THE PRESIDENT. This is another in a series of meetings with news editors of all kinds from around the country. I always look forward to them, and I really appreciate your giving me this chance to learn about your concerns. And it also gives me a chance to learn about the rest of the Nation outside of Washington.
What I'd like to do is take about 5 minutes to outline some of the things on which I'm working right at this moment, just for illustrative purposes, and then spend the balance of our time answering your questions.
On the domestic scene, of course, the major issue that we face now is the energy package, which the Congress is discussing. This is five major bills. They've just about finished work on two of them and still have three to go, the more controversial ones still to come--automobiles, natural gas, and taxation, with the crude oil equalization tax.
In addition, there are about 19 other conference committees, I believe, that are now functioning. One of the most important is on social security legislation. I'm quite concerned that the very attractive benefits that are awarded to retired people will be excessive, because the working people and employers now have to pay those benefits. And we presented a reform package to the Congress without any increase in the level of benefits for those who receive them, and we are hopeful that the Congress will not come forward with too generous a package which will add substantially to the tax burden of the working people and employers.
In addition, as you know, this year we've tried to address some of the other serious problems. I've already presented to the Congress a welfare reform program, what we call Better Jobs and Income Program. And we've gotten reorganization authority, which was a struggle at first, but the Congress gave me that for 3 years. We've tried to cut back on paperwork, reporting forms, straighten out OSHA so that it wouldn't be so onerous to people. We've passed major legislation in agriculture with a 5-year farm bill; put into effect about a $21 billion stimulus package, economic stimulus package, over half of which will be felt by the end of this quarter and the balance of which will be felt in the first quarter of 1977 .
The unemployment rate has come down about 1 percent, but it's been fairly level since late April at roughly the 7-percent level.
The latest figures on inflation show some progress on the consumer price index. But those monthly figures fluctuate so wildly that they are not really dependable. We think we have an underlying inflation rate of about 6 or 6 1/2 percent.
The growth rate this year will probably reach our predicted level, an average of about $ percent. The likelihood now is it will go down a little bit next year.
So, on the domestic scene, we've got a broad range of issues that have been and are being addressed.
On the foreign affairs and defense scene, we are working with the Soviets now on a comprehensive test ban. Last week President Brezhnev adopted our position, that we've been pursuing for months, to include the peaceful nuclear explosions in with the military tests to be prohibited. This was a pleasant development, and I think might make it possible, if we can work out the very difficult details on verification, that we can have a comprehensive test ban concluded. Nobody can predict accurately what will happen.
We are working with the Soviets, in addition to that, on a continuation of the SALT talks that have been going on now almost since the Soviets got into the nuclear field. I think we've got a good basic package evolved. There are still some very important differences that remain, but we've achieved most of our own objectives.
This will be SALT II. We will immediately continue with a SALT III effort. We've searched for equity, balanced forces; we've searched for verification so that any conclusions drawn, any agreements reached could be verified on a regular basis and an acceptable basis. And we are looking for reductions on both sides. We have proposed to the Soviets that we begin discussions on prohibiting antisatellite weapons. They are taking this under advisement, and I would guess that negotiations might commence on this subject before too many weeks go by.
We have, in addition, one of the most difficult and complicated questions, and that is a comprehensive settlement of the Mideast disputes. I doubt that any foreign negotiating effort has ever been attempted that's more complicated, more thankless, and sometimes more frustrating. But I believe that world peace is dependent upon a resolution of those major differences.
We have evolved now a so-called negotiating paper that has been accepted by some of the parties involved, publicly by Israel and by Egypt. We hope that Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria will agree to go to Geneva without too much more delay.
That's just the first step, but in the negotiations on how the Geneva conference might take place, obviously many of the issues have been raised. The three most important ones, of course, are to achieve real peace--this is something the Arabs have never been willing to acknowledge before--is a need for open borders, free trade, the exchange of tourism, student exchange, ultimate diplomatic relations, genuine peace to live in harmony. Another thing that the Arabs have always refused to do is to negotiate directly with Israel. They have now agreed to that. They have also agreed, as you know, to conclude the discussions, if they are successful, with actual signed peace treaties.
