government established in Saigon, do you think it would be useful or helpful or constructive if they could negotiate directly with the NLF?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think it would be helpful for me to tell you to tell them what they ought to do. These people in South Vietnam have had five elections in a period of a little over 3 months.
We hope and we pray that as a result of this last election they will have a government that will be close to the people, that will provide good leadership and clean leadership, free of corruption, with a maximum of efficiency, and will get rid of incompetence wherever it appeared and corruption wherever it appeared.
We will have to see how these things develop as the government progresses.
This is their government, selected by their people. We have made, I think, according to even our most embittered critics, a rather substantial political progress in the last 13 months.
I would ask all of you to remember that it took us 13 years to go from 1776 to 1789 when we finally got our own Constitution. They have come a long way from the time we met in Honolulu to the time they elected their President in something over 13 months. That is what we did in 13 years.
They selected a Constituent Assembly. They drafted their Constitution. They ratified their Constitution. They elected the Senate. They elected the House. They elected the President and the Vice President.
Their elected leaders, in their judgment and in their wisdom, are there every day, Mr. Kilpatrick, 6 trying to make progress and move forward.
6 Carroll Kilpatrick of the Washington Post.
A good many of the Vietnamese lost their brothers when they were trying to vote in one of these five elections. A great many people were killed. They died trying to vote.
Some were almost killed yesterday during the inauguration there--trying to get a President sworn in. That action ought to revolt the civilized world. I do not know why people do not get worked up when they go to lobbing mortar shells into the city where the President is being inaugurated.
But I think what they do is a matter for them to decide. Of course, we have our hopes and our desires.
I will be talking to Ambassador Bunker before very long. He will be coming here, I hope, before Ambassador Laise 7 leaves. I will talk to him and get his judgments. I am sure if his counsel is sought it will be available.
7 Ellsworth Bunker, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam, and his wife Carol C. Laise, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal.
Pardon me for including you out of this deal, but I am sure that he will respond when desirable.
THE STOCK MARKET AND THE ECONOMY
[12.] Q. Mr. President, you talked about 81 months of stable economy. Yet the stock market appears very unstable. It has been going down for some days. and it went down 13 points today. Does this suggest a loss of investor confidence in the economy?
THE PRESIDENT. First, I want to correct you before you get a credibility charge. I didn't say anything about a stable economy. I spoke of a prosperous economy.
The stock market goes up and it goes down. Last month they were talking about it going up and breaking 900 and this month it goes down.
I do think, in fairness to your question, our people are concerned and that concern may be reflected in the market. They do not know today what to expect from the Congress now or in the future so far as taxes are concerned.
I think when you have an uncertain future, you have uncertain markets and you have uncertain stock prices. Some of this uncertainty is being reflected in the market. I think it is being reflected in the bond market and in the interest rates. I think you are paying every day--more than you know, right this moment--for the inaction that is taking place and for the refusal of our people to stand up and take the action that responsibility requires.
At first, we said there were some doubters, not many. I thought the tax testimony was overwhelming. I don't know of many bills where the testimony has been so overwhelming and so compelling as. I viewed it.
But the first question was, "Well, we do not believe the economy can stand it." Do you remember that? That was back a good many months--after we submitted it in January. And that went on to August, and nothing was done about it.
Then the first days of the hearings in August it was repeated in the testimony, if I am not mistaken--the doubt that the economy could stand a tax bill then.
Then they got off that line for a while and the question then became, "Couldn't we cut appropriations?" We pointed out, "The appropriations are there to be cut. Just call the roll. We have made our recommendation. We will be glad to have you make yours. We will give yours as much consideration as you have given ours. We will try to meet you halfway. We will try to be reasonable."
Then the question was, "Will you cut them before we send them to you?" We think we made clear to all of them that if the House passed a bill of $4 billion and the Senate passed a bill of $6 billion, and the bill was in conference, we didn't know whether we could cut $4 billion or $5 billion or $6 billion.
We would have to see what we could cut, depending on the bill to be cut. So now I think that has been made clear.
Then we got into the programs business. "We ought to look at the programs down the line to see if we could reduce or curtail or cut some of them back by several billions."
We have no objection to that. Congress can do that in every hearing. They look at programs--the committee that has jurisdiction can revise, repeal, or abolish any program they want abolished or cut, if the Congress sees fit.
I am not adverse to setting up a task force to study the programs. I am not adverse to having Congress new judgment on appropriations.
I think they will cut $4 or $5 billion out of the appropriations that we have recommended this year. I will sign those bills they send me, although I think some of them are close ones.
In the first instance, can the economy stand it? In the second, shouldn't we cut appropriations? Third, should we cut the programs?
