Vernon Weaver, Arthur Levitt, other Commissioners, and delegates:
It's a genuine pleasure for me to be with you tonight.
I welcome you to the first White House Conference on Small Business. As you may have surmised, this gathering fulfills a long-time ambition of mine to have the voice of small business heard loud and clear here in Washington. As a matter of fact, I started working on it 5 years ago, in January of 1975. And I worked very hard for 2 years so that I could come up here 3 years ahead of you— [laughter] and start getting things ready for this conference. And now here we are, and I'm very glad to be with you.
A lot of people deserve credit for the progress that we've made already. But I particularly want to mention Senator Gaylord Nelson and Congressman Neal Smith, and all the Members of Congress who have played an integral role in laying the groundwork, the legal groundwork, for this conference. This gathering, which will have a great influence on the future course of our country, is both the culmination of years of hard work and also the beginning of renewed efforts carefully devised by you and by us, designed for the future—a better one for you and for us and the entire country. It's a proud day for all of us.
We are also meeting at one of the most trying times in our Nation's history. I want to talk very briefly about that.
As citizens of a free society, as supporters of human freedom and human dignity, we have been justifiably outraged about recent international events. We are outraged that, half a world away, the Iranian Government holds 50 innocent Americans hostage in violation of international law and in violation of human decency. And we are also outraged that in that same troubled spot of the world, armed forces of the Soviet Union, a superpower, have launched a massive invasion of the small, nonaligned country of Afghanistan.
Yet for all our anger, the United States has responded with a combination of restraint and firmness. For all the world to see, we have reasserted our commitment to the rule of law in international conduct, and we have worked carefully with our own allies and within the United Nations. We will continue to protect American interests and, if possible, preserve the peace. But we will protect the interests of the United States, using whatever action is required.
This has not been an easy 2 months for any of us. But I think we've shown the world that America will not give in to terrorism or to international intimidation, whatever its forms might be or wherever it might occur.
As President, I have been very proud of the American people. We've risen to this occasion as a united nation. We've spoken loud and clear with one voice, and the world has listened with respect. In an almost unprecedented way, the United States has been joined and supported by nations of all kinds—deeply religious and atheistic, large and small, east and west, north and south, they have joined with us to condemn what has occurred in Iran and Afghanistan.
Some of our economic actions directly involve you, who represent small business enterprise in this country. You have demonstrated your willingness to make a reasonable sacrifice for the security and the well-being of the United States. And I thank you for this support.
Normal trade and commerce has been interrupted in order to demonstrate vividly our abhorrence and our own condemnation of terrorism and military aggression against innocent people. Under even the best of circumstances, normal trade will not soon be resumed with the Soviet Union.
This is an election year, when Americans are making judgments and assessing Performance and thinking about the future. In reaching my own decision to act, I had to face some tough choices. There are many risks. There are economic costs. We are sharing those costs, so the burden will not fall just on you as small business leaders, not just on the American farmer, not just on any particular group in our country. Political considerations, in order to protect our Nation, had to be set aside; and some economic profit, in order to protect our Nation, had to be forgone.
I need for you and for all Americans to stand with me. The United States is being severely tested today—tested for our moral courage, tested for our willingness to forgo economic profit, tested for our basic military strength, tested for out national unity, tested for our economic strength. And we Americans will not fail these tests.
I consider it most fitting for the White House Conference on Small Business to convene this week. This is a good forum. Just as we must keep bright the beacon of human freedom, demonstrate national unity, and maintain the military strength of our country, so must we also maintain a national economy that will make all this possible. To me that means a further strengthening of the small businesses of America.
I know firsthand how important this must be. I'm one of the few small businessmen ever to serve in the White House. I had a Small Business Administration loan, Vernon. And I'm very proud to say that I was finally able to pay it back- [laughter] —almost, but not quite always, on time. In fact, even today, in my present job, I carry out one of the important small business traditions. As you know, I live right next to the store where I work. [Laughter]
I feel close to you. And from the day I first took office, I've worked with you and with others to build a good record to aid small business. We moved quickly to ease paperwork and regulatory burdens. We required that new regulations be cost-effective and written in plain English, and that we eliminate overlapping and obsolete rules. We've required regulators to consider, for the first time, the special problems of small business and to exempt you from further certain burdensome regulations that would have been issued. These are just commonsense changes, but in Washington they amounted to a major departure from past routine.
As one measure of progress, we've already cut by 15 percent the time required by Americans of all kinds to fill out Federal paperwork. And we've exempted 40,000 low-risk businesses from regulations by OSHA, and on one proud day, we eliminated 1,000 OSHA regulations.
Working with Congress and with you, my administration has helped to create a better climate for small business, a better realization on the part of every agency in the Federal Government of what your special problems and your special potential is. Because of our initiatives, corporate taxes are lower for small businesses. Pension funds regulations now encourage investments in small and innovative businesses. The Small Business Administration has greatly expanded its lending activities. I appointed the first Chief Counsel for Advocacy in the SBA, and I made a good choice.
We've also addressed some special groups of those involved in small business. We've expanded aid to minority-owned businesses. Since 1977 Federal purchases from minority-owned firms increased from about $1 billion to $2 1/2 billion. And our goal for 1980, which I am determined to reach, is $3.8 billion of Federal purchases from minority-owned businesses.