The second question is the territorial boundaries and defense lines and the security of the nations involved who, at the present time, obviously don't trust each other very much. And the third thing is the Palestinian question, how it might be resolved. This involves both refugees and also those who live in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip. And with tedious negotiations, we've made some progress on that. Nobody yet knows whether it will be successful.
The last thing I'd like to mention very quickly, to give you more time for questions, is the southern Africa difficulties in three general categories: One is Rhodesia or, as the black Africans call it, Zimbabwe; the second one in Namibia, which was formerly Southwest Africa; and the third one, of course, is South Africa itself.
We've not had much involvement in African affairs up until a little more than a year ago, when Secretary Kissinger did make a trip through there and evolved proposals which I thought were good ones but which didn't prove to be acceptable, primarily with Rhodesia.
The United Nations plays a major role in Namibia, working under the general auspices of five of us major nations---ourselves, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Germany--negotiating with South Africa on their withdrawal from Namibia.
We've got additional problems, as you know, in the Horn of Africa, also in Angola, which still has about 20,000 troops. The Cubans have, in effect, taken on the colonial aspect that the Portuguese gave up in months gone by. And we hope that there will be some inclination on the part of the Cubans to withdraw their forces from Angola. They are now spreading into other countries in Africa, like Mozambique. Recently, they are building up their so-called advisors in Ethiopia. We consider this to be a threat to the permanent peace in Africa.
So, that outlines in general some of the foreign policies that we are pursuing. I know that you have special questions to ask, and I'd like now to have your questions.
CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD
Q. I'm Ed Wishcamper, Abilene, Texas, Reporter-News. In the Washington Star last evening, Charles Walker wrote about the prospect of Arthur Burns perhaps being reappointed as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. At this time, that decision is 2 months away. What will be done?
THE PRESIDENT. I haven't decided about a reappointment yet and haven't had a chance to discuss this with my own staff or my economic advisers. As I said in my press conference this week, the highly publicized disagreements and disharmonies between me and Chairman Burns just do not exist. We talk on the telephone quite frequently; either he calls me or I call him. We have a monthly session with the Vice President, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, the Secretary of Treasury, and my economic advisers. We had one, coincidentally, yesterday.
And I don't understand how these kinds of stories evolve. But I think it's accurate, what I said in the press conference, that I've never had an argument with Mr. Burns. And even in our monthly lunch sessions, when we have a very free discussion, it's always been very harmonious and friendly. There are differences of opinion expressed on long-range trends and so forth, but it's been very, harmonious. I have not decided what to do about his reappointment.
Q. I'm Ben Plastino from Idaho Fails. I think I interviewed you about 2 years ago. My question is, what is your feeling now on the development of nuclear energy aside from the breeder reactor, and are you behind the SAREF 1 project?
1 Safety Reactor Experimental Facility. [Printed in the White House press release.]
THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to see you again. I remember my visit there. I think that was when you were having a gubernatorial election, and I came in to help Cecil Andrus, who's now helping me. By the way, I used to go to your area, to Arco, Idaho, and Pocatello when I was in the nuclear submarine program and we had our experimental units out there.
My veto of the Clinch River breeder reactor is no conclusion at all that I'm against nuclear power nor against the breeder reactor program. The reasons for the veto are multiple in nature. In addition to the Clinch River breeder reactor, there are several facets of that authorization bill which encroached upon the prerogatives of the President in an unprecedented way. I think it's a mistake to spend more than $2 billion on an actual production model of a particular breeder reactor design which, when it is completed, will already be obsolete. We don't need to go into the plutonium society this early. We need to continue our research and development, small pilot project construction, to test the three or four major types of breeder reactors that might ultimately prove to be most feasible when they are needed, maybe 20, 25 years from now.
I think the commitment that we are making to the nuclear power program is adequate at the Federal Government level. There's no inclination to phase it out.
One thing that we are trying to do is to decrease the time required for the approval of projects once they are submitted for licensing. It now takes about 10 years in our country, as contrasted to about 3 years 2 in a nation, for instance, like Japan, to put into operation a major nuclear power plant once it is Conceived and desired.
2 According to the Department of Energy, the time frame for Japan is 5-7 years. [Printed in the White House press release.]
