Governor Thompson, Senator Stevenson, President Hynes, Speaker Redmond, Mr. Chief Justice, other distinguished leaders of the great State of Illinois:
It's an honor for me to be here with you in this historic place from whence has come so many profound statements and deliberations in the history of our country and from which came perhaps the greatest leader who's ever lived in the President's house.
I'm very grateful, too, for the political wisdom concentrated here, as well as the governmental wisdom. When I began to plan my own campaign, I talked to present Speaker Redmond. He told me how to win an election, easily and quickly. [Laughter]
And I know that appearances here have proven to be very good in future Presidential elections. I think the last President who spoke here, according to the news media, was Herbert Hoover— [laughter] who came here in 1931, just before his election, or campaign against Franklin Roosevelt.
This morning I have prepared a speech text which has been distributed, or will be, to you. I prepared it myself, and I think perhaps you might want to read it over. But I thought in order to have a more constructive session for me that I would make a very few impromptu remarks and then spend what time we have together answering your questions. And just to be sure we are completely fair, I'll ask the speaker to recognize you for questions a little bit later on.
I've been a member of a State legislature. My first elective office was to the Georgia State senate, where I served two terms. And I came to realize then the extreme importance of State government, the difficulties of public service, the courage required to make decisions on controversial issues, because almost every issue that comes here is difficult to resolve. If a matter is easy, it's solved in a family's home, or perhaps in a neighborhood or city hall or county courthouse. If it's much more difficult, it comes to your desk and eventually comes to the attention of the Congress of the United States and the President.
I know the pressures that come on members of government to try to deal fairly with their own constituents and still look at statewide problems and needs, and even those at the national and international scene. We've dealt, in the last 16 months in Washington, with these kinds of issues.
Tax reform sounds easy, but it is extremely difficult to hammer out with competing interest groups, focusing their attention on every Member of the Congress, a means by which we can reduce taxes on the American people, which are presently too high, and have a tax system that is simple and fair.
The welfare system is condemned from almost every vantage point, but it's almost impossible to hammer out a welfare system that gives needy people an adequate income to preserve their human dignity and at the same time can be a constant inducement for those who are able to work to go to work.
Our country is the greatest consumer of energy on Earth, and we are also one of the greatest producers of energy. The Congress has been debating energy problems, natural gas pricing, deregulation for 30 years, and the focusing of pressures on the Members of Congress in trying to give our country a vision of what we can and must do to cut down on extraordinary energy imports is almost an impossible task. But they are making good progress.
In the last 16 months, we have done well in cutting down the unemployment rate, which was the crucial domestic issue in January of 1977. We've added a net increase, with your help, of 5 1/2 million jobs in our country, and the unemployment rate has been dropped from 8 percent to 6 percent. But we are now faced with a much more tenacious and difficult problem of dealing with inflation. And I'm determined, as President, to do all I can in spite of the adverse political consequences, and I believe the Congress will join in with me in standing up against the pressures from very benevolent groups, people whom we care about, farmers-I'm one of them older people, veterans, those interested in space, those interested in better roads. But there's a limit to what we can do at the Federal Government level in financing these programs, but it is very difficult to stand up against those pressures and have a sound, businesslike administration of a complicated government.
We are faced at the national level with additional responsibilities on defense, how to keep our Nation strong, the strongest on Earth, to provide for the rapidly changing technology that gives the unforeseen challenges in the future. And you have to anticipate those and correlate research, development, demonstration programs, construction programs, to give us adequate weapons; at the same time seek for a reduction in those weapons and to kind of work with other countries in varying forms of success to get them to join in, in removing the threat of complete nuclear annihilation.
It's not easy to negotiate with the Russians on a SALT agreement, which is crucial to our country, and at the same time not let that be prevented by the unwarranted Soviet intrusion with their Cuban surrogates into Africa.
The Congress has dealt historically and courageously with the question of a Panama Canal Treaty, not a popular thing in the United States, but one, I think, that's absolutely important to our proper dealing with small countries around the world who look upon us to demonstrate that we believe in equality, that we believe in fairness, that we believe in human rights a very difficult vote.
We've had another one recently on the Mideast arms sales, almost impossible to resolve to the satisfaction of the American people. It took a lot of courage to make those decisions, how to move toward peace in the Middle East, retain our total commitment to the security of Israel, at the same time not sever our relationship with the moderate Arab countries who also want peace so that they would have to turn to the Soviet Union or other Eastern bloc countries for their friendship and military needs—difficult questions. I recognize how hard it is to be a good State legislator, Governor, or Member of Congress.