Now we are doing nothing. We are at a standstill. I would very much hope that the Congress could say, "Well, now, we want to cut appropriations so much--$5 billion, $6 billion, or $7 billion." Whatever their judgment is. "And we are willing to give you $4 billion, or $5 billion, or $6 billion taxes." Whatever they are willing to do.
We will study the programs in the future and we will have a meeting of the minds. I think it is important to do this as soon as possible. Every day we are losing revenue. It costs us every day in increased prices and in increased uncertainty and greatly in increased interest.
It may have some bearing on the stocks that you are talking about.
Q. To follow that up, is it fair to say then you believe part of the reason for the downslide on the market is congressional inaction on the tax bill?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I am not saying that. If you want to, you say that. If you don't know what I said, I hope you will read it. I didn't say that at all.
My job, as I have said to my press friends so many times, is to prevent a fight, not to provoke one. You have a different responsibility. I respect your position on the matter. I recognize it and I feel it.
[13.] Q. Mr. President, again, pressure is building up in the country and around the world to have another bombing pause. Will you discuss with us the pros and cons of that situation?
THE PRESIDENT. NO. I don't think there is anything that I can contribute that would be helpful. We are doing what we believe and what we know to the best of our knowledge to be the right and proper thing to do. And we are going to continue to do what we believe is right.
I would admonish and caution all of you to avoid irresponsibility and quit grabbing out of the air these speculative future ventures about which we know very little and about which the folks that apparently are guessing for you know nothing.
Q. Mr. President, in that same vein, do you think that you, personally, can help to alleviate some of the uncertainty in the country over Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I am doing my best to do that every day. I tried my best in San Antonio when I said to the American people on the televised networks--some live and some a little later that night delayed--and through all of the press, that we would go the last mile.
We were willing to, at that moment, stop our bombing and enter into prompt and productive discussions, assuming they would not take advantage of it. They have not given us any affirmative response to this point.
We will continue willing to negotiate now, to stop the bombing now, if they will talk promptly, productively, and not take advantage of us.
But the problem is not here with your country or with your Government or with your soldiers. The problem is with the Communist enemy who insists on continuing the course that places us in Vietnam and that will keep us there until they decide might does not make right, and they cannot gobble up weaker people because they are stronger.
We are going to stand for limited objectives. We are going to try to keep from widening the war. We are going to try to deter aggression and to permit self-determination in South Vietnam.
And when that is done, we are going to be content. We do not want bases, domination, colonization. We do not practice colonialism.
We seek to do nothing except keep our commitments--try to help innocent people who want the right to live according to their own self-determination.
CONGRESSIONAL ACTION ON ADMINISTRATION PROGRAMS
[14.] Q. Mr. President, in a general way, could you describe how you feel about how administration programs are going in Congress and what you think the final score might look like?
THE PRESIDENT. They are not going as well as we would like. They are going better than most people would expect from the domestic standpoint when you look at the 47 new Republicans elected last November. Most of the 47 Democrats that supported measures like model cities were replaced. A good many of them supported most elements of the Democratic platform. They have been replaced by 47 Republicans--a good many of whom oppose these bills.
This is only the first half of this Congress. The next half will begin next January. I do not know when the first half will be over, when the bell will ring. I hope it will not be until we have faced up to some of the compelling and immediate decisions that confront us.
I do not recall precisely, but I believe that counting investment credit, tax bill, the draft, the consular treaty, and other matters of that nature--including some minor bills and treaties--that we have passed 76 measures.
We started out scheduling something over a hundred. I do not remember how many over a hundred. But I believe 76 of them have been finalized. Some of them are very minor. I emphasize minor. We do not want to overstate the case.
There are some 20 measures that have passed the House that we know the Senate is considering. Some of those will be passed. About 20 have passed the Senate. Some will be considered by the House.
When you add what we expect the House to pass that the Senate has acted upon and what we expect the Senate to pass that the House has acted upon, that number will move up some. How much, I do not know.
But for the first half, I believe it will be a credible one. It will not be 90 percent as it has been in some sessions. But if you compare it to almost any other single session, you can form your judgment. I will leave that up to your opinion.
f looked at what we passed in 1935. I looked at the first hundred days in the New Deal. I looked at the first 3 years of the Kennedy-Johnson administration, and I have reviewed the last 3 years of the Johnson-Humphrey administration.
While this session is not as good as the last Congress, this session, I think, will stand reasonably well compared to the previous Congresses. That is a matter of judgment you can make by reviewing it all.
I am sure before we go home that if you desire we will review all of the achievements, accomplishments, and failures.8
8 For a final report on the record of the first session of the 90th Congress, prepared by the White House legislative staff, see note to Item 575.
Merriman Smith: Thank you very much, sir.