We have had another major international effort of which I'm proud--and we've made good progress--and that is to cut down on the proliferation of nuclear explosives around the world. A year ago, I think there was a general feeling of despair that it was too late to do anything about the nuclear genie being out of the bottle. But now there's a general sense among the developed nations of the world, those who do have nuclear power capability, that we can stop the spread of nuclear weapons, although in the past it seemed to be hopeless. We recently, this month as a matter of fact, had 36 nations come into Washington to study the longrange nuclear fuel cycle, including the deposits of uranium, enrichment of thorium and uranium into usable degrees of purity, how to distribute those very useful fuel supplies, how to account for the wastes, how to prevent their being transferred into explosives themselves.
And I think this study will be helpful. So, we are making a major effort around the world to do two things simultaneously. One is to give nations who want and need nuclear power access to fuel and access to technology to generate electricity and, on the other hand, to stop or minimize the opportunity that they might have, and sometimes desire, to make nuclear weapons. It's a difficult proposition, very complicated, but we are making good progress.
PRESIDENT'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
Q. Al Fitzpatrick, the Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio. When you were in Akron last year, sir, you met with a group of men, and you indicated that you wanted to develop a personal relationship with the people in that room that would continue even after you were elected; Do you feel that you've been able to maintain that kind of relationship?
THE PRESIDENT. That was a religious group?
Q. No, it was primarily a group of minority leaders.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I remember. I came there for another reason, but I met with them after the banquet.
Yes, I think so. We've had, I think, as much success in keeping me available to the public as any administration has been able to do. At the conclusion of this year, for instance, I will have met personally and answered questions from about 400, perhaps more, editors and radio and TV executives like yourselves.
This morning I had a meeting with a group, for instance, that was involved in the Negro College Fund. Yesterday I met with about 40 small businessmen at the middle-business level--for instance, Van Heusen Shirt Company and Radio Shack, about that level--that have several thousand employees, but are not the biggest ones. I've made 5 or 6 different--well, more than that--I probably made 15 visits to individual communities around the Nation and ordinarily have either a forum that's publicized or call-in shows, or I have a press conference every 2 weeks, twice a month. We've never missed that yet.
In addition, I've had three fireside chats and one session in the Oval Office where people called me on the telephone for a couple of hours. Walter Cronkite helped me with that. We have a stream of visitors who come here during the week--some meet with me, some, the Vice President, some, top members of my staff.
Although it's never adequate, you know, I've done the best I could to devote a lot of time to this contact directly with the people from around the country.
And as far as the black leadership is concerned--I mentioned the United Negro College Fund, but I met earlier this week with the Black Caucus, and I've done the same thing with women's groups.
I met yesterday afternoon with the national leaders of about 75 different women's organizations over in the White House and made a brief talk and answered their questions. So, although you are never completely satisfied, I think we've done the best we could in keeping my contact directly with the people.
Q. Mr. President, recently in Statesboro, there was a tractor motorcade of 3,000 tractors. These men were protesting low farm prices and high production costs. Do you have any good words to give these farmers?
THE PRESIDENT. Tell them I'm one of them--[laughter]--say we've got a dirt farmer in the Secretary of Agriculture's office who understands their problems as well.
We've passed this year one of the most far-reaching farm bills, the most far reaching farm bill that's ever been passed in this country. I would say the total amount of indirect or direct Federal aid this year, this coming year, will be about $11 billion.
Prices now are growing, are going up fairly well--soybeans, corn, wheat. The price of peanuts, which is important down around Swainsboro and Statesboro, as you know, is fixed at a reasonable price. We are trying to get the Government out of the unwarranted interference in the agriculture picture as best we can.
We've got large farm stocks on hand of wheat and corn. We'll have the highest yield this year in history of both corn and soybeans. We'll have the second highest yield in the history of wheat. At the same time, two-thirds of all the counties in the Nation are designated as disaster counties, which shows the accuracy of concentrating financial aid where it deserves to be.
Georgia had a complete zero production of corn--you might be interested in knowing--I'd say not more than 5-percent yield. And that 5 percent is all permeated with aflatoxin mold and can't be sold.