This afternoon, I go back from here to West Virginia. I'll be talking about a subject that's important to Illinois—coal. And to study the technical aspects of the evolution of coal's use in the future, to correlate it with environmental protection, liquefaction, gasification, its competition with other energy sources is very, very complicated, and it's important for me to understand that subject, just as it is for you here in Illinois, a great coal producing State.
Later tonight, I'll be meeting with President Giscard d'Estaing from France. Tomorrow morning I'm tentatively scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Gromyko of the Soviet Union. I'll be getting tonight, late, a report from Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who's just come back from days of negotiation and communication with the leaders of the People's Republic of China.
So, I'm not saying these things to deplore the responsibility that I have to share with you, but to indicate to you that quite often the difficulties of public service are not adequately understood by the American people. And the best way to let them understand it is to keep an open mind and an open heart and an open door and to reach out for them for advice and counsel, because I believe that all these subjects can be best resolved successfully to the extent that the American people, the people of Illinois are involved in the deliberative process, that the debates are open. But when you make a decision in isolation, you have a tendency to create a Watergate or Vietnam war or a CIA embarrassment. But the American people are basically decent, basically honest, basically have great common sense, and to the extent that they are involved in a process, we can avoid the potential pitfalls of making an improper decision.
The eyes of the Nation now are focused on the men and women in this chamber. Illinois has a great tradition of insisting upon equality of opportunity. Lincoln conducted his debates in this very place. Illinois was the first State that voted to ratify the constitutional amendment giving women a right to vote. You have written into your own constitution equal rights for women.
Thirty-five other States have now ratified the equal rights amendment, and what you do here in this chamber in the next few weeks might very well determine whether women do have those equal rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution or whether they don't. And I know the focusing of political pressures on you is not easy to make that decision, and quite often you might fear, "I can't be reelected, or I can't please the more vocal groups in my district if I vote what I know my conscience says is right."
So, you share with me that kind of decision that is never easy. You and I share a partnership, because almost everything that we decide in Washington in giving American people fairness, equality, and opportunity to enjoy the privileges of citizenship are administered by you.
And we've tried to evolve programs recently, recognizing that partnership. A new urban policy was hammered out with members of your legislature, county officials, your Governor, obviously your congressional delegation.
Well, I'm very proud to be here, to share with you this morning some of my thoughts about the responsibilities of public service, the difficulties of it, but the gratification of knowing that we are helping to shape the character of our Nation and we are trying to make sure that Illinois represents, in its government, the finest possible aspects of our people, that we are trying to inspire them to reach for greatness, to honor ideals and principles, in spite, sometime, of the political consequences.
And now, Mr. Speaker, I would like for your joint session to ask me any question that you might have concerning national or international affairs. I'll do the best I can to answer the questions. If I don't know, one of those difficult political decisions is to admit that I don't know the answer. But I'll let the speaker recognize you, and I'll try to keep my answers brief.
SPEAKER REDMOND. Representative McPike, like the President, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.
LABOR LAW REFORM
REPRESENTATIVE PIKE. Thank you, Mr. President. Roy Sandquist and I, as graduates of the Naval Academy, share your feelings on the equal rights amendment. But on another important subject, Illinois, as a northern, industrial State, in the past 10 years has lost many manufacturing jobs to the South. To a large degree we feel that this is due to nonunion wages that are prevalent in the Sunbelt. We therefore feel that passage of the labor law reform bill now in Congress is very important. Could you comment on its importance and on its chance of passage?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, I'm from the South, and have been a Governor. And I would say that I spent 25 percent of my time, as do other Southeastern Governors, in recruiting investments in our State, not only from the rest of the Nation, including Illinois, but also from foreign countries, Japan, Germany, and others, and trying to sell Georgia products overseas. It is a major responsibility of a Southern Governor.
We have now narrowed, however, wage differentials between the South, which used to be very low-wage regions, compared to the rest of the country. The year that I went out of office as Governor, the difference was only 11 percent, because as the major nationwide companies have moved into Georgia, South Carolina, other Southeastern States, they cannot afford to pay their own employees a different wage scale in Georgia than they do in Illinois. Locally grown, nonunionized companies, of course, have attempted and have sometimes succeeded in not meeting that competition, and have very low wage rates. I favor the labor law reform legislation. I think it is a very modest bill. I read every provision of it before I would send it to the Congress with my approval.
I am a very conservative Southern businessman by heritage, and I think that the National Labor Relations Act, which was a major step forward when it was passed, has been the basis for harmony, for higher productivity, for less conflict between business and labor for a long time.
