THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Pippert [Wes Pippert, United Press International].
Q. Mr. President, you said a lot last year about a lot of people out of work, yet unemployment persists at around 7 percent. It's twice as high among blacks, and yesterday, the head of the Black Caucus said that your programs, in his words, "have not even begun to dent the unemployment that wracks our communities." Why has the administration been unable to dent unemployment, and what are you going to do about it?
THE PRESIDENT. There's no easy answer, of course, to the unemployment question. Last December the unemployment rate was, I think, 8.1 percent. It came down in April or May to about 7 percent, and it has leveled off at that figure. We had an economic stimulus package with a heavy emphasis on jobs and tax reductions, amounting to about $21 billion, which is now beginning to be felt, I hope.
Last quarter, about $3 billion of that program was in effect. By the end of this quarter, $18 billion will be in effect and, in the first quarter of next year, the full amount. We believe that this will have a beneficial impact on unemployment rates, but it certainly won't solve the problem. We will by next June, for instance, have 725,000 jobs under the comprehensive education and training program. This is the highest level for jobs of this category supported directly by the Federal Government since the New Deal days under Roosevelt.
But it's a tedious, slow process. I think the general, worldwide economic slowdown is causing this problem to be felt in all nations. We hope, though, that it will come down next year as it began to come down this year.
Q. Could I follow?
THE PRESIDENT. Please.
Q. Will you accept a Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill that sets a goal of 4 percent unemployment within 5 years?
THE PRESIDENT. We've been working very closely with the congressional leaders, including my personal conversations with Congressman Hawkins and Senator Humphrey. The Humphrey-Hawkins bill is a concept that I endorse and support. This bill has been constantly modified since it was introduced several years ago, as you know.
We expect to have an announcement about the administration's position on Humphrey-Hawkins within the next few days. There are some important aspects of the bill that have been modified recently. One is to inject into the bill's concepts a strong anti-inflation commitment in addition to the anti-unemployment commitment. Also, from the bill have been removed the direct authorizations for programs that might have been very costly. They would have to be considered step by step by the Congress as required.
Another thing that has been added to the recent version of the bill is some flexibility to accommodate changing times in the future. My belief is that these specific modifications by the authors of the bill and their staffs, working with my staff, can be realized. And my expectation is that we will have a successful conclusion of these negotiations and then that the bill will be presented to the Congress with my endorsement.
NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE
Q. Mr. President, you had a meeting yesterday on national health insurance. And I know that you don't have a program to present at this time, but can you give us some clue as to your thinking of where you are going with national health insurance, and have you got any kind of timetable in mind?
THE PRESIDENT. It's too early yet to lay down specifics on a national health insurance program. This was a concept that was endorsed by all the candidates for President last year, and it's a need in our country that this entire health care system be improved. One of them is to cut down the exorbitant increases in national health care, particularly hospital costs.
We've already initiated a major effort on a hospital cost containment bill. These costs have been doubling every 5 years, which makes it almost impossible to give better health care because the costs have gone up so rapidly there.
Also, there are many facets of national health care in addition to just health insurance. Physical fitness is obviously one; air and water pollution problems, prevention of disease, expansion of the medical personnel that can give health care. And we've just signed a bill that provides for so-called physician extenders to let registered nurses and others do more of the work in health care.
I would say, since this was just an exploratory talk, and my first one, yesterday, with my top staff members and Cabinet members, that it's too early to lay down a schedule. But we'll be working on this now with increasing commitment, and I think by early next year, the principles of the national health program will be outlined to the American people.
Q. Mr. President, Mr. Helms' attorney says that his client will wear his conviction on charges of failing to testify fully before Congress as a badge of honor. Do you think it's a badge of honor, and do you think a public official has a right to lie in public about his business under any circumstances?
THE PRESIDENT. No, it is not a badge of honor, and a public official does not have a right to lie.
The Helms case is one that we inherited. I've never met Mr. Helms. I don't believe the Attorney General has ever met Mr. Helms.
This is a serious problem that evolved in years past. We had three major facets of this question: One is to uphold the law; the second was to uphold the veracity requirement, the truthfulness requirement of those who testify before Congress; and the third one was to make the best judgment we could on how to protect the security of our Nation.
I think the decision that was made by the Attorney General, confirmed by the courts, was the right decision and the best decision. It does fulfill all three of those requirements. It does not condone lying, it does uphold the law, and I think it did protect, as best we could, the security of our country.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, it's our understanding that some of your top national security advisers met yesterday in the White House Situation Room to sort of reassess the situation in the Middle East in light of the recent trouble on the Lebanon border. Can you give us some assessment this morning, especially what effect this might have on the Middle East peace conference later this year?