But I think that in general, the agriculture situation next year is a good one. The reason that the prices are low now is because the yield has been high, and so the gross income per acre is maintained fairly well.
What creates a serious problem, obviously, is when you have a good yield in most parts of the country and a very low yield in certain communities because of weather patterns.
There's been a fairly good yield around the world this year on grains, not nearly as high as last year. As you noticed, President Brezhnev announced that they were going to come up about 20 million tons short of what their goal had been and about 10 million tons short of what we had anticipated their yield to be this year. That was primarily because of bad weather during harvest time.
We have now authorized an increase from 8 million tons of grain to be sold in the Soviet Union up to 15 million tons that can be sold to the Soviet Union. This still leaves us adequate stocks for our own domestic use.
We are concentrating on exports. This past fiscal year, which concluded the end of September, we had $24 billion in farm exports from our Nation, which is the highest we've ever seen in history. And with the better yields, we might not export that much this fiscal year, but we are trying to. So, I would say, in general, the agriculture picture looks good for the future.
Q. Mr. President, Bob Reed from the Lowell Sun in Massachusetts. We remember interviewing you, too.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I remember coming there. I rode over to Lowell on the train.
Q. Up in New England, we are paying double the national average for energy prices. And in view of your comments on your program, that it's designed to be both fair and equal, is there anything you can do to give us some hope that these prices will come down, particularly in view of John O'Leary's comments the other day that in 1985 we'll still be paying one and a half times the national average? Do you have any hope for relief for us?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think there's any doubt that the energy prices are going to go up for everybody. But we hope that with Alaskan oil coming down to the Gulf Coast and being distributed, with Alaskan gas coming down to the Midwest with the new pipeline, with an increasing supply of coal, particularly from the Appalachian region, that can be moved into New England-this would require an improvement in the quality of railroads, for instance, coming out of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, to the coast, say, into the Norfolk region or Philadelphia region, and then shipped by freight up to Boston and other New England ports--with a more orderly structure of pricing in oil and gas, encouragement of domestic production, increasing use of solar power over a period of years, that we can reduce substantially the present disparity in prices.
I think it's obvious that you have a much higher price to pay in New England than the rest of the country. Just one small item that I mentioned in passing is the railroad quality. The average speed, for instance, of the coal trains coming out of West Virginia to the coast is 12 miles per hour because the roadbeds have been permitted to deteriorate so badly. So, in the future, I think we are going to see a much better distribution of available energy supplies.
You've almost had to quit using coal in New England because of that purpose. I think the new technology that we hope to evolve in the future, the fluidized bed burning of coal, can let it be used in an increasing percentage, at least in our country and also in the total tons consumed, with minimum adverse effect on the environment, environmental quality.
So, I'd say technology, distribution, shift to new sources of supply, and the new pipelines coming down through Canada will all help to alleviate New England's problem.
GOVERNMENT'S ROLE IN BUSINESS COMMUNITY
Q. Jack Beckland from Destin Log in the Florida Panhandle. In our area, we hear a lot of concerns by small businessmen that somehow the Government is stacking the deck against them in the form of high minimum wages and the probable big jump in social security contributions and, generally, redtape. Would you care to comment on this?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have a kinship with you. I have a small business, as you know, too, probably much smaller than the ones you are talking about. I don't believe that you could accurately say that the minimum wage and social security single out small business.
I think in the past, when decisions have been made in Washington, the natural place for, say, President Nixon, President Ford to turn to would be the Business Roundtable, or the National Association of Manufacturers, which is heavily inclined toward the perspective of big business.
And I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen. This coming 3 or 4-months, I will meet with about 400 key leaders from around the Nation who represent just small business, ranging in size from 10 or 15 employees up to 2,000 or 3,000 total employees. I think this gives me a much different perspective.
I'll just give you one example. Among the very large businesses, when I asked them what they prefer in the way of tax relief, they've said what they want is lower corporate tax rates.
This group I had in yesterday--there were about 40--when I asked them, "What would you prefer, lower corporate tax rates, investment tax credit improvement, say, from 8 to 12 percent with a broader coverage, or removing the double taxation of dividends," I would say 80 percent of them said they would like to have the investment tax credits improved. That's a difference in perspective, I think, between the middle and small businessman or businesswoman and the very large corporations.