There are a few defects in the law that ought to be corrected—unnecessary delay, deprivation of employee rights—and although I think it might contribute, as you said, to a more stable labor base throughout the country and eliminate some advantages that the South does have in that respect, I still favor the legislation. And as you know, the House passed it overwhelmingly. There's a majority in the Senate for it already. The question is whether or not 60 votes can be obtained for cloture to stop the filibuster. My prediction is that the law will be passed.
SPEAKER REDMOND. Representative MacDonald.
SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM
REPRESENTATIVE MACDONALD. Thank you, Mr. President. We are honored by your visit here in Illinois today, and we hope you enjoy it.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's my honor.
REPRESENTATIVE MACDONALD. As you know, Mr. President, inflation is the enemy of all of us as elected officials, and I was wondering how you felt the increase in the social security tax affected your long-range fight on inflation?
THE PRESIDENT. There's no doubt that the passage of a social security tax will contribute to inflation to some degree. I think, though, that the compensating tax reduction which we are proposing now-originally $25 billion, now lowered to $19 or $20 billion—would much more than compensate for any increase in social security taxes. Also, as you well know, the average working family in our country will not have their social security payments increased because of the recent legislation.
That legislation was absolutely mandatory. Two of the three reserve funds for the social security system were faced with immediate bankruptcy. One of them would have gone bankrupt next year, the other one 3 years later. So, the Congress had to increase income going into those reserve funds to keep the social security system sound for all of us.
The primary increase in social security payments will fall on those who are in an income bracket $20, $30, $40,000, up, the higher range of the working families of our country. But I think one thing that has been forgotten is that as they pay higher social security taxes in the future and there are modest increases, they will also get higher benefits if there should be a death or if they live until retirement. So, there a compensation is made.
So, although it does contribute slightly to inflation, there is no alternative to it. The only alternative being considered by Congress is whether to finance the social security system from general funds, and the Congress feels—certainly the Senate feels much more strongly—that the social security system should stand on its own and should not be financed by general funds.
So, I think that I've explained it as best I can. I was in favor of the bill, am glad the Congress is not going to undo it. We have set up, or are setting up, a longterm analysis of the social security system that will be ready for me and the Congress perhaps within a year But this legislation now passed, moderate increases for the higher income families, will keep the social security system sound for the next 25 years. It's a good investment.
SPEAKER REDMOND. Representative Berman. I just want to show the senate that we really are fair in the house. Senator Berman.
SENATOR BERMAN. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. President, welcome to Springfield. We're honored to have you here.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
U.S. RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL
SENATOR BERMAN. My question relates to the concerns of the Jewish community in relation to the State of Israel. Many of us who have Jewish constituents and are Jewish in this body have great apprehension that there's been a deviation from the classic position of the United States of a special relationship and a total commitment to the security of Israel. We have heard of this apprehension from our own constituents, and I appreciate your office has indicated that an aide would be willing to meet with the Jewish legislators after your meeting, but I don't think that's necessary because I think this is much more meaningful, and I appreciate this opportunity.
I think the Jewish community is going to be looking for deeds, but I would ask you this morning to please comment on what type of message we can bring back to these people that are fearful of this deviation, to reassure them of the total commitment of your administration to the security of Israel.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, sir. This is one of those difficult questions that I mentioned earlier.
The special relationship between the United States and Israel still stands. Our total commitment to Israel's security and our hope for peace is still preeminent among all the other considerations that our Nation has in the Middle East.
I have spent more time on the Middle Eastern question since I've been in the White House than any other subject, not just in analysis within our own group and with the Members of the Congress, who are deeply interested about what our country's position ought to be, but having long, detailed, sometimes private conversations with all the leaders of nations participating in the potential or existing negotiations in the Middle East.
Israel has dominant air capability in the Middle East, and that dominance will even increase as a result of the recent approved arms sales.
I don't know anyone in the world that I am more convinced wants peace than Anwar Sadat. When I met with him for the first time early last year, he said to me, "Mr. President, what is it that I can do to break the deadlock that has existed for years and years between us and Israel?" I said, "First of all, you can negotiate directly with the leaders of Israel, not through us as intermediaries." He said, "I don't believe that's possible, Mr. President."
I said, "You can break down the barriers that have existed between Egyptians and Israelis and the hatred that evolves from constant radio broadcasts and propaganda efforts." He said, "I believe I can do that."
I said, "You can put forward a proposal where in the future the borders between Israel and Egypt will be open for trade, tourism, student exchange, cultural exchange, even diplomatic recognition." And he said, "That will never come in my lifetime."