THE PRESIDENT. This new outburst of violence is a great concern to us and, I think, to the nations in the Middle East, to all people of the world. The unwarranted and continuing terrorist attacks have been part of the Middle East picture for years. The retaliatory measures taken by nations who were attacked by terrorists has been a part of the picture in the Middle East for years. I think it shows the volatile nature there of the continuing problems.
I think it shows in a much more vivid way than perhaps in the past, recent past, the need for an immediate convening of the Geneva conference as soon as we can get these national leaders to sit down, or their representatives to sit down on a continuing basis and work out face to face these divisions that have existed in the Middle East for generations.
Loss of life is deplorable. But the situation is never going to be improved, in my opinion, until those nations there are willing to step beyond the procedural debates and squabbles about exactly how to go and exactly what representation will be present and start dealing with the real issues. I've been pleased that the Israeli Government has adopted the procedures for the Geneva conference that we've proposed. I was pleased with the statement yesterday by President Sadat that he was willing to go to Geneva or anywhere else and begin to consult directly with Israel and with the other Arab nations without quibbling any more about the detailed wording of the procedures. That's our position.
I hope that Jordan and Syria and Lebanon very quickly will make a similar response to us, and that we can then convene the Geneva conference. But the major all-encompassing question in the Middle East is that the bloodshed, in my opinion, will not be stopped until the nations are willing to negotiate on the basic divisions that have separated them so long.
Q. Well, do you think the Israeli attack was justified--the retaliation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think this is a question that's hard for me to answer-whether Israel can sit dormant and quiescent and accept repeated attacks on their border villages without retaliation, whether the retaliation was excessive. Those are questions that I think both answers would be, perhaps, yes. There ought not to be any attacks. If there are continued attacks, some retaliation is required.
I don't know the details of it, but I think the overriding consideration is not to condemn Israel at this point for retaliation, but just to say that if the provocations were absent that the retaliation would have been unnecessary. And the best way to resolve it is for Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, relating to that region of the Mideast, for Jordan and Egypt and Israel to start direct negotiations. The whole tiling is just sitting and teetering on another outbreak of even more major violence. And I think that at this time, a condemnation of people is probably inappropriate, but an urge for all nations now to stop this present, recent outbreak and to move toward major consultations is the only answer that I can give.
DAM SAFETY INSPECTIONS
Q. Mr. President, I'm asking you, sir, about the question of safety of the 50,000 dams in the United States. It's 5 years since Congress authorized an inspection program, but money has never been put up for it. Last weekend, Mrs. Carter went down to Florida [Georgia] to inspect the latest disaster and, presumably, reported back to you, and presumably you have some ideas on what to do next about it. Could you tell us, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Again, this has been, as you know, a historic question in that it lasts from one year to another, from one decade to another, even generations.
There are now about 50,000 dams in this country that need to be inspected without delay. We've allocated $15 million to the Corps of Engineers to commence this examination procedure.
The priorities for inspection of dams will be established depending upon the number of people who are endangered by these potentially unsafe dams. Only about 2,000, I believe, out of the 50,000 are Federal dams. The rest of them are privately owned or, in some instances, owned by the State or local governments--water reservoirs and so forth.
This is a project that requires a broad range of participation. State governments and local governments ought to participate as well. And private owners of dams ought to reassess both the need for the reservoir to continue in existence, or filled with water, or the repair or examination of the (lain by letting the water down, or by other means.
I think that these tragedies that occur restimulate interest which has, in the past, died down after a few weeks. I don't intend to let this interest die down. The tragedy in Toccoa, Georgia, was one that was very narrowly defined. This was a small, privately owned dam just above a 200-foot waterfall. Below that waterfall was a very small college, and 37 people have been found dead; 2 more are missing.
We acted immediately there. We've got even more extensive flooding with a number of people's lives being lost in North Carolina. But I intend to pursue this dam safety inspection now without surcease. It will not be postponed any further.
Q. Mr. President, with the Senate and House conferees deadlocked over federally funded abortions, a young woman in Texas recently was unable to obtain an abortion, went across the border into Mexico, obtained a cheap, botched-up operation, and died.
My question is, sir, does this prompt you to any second thoughts about your recent comments that life is unfair when you compare the plight of these poor women with people in better economic circumstances who can pay this relatively small cost for a safe, legal abortion?