So, the only thing I can say is that some of those changes are inevitable on energy costs, social security, minimum wage, but I believe giving the small business leader more voice in government before a decision is made is better.
That brings up another point, and that is that the large corporations can quite often handle unwarranted Government intrusion better than the small ones can. OSHA requirements, ERISA reporting, HEW, Labor forms to be filled out--these are a much greater burden on a small businessperson than they are on a very large corporation that have their own legal staff and own accounting firms and so forth, that work just within them.
We are trying to cut back on that. I set a goal for this first fiscal year, up to October 1, to cut back 7 million man-hours on the time required to process reports coming into the Government.
We tried to abbreviate the reports, to eliminate those that we could, to cut out duplication from one department to another where the same information is required by the Federal Government, to two or three different departments from a single businessperson and, also, to lessen the frequency of the reports. Sometimes when they are required quarterly, we are changing it to semiannually or annually; when they're required monthly, we're changing them to quarterly and sometimes semiannually.
So, 7 million was our goal. In one department alone, the Department of HEW, they have already cut back 14 million man-hours. So that's a 33-percent cutback. So, we are trying to do some things for small business there, because I know from experience how onerous and burdensome it is.
I might say that I know that a lot of your readers are concerned about the minimum wage being increased. But historically, we have had the minimum wage stay at a level of about 50 percent or 52 percent of the prevailing manufacturer's wage, and we've always let it get behind 5, 6, 7 years, and then Congress will pass a law to let it catch up to the roughly 50-percent, 52-percent level. That's what we've done this year.
And on social security, we had no alternative. I inherited a lot of problems, and of course, all my predecessors have inherited problems, too. I'm not complaining about it. But we were faced with the fact that the medical fund part of the social security is going to go bankrupt in 1979; the old age portion of the Social Security Fund is going to go bankrupt in 1983, unless we do something. So, we put forward a minimum increase in tax payments to support the Social. Security Funds that we could evolve. And as I mentioned when the national news media were in here, what the Congress has done is added a great and very liberal group of benefits to the social security payments.
Well, you can justify all of them, but somebody has got to pay for them. And as the conferees work on this question in the next few weeks, we are trying to hold down those benefits that we didn't recommend in the first place and, also, at the same time, obviously hold down our contributions to them.
I mentioned minimum wage and social security because that was the two examples that you described.
NATIONAL ENERGY PLAN
Q. Mr. President, I was impressed with the moderation of the tone of your energy message Tuesday night. Have you been able to measure its effect on the conferees?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, the fireside chat format is not a proper one for going into specific details on the technicalities of the law. It's designed--that particular speech was designed to let the American people know about the seriousness of our energy problem and some of the prospects for even worse problems in the future, unless we took action.
Also, when I made the speech in April, I didn't cover the impact of the very high imports on our Nation's economy and as it affects the average American family. I wanted to pursue that as well. What the Congress leaders wanted me to do is exactly what I did. I had met with Senator Byrd, with Tip O'Neill, Senator Long, Dingell, Staggers, and others. What they needed is to have the American people become supportive of an overall energy package, component parts of which were not attractive. And this is what I tried to do, is to let the American people know the importance of it, to let them know the difficulty of it, to let them know some of the consequences if the Congress didn't hear from the public and didn't have public support.
Obviously, the special interest groups, some of whom are quite benevolent, are here, and their voice is heard every hour or every day by every Member of Congress. That would include the UAW, the automobile manufacturers, the oil and gas producers, the electric power companies, large manufacturing entities, and so forth. They all let their voice be heard. But when you don't hear from the general public, the consumers, there's an unbalanced impression made on the Congress, and the Members of Congress need some support.
So, I think the speech has been almost universally praised by the Members of Congress, and we've probably checked with 60 or 70 of them. I don't know of anyone that thought it was a wrong tone.
It also pointed out that this legislation is extremely complicated, extremely difficult, extremely technical, and not popular, and that it's not a test of strength or will between the President and the Congress, between the House and the Senate. It's not even a test of will between the oil and gas producers and the oil and gas consumers. It's really a test of our national will to deal with a complicated question in a forceful and courageous way.