That was about a year ago. And there has been a dramatic change since then. Most of it took place, as you know, during the November-December era, when Begin received Sadat with open arms, and vice versa. And both those leaders have told me they were shocked at the warmth of the reception of Israeli negotiators when they arrived in Egypt, and of Sadat and his negotiators when they arrived in Jerusalem. I think this proves that the people in Egypt and Israel genuinely want peace.
Since then I've met with both leaders extensively, and I'm convinced that if we sever our relationship with the moderate Arab nations, with Egypt—by far the dominant nation as far as the Arab world goes—with the Saudi Arabians who are not part of the negotiating process, but who have a very good moderating influence-with King Hussein, and just isolate ourselves with a bilateral relationship with Israel, it would almost prevent any further, future progress on peace.
So, our commitment is to continue, in spite of constant discouragement, in spite of political costs, to move toward a resolution of the issue.
I think when Sadat went to Jerusalem, that Begin responded with a very good proposal, which was a step in the right direction, a basis for good negotiations-how to withdraw from the Sinai, how to have some negotiations about home rule, so-called, for the West Bank, Gaza Strip area.
We are not trying to impose a settlement, but we'll still have active negotiations going on, getting a message from the Israelis, delivering it to the Egyptians-they're always disappointed—getting a message from Sadat, delivering it back to the Israelis—they're always disappointed. We're kind of an unappreciated postman going back and forth between leaders who tried to open a door at the end of last year and have now seen the door closed again.
I believe that the confidence that Egypt now has that we are concerned about their security, not against Israel—the F-5E's are no match for the Israeli Air Force-but against their other neighbors, who are on the continent of Africa, I think, is a very sound insurance policy that in the future Sadat will trust me enough and trust our Nation enough to continue to negotiate in good faith, even when the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Libyans, and others are castigating him for keeping the peace doors open.
And I believe that Israel can rest assured that there will never be any deviation in our own country, of our total commitment to giving them adequate provisions to defend themselves.
Prime Minister Begin, I think, shares what I've just said to you, and I don't believe that Sadat would disagree with a word of it. But there need be no concern among the Israeli people nor among Jews in this country that our Nation has changed or turned away from Israel. It was a difficult vote, but I think it was an honoring of past commitments. And if we have violated our Nation's word of honor to provide that modest amount of military capability to those two Arab countries, I think we would have driven them away from us permanently and driven permanently away any prospect for peace in the Middle East, which we pray for and which I'm determined to pursue until the last day I'm in the White House.
I believe we still have a good chance for Success.
SPEAKER REDMOND. Senator Glass.
LABOR LAW REFORM
SENATOR GLASS. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. President, lest you leave Illinois with the feeling that all members of the chamber share the views of my esteemed colleague on the other side of the aisle regarding the labor reform act, let me assure you that only is not true, but I and, I think, a number of others feel it would be one of the most dangerous and disastrous pieces of legislation for our free enterprise system as it exists today. And I don't intend to belabor the point, because you have stated your position on the bill, but I would like to be specific about it.
There is a provision in the bill that would require blacklisting of businesses who have violated the terms of the act. And as I understand it, that would prohibit the Federal Government from engaging with those firms in signing contracts with them. I wondered if you would approve that provision and, if so, why?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there are several provisions in the bill that concern the Members of the Senate. I do favor the bill as it was passed by the House, which includes that particular aspect. I would not describe it in exactly the same words you used. But there is some need for a threat of punishment to any person in this country who violates a law, and if a business violates the laws of the United States, there has to be some threat of consequence adverse to that business. It might be imprisonment in the penitentiary, it might be a very heavy fine, or it might be the threat of losing Government business until they do come into compliance.
There's a debate about how long an election might be delayed, whether it'll be 30 days, 45 days, or 60 days. There's a concern among many people, also, about the right of labor, if business campaigns against a labor organization, that that labor organization has a right to access to that property. That bothers a lot of Americans. But my guess is that when the Senate gets through debating the bill-and it's a fairly narrow vote, nobody knows the outcome of it yet—that some of the things of concern to you might very well be changed.
But I know the controversy involved in this bill. I think if the bill had been radical in nature, there would not have been mounted a more strong attack on it. In my opinion as a businessman myself, coming from a very conservative region of our country, it is a very modest and moderate piece of legislation. But there's room for disagreement, which you pointed out very well.
SPEAKER REDMOND. Representative Ray Yourell.
REPRESENTATIVE YOURELL. Mr. President, the urban areas have become decadent in many ways; some are almost bankrupt, and minority employment is about 30 percent or better in some areas. Considering these areas as man-made disasters, has your administration made any plans, let's say, perhaps to consider them man-made disaster areas and thereby capable of receiving help. Or perhaps you have taken the Humphrey-Hawkins plan under consideration, or perhaps you have a plan of your own.