THE PRESIDENT. My stand on Federal financing of abortions has not changed. But, obviously, I deplore any sickness or loss of life. I deplore unwanted pregnancies, and we are trying to take other means to make sure that abortions are not necessary. But I'm not in favor, as I've said before, of Federal financing for abortions.
Q. Mr. President, I'd like to go back to the Helms case for just a moment. In light of the July 25 meeting at the White House that involved you and the Attorney General and others in which you fully discussed the Helms case, I wonder, sir, if you could give us the reasons for your statement on September 29 that you had not consulted with the Attorney General about the Helms case? And the second part of my question is, was one consideration to avoid a public trial at all costs to keep the secret secret?
THE PRESIDENT. The September 25 (The President meant July 25)1 meeting was not, in the first place, a thorough discussion of the Helms case. It was a brief meeting at which the Helms case was outlined with no secret material discussed, no documents examined, no mention made of people or others who might be involved if the trial did go to conclusion.
1 Printed in the White House Press Office transcript.
There was a general discussion there, fairly brief. Our hope at that time, expressed by the Attorney General, by me, the Vice President, I think by the National Security Advisor, was that a negotiated settlement might be reached. Then, we did not think that was a likely prospect.
The second question that arose was, if we have to go to trial because of an indictment, should it be concluded aggressively or would the question of national security revelations have to be faced? And we postponed that decision with the understanding that if that prospect did present itself to me, that I would then be briefed on the consequences of those prospects. That never did occur.
The question that was raised in September was based on a statement by Admiral Turner, who heads up the CIA, the national intelligence community, that we were faced with a prospect of two alternatives: One was a decision not to prosecute at all, and the other alternative that Admiral Turner mentioned, which was in the reporter's question, that the complete trial would be held with the revelation of national security secrets. I replied that the Attorney General had never presented that information to me, which was true.
The only other contact that I had after September 25 (The President meant July 25) 1 with the Attorney General on this subject at all was that one day in passing, I think after a Cabinet meeting, he pointed out that there was an inclination on the part of Mr. Helms' attorney to act in a proper way, or patriotic way. But I have never been given any briefings about secret documents that might be revealed, nor people to be involved, because fortunately we did not have to face that prospect.
MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION
Q. Mr. President, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Arthur Burns said he is going to have to continue to restrain the growth in money supply in order to control inflation, which, of course, is your goal also. But this can drive up interest rates. And I wonder what threat you see from this to the business expansion, which is needed to reduce unemployment.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you always have that inherent conflict, which is one that was pointed out earlier about the unemployment rate in the Humphrey-Hawkins bill. On the one hand, economic stimulation leads to rapid growth, more employment, at least on a temporary basis; and on the other hand, you have the high inflationary pressures develop when you have an excessive supply of money, an excessive stimulation of the economy.
I strongly support the autonomy and independence of the Federal Reserve. We have had a 2-percent increase in interest rates this year because of action taken by the Federal Reserve. But there's a fairly good balance now, in my opinion, between the Federal Reserve on the one hand, controlling the supply of money in the marketplace to some degree; the Congress, which has direct authority to act, which indirectly controls the supply of money by changes in the tax laws, rebates, and so forth; and the President, of course, participates with the Congress in establishing budget levels, the rapidity with which programs are carried out once the money is authorized by Congress, and so forth. I wouldn't want to change that basic structure. I think it's good.
I might say that the press reports of disharmonies or arguments or a lack of friendship or cooperation between me and Chairman Burns are completely erroneous. We have meetings regularly. We discuss the economic issues openly and freely. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Secretary of Treasury, the Vice President attend those meetings.
Coincidentally, today is one of those monthly meetings when I'll be with Mr. Burns. We've never had any disagreements on those subjects. So, I don't think that I have any inclination to criticize the actions that have been taken by Mr. Burns.
NATIONAL ENERGY PLAN
Q. Mr. President, you canceled your trip overseas in order to be here for the last stages of the fight over your energy bill. You gave a speech on television the other night. What else do you personally intend to be doing, during this period when you would have been traveling, to bring about a result that's acceptable to you?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know of anything that's more important for me to do as President, other than defending our Nation and guaranteeing its security, than to have the Congress conclude their long year's work with a successful result, spelling out legislation and an energy policy for our Nation to help resolve a serious problem.
Energy waste threatens our country's economy, jobs, inflation. Energy waste threatens our Nation's own security, makes us overly dependent on foreign imports, which might be interrupted at any time. And I think that the best thing I can do the rest of this year is to work closely with the Congress, individually with Members of the Congress, with the conferees who are now engaged in very productive work. And I canceled the trip reluctantly, but with the additional realization that our relationship with the countries that I would have visited will be much better in the future if the United States takes this belated action to provide a workable energy policy.