As part of my determination to meet this and other goals, I've directed all Federal agencies to implement Public Law 95-507 aggressively, as you know, for the benefit of both small and minority businesses, to expand your share of subcontracts from large Federal contractors.
I've also begun efforts to aid small businesses owned by women. Last year I directed Federal agencies to help strengthen the role of women in business. The 1981 budget will contain funds for the Nation's first women's business development effort to coordinate this move nationwide.
Well, I could go on, but these are just some of the small business initiatives that we've implemented in that last 3 years. I know, as well as you, that we still have a long way to go. And this conference is designed to chart our course for the future. On these particular efforts, I'll let Vernon Weaver and others go into more detail with you this week, because I want to turn now, in closing, to two problems that affect us all—and hit small businesses especially hard. These are energy and inflation.
Let me first say that I believe that we are beginning to turn the corner on both problems. After three decades of almost total indifference, we now have a national energy policy to reduce our dangerous dependence on imported oil. We now have a rational, conservation-minded energy pricing policy based on reality, not on false hopes.
We've put in place a series of things, and I'll just mention them briefly: first, a clear policy to encourage American production of energy, based on a rational pricing policy of deregulation; second, broad incentives for conservation, the best approach to solving our energy import problem; a strong shift away from oil toward coal, our most abundant source of energy; new emphasis on renewable sources of energy, based on the Sun—and there is a broad gamut, as you know, of opportunities here—an extensive effort to develop synthetic alternatives to foreign oil. And I've called on the Congress to enact a windfall profits tax to finance this most massive of all peacetime investments in American industry—to develop major new domestic energy supplies.
This new program can have a profound and a beneficial effect on all small businesses in America. But you have a responsibility, a special individual responsibility, to help with the two things that are required to cut back on foreign imports. The first is conservation, the elimination of waste. And the second is to enhance the production of all forms of energy in our own country, and not overseas.
Last year we stopped the upward spiral in the quantity of oil that we import, and we reduced—actually reduced our oil imports by 5 percent. Yet even with that, at the higher prices we will probably pay in 1980 $90 billion for imported oil. Along with oil we are importing inflation and unemployment. Just imagine what those $90 billion would do if invested instead in American businesses—in new jobs, in innovations, in increased productivity. That's one of the main reasons why I have been almost obsessed with energy since the first day I came into this office, and have worked almost 3 years, constantly with the Congress to hammer out, over the most difficult possible obstacles, a comprehensive energy policy. And we are just on the verge of success, and that's why our Nation as a whole, and you individually, must face up to this very difficult task.
Cutting down oil imports is also a top priority in fighting inflation. Virtually all of last year's increase in our inflation rate came from OPEC: almost 100-percent increase in OPEC oil prices. And we will never control inflation until we control our excessive appetite for foreign oil.
Of course, you all know that we can also attack inflation directly, and we've done so. First, we've already cut the Federal deficit by more than half. In the new budget, which is going to the press right now, we will cut this deficit in half again, and we will keep working toward a balanced budget as rapidly as we humanly can.
When measured as a share of our gross national product, already, up till now, the present deficit has declined even more-from 4.6 percent of the GNP when I ran for President—when I was elected President, down to only 1.2 percent of the GNP now. You're all interested in the Federal deficit being reduced. And I might caution you that you can help in this conference, because when you make recommendations to me and to Congress and to the administration and to the Nation, I hope that you will consider every recommendation and what impact that recommendation might have on Federal budget expenditures.
Second, we are reducing the cost of regulation on our economy and at the same time encouraging more competition. This has certainly not been an easy job. Deregulation of airline fares was only the beginning of an unprecedented and sustained effort to get the Government's nose out of the private enterprise system of America.
And as you well know, contrary to the best interests of consumers and our country, quite often those regulated have been the most bitter opponents of deregulation. That's where the small business voice can be heard with the utmost effectiveness in the halls of Congress. We've only just begun with airlines. We are moving on railroads, trucking, communications, finance, and many other areas of American life.
Third, we enlisted the aid of American business and labor to work with the administration in a national accord to help hold down inflation voluntarily. We've had notable success, which I'm sure will be spelled out to you during these 4 days.
And finally, we've made a concerted effort, which is only just beginning, to encourage more research and development, more capital investment, more productivity growth. Only in these ways and others like them can we attack the roots of inflation, and not just the symptoms of inflation.
The events in Iran and Afghanistan have helped to underscore hard work ahead for America in the 1980's. They've dramatized the need for greater cooperation and for greater unity in facing our common problems. Clearly we have our work cut out for us, and this conference is an important part of that work.
It's the first major conference, as you know, that has been called in Washington since these two crises erupted into the American national consciousness. And what you do here and what you say here and what you recommend from here .should be based upon a need to pull Americans together; to consider the great human and natural resources which we enjoy; and to determine the course that we must follow in the future to give a better quality of life for all Americans, based on a common effort.
Already more than 30,000 small business owners have helped to fashion recommendations and proposals in 57 meetings in all the States of our Nation, which will be on the agenda for discussion this week. I have high expectations for your work, and I want you to have high expectations that together we can and we will keep up the momentum for reforms that strengthen the small businesses of America. Together we can build a stronger economy that will help make this great country of ours even greater.
In about 2 years a group representing this conference should come back to the White House to assess the progress that we will have made. And when you come back in 1982, I expect to be here to greet you.
Thank you very much.