And the other thing I want to point out is just one thing on the imports. It's a direct threat to our security to be increasingly dependent upon imports. We've gotten up now to where roughly 50 percent of our oil that we burn in this country or use in this country comes from overseas. This is creating about a $45 billion cost to our Nation this year.
If we didn't have oil, we'd have about a $15 or $20 [billion] trade surplus. As it is, we are going to wind up with about a $30 billion trade deficit. And that's $30 billion that goes out of our economy that could be used to build new factories, to expand presently existing businesses, and to provide new jobs. And it's getting worse.
It's almost like a hemorrhage, and unless we do take this action, we're going to be in very serious problems in the future economically, militarily, and for the benefit of our country's living standards.
NEWS LEAKS ON SALT NEGOTIATIONS
Q. Don Corbet, the Arkansas Radio Network. I was talking to our Senator Bumpers earlier this week. He seems extremely concerned, sitting on a subcommittee that heard bimonthly reports on the SALT talks, about the news leaks and to the effect that they might have an effect on the SALT talks themselves. Do you have a comment?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's one of the most difficult things I've had to face in Washington, how to deal with breaches of secrecy. It's obvious that the American people need to know what's going on, but I'm not in a position, as President, to go to the American people and reveal our negotiating positions when I and President Brezhnev, our negotiators and the Soviet negotiators, have agreed to keep the negotiating points confidential until some agreement is reached.
I think the revelation of the details of our negotiating position has been ill-advised in some instances. I don't know where the blame lies.
Senator Bumpers is one of those--I have not talked to him about this, but he's one of those who has deplored the revelation to the public of secret information given to the committee by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and others.
I can't answer the question about whether or not it will present an obstacle to a successful SALT negotiation. I don't think it will be that much of an obstacle.
The Soviets have complained to their Ambassador about these revelations of negotiating points. We have found, in recent weeks, the Soviets to be very amenable to changing their positions enough to accommodate our concerns, and we are making good progress.
So, without saying that these news revelations have hurt, they do cause me some concern. And I believe, though, that in spite of that, we will not find our efforts to be frustrated. My prediction is that we will have a SALT agreement.
I think our time is up. Let me say one thing in closing. I wish I could spend all afternoon answering your questions, because the kind of questions that you all ask me from different parts of the country give me a fairly good indication of what matters are of concern to your readers and your listeners and your viewers.
Because I know that you have very little chance directly to present a question to the President, I'm sure you very carefully decide what is the most important question that you could present to me. But you can see from the brief discussion we've had, the broad range of subjects that are presented to me.
I've enjoyed being President. I think we've got a superb Cabinet. We've had a very good relationship with the Congress. And I believe that when the Congress does adjourn, if the Congress does adjourn this year---[laughter]--that a tabulation or an inventory of what has been done will be pleasing to the American people.
It's an honor for me to have you here. Looking around the room, I know that many of you have been very hospitable to me and to my political opponents during the campaign. And that's one of the best ways that I had to learn about our Nation, was meeting with you individually, or with your editorial board, and being cross-examined when I was a nonentity, when you didn't know who I was. And it gave me a chance to get to know you, and for your folks to know me.
So, I'm very grateful that you would come here and spend this much of your time. And I think this is the kind of interrelationship with the people out in the country that makes it very beneficial to me in making the right decisions.
If I do face difficult problems that in the past have been too secret, like SALT, which I've discussed in my press conferences and which I've discussed publicly, and the controversial portions of the Middle East and the exact proposal that we made, for instance, on Rhodesia--those things do create, perhaps, a disturbance in the country as people begin to debate about them and argue about them and disagree on them. And sometimes even the news media are critical of causing that confusion, that debate, that disturbance, and those differences.
But I feel much more sure of myself when I make a final decision, as President, if the American people have been involved in the process. And so you play a crucial role in that, as you well know.
And I just want to again express my thanks for the constructive attitude that you take. I think I've been well treated by the news media, I think, adequately examined, adequately criticized, but I don't have any complaints about it. I think you've been fair.
Thank you, again.