The Congress is making, I think, good progress. There are five major elements of the energy package, five separate bills that will come to my desk eventually. They have almost completed work on two of them; the others are highly controversial. Perhaps the most wide disparity between the House and Senate is on taxation itself. They are dealing with one that's of crucial importance to consumers, and that is electric rate structures, to eliminate the great advantage that has been going, in the past, to those that waste electricity.
So, I think the Congress is making good progress. But I don't think there's any doubt--I know there's no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing to stay here while the Congress is in its crucial weeks of the conferees' work.
Q. Mr. President, do you expect to meet with members of the House-Senate conference committee personally during their deliberations?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, sir.
Q. Have you done so this week, and will you be doing so in the immediate future?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. As a matter of fact, tomorrow I have another meeting scheduled with the House chairman, Congressman Staggers. I have met with him previously and with Senator Long. Senator Jackson and I had a long meeting Sunday afternoon, and I've met with Senator Byrd Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours. I meet with the House and Senate leadership weekly at a breakfast.
In the past, I've called in the entire subcommittees that relate to particular aspects of the energy package. I consider this to be my overriding responsibility at this time. And between now and the time that the conferees conclude their work and the House and Senate vote on the conference reports, I'll put this as a top priority for myself.
Q. Mr. President, do you share the philosophy of those who say that every American has a right to a job? Does that influence you in your decision on Humphrey-Hawkins?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it does. We also, I think, have proposed to the Congress a move in that direction in the Program for Better Jobs and Income, the welfare reform proposals.
Included within that proposal is an additional 1.2 million jobs, most of which would be in the private sector. This is above and beyond the programs that we've already initiated this year. We have a heavy emphasis in almost everything we do to cut down unemployment in our country. It's multi-faceted in nature. And I believe that every person in our country that's able to work ought to have an opportunity for a job.
IRBY TURNER, JR.
Q. Are you aware, Mr. President, that one of your nominees, your most recent nominee to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was a very active member of the White Citizens Council in Mississippi and worked very hard to keep schools from being integrated down there? If that is true, would that make any difference to you in making that nomination?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I was not aware of it, and I'd have to know more about the circumstances before I would consider withdrawing a nomination.
There have been in the past, in the South and in other places, alignments with white citizens council groups and groups even more radical in nature.
I always think it's good to give people a chance to change if they will. But I have not known about that allegation, but I'll look into it.
Q. Mr. President, now that you've given yourself more time on tax reform, are you rethinking or changing your mind on any of the reforms that are most unsettling to business, specifically the capital gains, special treatment, and the three martini expense account lunch? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. We will continue to assess all aspects of tax reform, including the three-martini business lunch, which might be of special interest to this group. [Laughter]
I'm not sure about that, but I think that this is a time for us now to assimilate the action that Congress has taken and is taking on social security, which has major tax impact, and on the energy package, which also has a major impact on our tax structure.
Following that decision or those decisions by Congress, we will combine what we know then with what we know about our national economy prospects, give us another month or so to assess the changes, and then I'll make decisions on specific component parts of the tax reform package. But I've not added in, nor excluded yet, any component individual portions.
Q. Mr. President, it is now clear, sir, that the executive branch has failed to spend billions of dollars appropriated by Congress over the last few months. Do you know the size of that shortfall and what effect it has had on the economy, specifically jobs?
THE PRESIDENT. I believe that we're up to date in expending money for jobs. Both Secretary Kreps with Commerce and Secretary Marshall, the head of the Labor Department, have reported to me no later than last Friday that in the local public works program and the jobs program under Labor, that they are at least current or ahead of schedule.
There has been, however, this past fiscal year, a so-called shortfall, in that several billions of dollars, approximately 10 billions of dollars that had been appropriated by Congress, were not spent. Some of that, I think a substantial portion of it, was in the Defense Department, and this has been the case in many years in the past.
We are trying now to put a much more accurate means in effect of assessing how much money we spend each month, compared to what the Congress has authorized and what we want to spend, so that we won't have this major shortfall in the past.
It does have two component effects. One is it saves money for the taxpayers, but the other one is it quite often tends to put a dampening effect on the economy by extracting money that would have been added to stimulate. And also, of course, in cases where programs that are needed are delayed, that creates a problem for those who might receive the benefits. But I don't believe there's any evidence that this has been done in the case of jobs. We've been very insistent that the programs designed to stimulate our economy this year and to give our people jobs stay on schedule.
FRANK CORMIER [Associated Press]. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, sir.