Do you have a comment?
THE PRESIDENT. I'll be glad to. Of course, one of the most severe problems in the ghetto areas have been deterioration of the quality of life, not just housing, transportation, law enforcement, health care, education, but also a matter that struck to the heart of those regions, and that was the unemployment question.
I think the Congress has made notable progress in the last 16 months. The programs have been administered well, too. And as I said earlier, we've cut down the unemployment rate substantially, and we've increased employment opportunities, a net of 5 1/2 million jobs, which has never been achieved before in the history of our country. Those programs are still ongoing. Since we've now cut down the general unemployment rate among those easier to employ, now I think the special programs, the public works programs, the CETA jobs, and so forth, can be more narrowly focused upon those who are difficult to employ.
We've also marshaled the support of the National Alliance of Businessmen. Sixteen months ago the highest unemployment rate among white and black young people was Vietnam veterans. We had a special program called HIRE, where the business community volunteered to hire Vietnam veterans. We have now cut that unemployment rate down among that particular group so that it is actually lower than the average of their age group throughout the country.
I had a meeting at the White House this past week, this week, with about 150 top business and labor leaders, and they volunteered now to add 100,000 more jobs, employing those that are most hardcore at the time of unemployment, those that are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. So unemployment, we've made very good progress.
We've hammered out now for the first time in the history of our country again a comprehensive urban policy. We didn't do it in an isolated room or from an ivory-tower prospective in the White House. We've worked closely with the Members of Congress, including Gus Hawkins and others. We worked closely with Governors, mayors, county officials all over the Nation, and I think it's gotten almost unanimous rave reviews.
We didn't add all that much money in total budget expenditures. It's a very modest financed program, but it brings into cohesion for the first time the interrelationship among the different departments and agencies of Government. And its thrust is, under Pat Harris, better houses, under the Transportation Department, better and more focused transportation systems. And it forms a partnership between State and local government and the Federal Government.
I think it will be very constructive in the future. It really preserves and enhances our system of federalism. I'm quite aware that when we had this general progress, when the GNP goes up 6 percent last year, when business profits are at all-time high, when, lately, the stock market has gone up, when the unemployment rate goes down, that there are pockets of unemployment among young people, black people, women, that are still extremely high. And this preys on my mind constantly, and the Congress is very much aware of it.
So, we have made some progress in the short time I've been in the White House. But I intend to obviously make more progress. And there I think we can mutually support one another, because the State legislators, the Governors, and others can do a great deal to point .out to us defects in how we administer those laws and make sure that jobs actually go to the people that deserve them and want them, and the housing programs actually serve those who are most in need, and so forth.
Transportation, education, all are very important. We've added more education dollars to the Federal contribution than ever before in history, even under Lyndon Johnson, but, you know, we don't administer the elementary and secondary schools. That's got to be done at the State level and the local level, and that's the way it ought to be. So, we'll do our part. I'm sure you'll do your part to make us bring about some resolution of these longstanding, chronic sufferings in our country that are unwarranted, primarily because of past discriminations and present lack of knowledge or callousness about those who are less fortunate than all of us assembled here.
Let me say this in closing: I've enjoyed this very much, and I think you might want to read over the speech that I had written earlier. It gives some additional points that I touched on briefly this morning. It's helpful to me to understand what questions are of concern to you.
Illinois is our great agriculture-producing State. I'll be meeting with Senator Bruce and a few others immediately after this meeting. They've gotten a group of farmers to give me questions about exports. We had our best export year in history last year, even with depressed prices. We're determined to have an even greater agricultural export year this year. And we are working very hard to make sure that we do have a sound program that affects not only the country but you.
Now, I recognize that quite often when I make a nationwide decision that we leave gaps because of special local differences or aberrations from the average. We have to make, in Washington, the laws apply to the average. And that's where the State legislators come in. Because to the extent that you understand the thrust of a Federal program, you can either take full advantage of that if it's adequate and invest your money and your efforts somewhere else, or if you have a special need that can't be recognized by a nationwide law, then you can till in the gaps and meet the needs of your own people.
But to get back to my original premise, the insurance that we have that we make those decisions properly is to stay close to the people who put us in office. And this is one of the elements I think that's been missing too much in our political structure in the last few years, because there's been a building up of distrust against government, and a chasm has opened between government and people. And that can be resolved only by you and me.
We live in the greatest nation on Earth, and I hope that with your help, the Congress help, and the help of all American people, in the years ahead we can make it even greater than it is.
Thank you very much.