The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Lyndon B. Johnson
The President's News Conference
December 18, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. You mean I have that many friends out there that I have been missing all of these days? I thought everybody I knew had been in here.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, could you give us an exposition of your attitude toward perhaps an early meeting with Premier Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. I am ready and willing to meet with any of the world leaders at any time there is any indication a meeting would be fruitful and productive. When there are such indications, I will be glad to make a decision and inform you of it.

[2.] I have already made a decision this morning, which I had anticipated opening the meeting with, to follow through on my December 14th announcement of Mr. Thomas Mann, as Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Latin American Affairs.

Because I want Mr. Mann to be the one man in the Government to coordinate the policies of this hemisphere after consultation with the Secretary of State, I am going to make him not only the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Latin American Affairs, but Special Assistant to the President. As Special Assistant to the President to coordinate our policies in Latin America, he will be dealing with many other American agencies and other international agencies. We expect to speak with one voice on all matters affecting this hemisphere. Mr. Mann, with the support of the Secretary of State and the President, will be that voice.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan to ask for any legislation in the area of Presidential succession or disability, after your experience of the last few weeks?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans. I have already carefully considered the disability matter and taken the action that I thought was necessary and desirable. I have a complete understanding and agreement with Mr. McCormack.

Q. Would you spell that out, Mr. President? Your agreement with President Kennedy was rather carefully spelled out in writing.

THE PRESIDENT. It is the same agreement.

Q. It is the same agreement. This is the same then.

THE PRESIDENT. Identical.1

1 See "Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy 1961," Item 319.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us any of the plans you have for Mr. Mann to take specific action? Apparently Latin America will also be one of your greatest problems and I wondered if you thought in terms of specific programs that can avert some dangers that seem to be in the making.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Mann is in Mexico now, getting ready to come up here. He will review with all of the agencies of the Government concerned with Latin America his and the President's ideas. I have spelled those out to a limited degree in my letter to Mr. Mann, released last Sunday, and any amplification of them will come from Mr. Mann after he is inducted.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, Ambassador to Costa Rica Raymond Telles is in town for consultation. I wonder if you have any new assignment planned for him, and if you will see him.

THE PRESIDENT. I would be glad to see him. I have no new assignments planned.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us whether the budget will be under $100
billion or over?

THE PRESIDENT. No one knows what the budget will be now, because we are trying the case, so to speak. We have dozens of agencies, independent agencies and Cabinet departments, who have made their requests and have not yet had it acted upon. Once it is acted upon, they still have the right to appeal to the President. The Joint Chiefs will appeal to the President from the recommendations they have made on December 30th at Johnson City. We have set that date and at that time we will try to finalize the budget for the Department of Defense.2

2 On December 30 at Austin, Tex., the White House released a statement by Secretary McNamara announcing that he had met with the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric to discuss the Defense Department budget for fiscal year 1965. Secretary McNamara reported that, although final decisions had not been made, he believed that a billion dollar savings could be made without in any way reducing the Nation's defenses. "As a matter of fact," he added, "I believe that the budget that will be submitted to the Congress will yield defenses superior to those in any other time in our history in peacetime."

I am working from a budget of $98.8 billion this year. It appears that we will expend about that amount, and maybe a little under or a little over, but substantially $99 billion will be the expenditures this year. That was the amount of Mr. Kennedy's budget. There are built-in increases of $1,790 million that are mandatory--military pay increase for 9 months, military retired pay, civilian pay, National Aeronautics and Space contracts, the Agency for International Development, Post Office rise, Federal Aviation Agency, urban renewal, and public assistance grants.

They run about $1 billion 8, and you have no choice about that. You will have to add that much. Then we have, as a result of the education bills that we have passed, the mental retardation bill, the manpower bill, and what we anticipate in the Appalachian program on poverty, about $1,650 million more. So roughly, you can say $1 billion 7, and $1 billion 8. That is $3 billion 5.

Now, in addition to that, you are going to have increases that are requested for additional functions in various agencies. Most agencies, I would say a majority of the agencies,

asked for an increase of some kind. They have to, because first, the civilian pay increase just makes the budget higher. But they have some new functions. We will add those to the two amounts that I have given you, and then we will start reducing from there. That is what we are doing now.

So no one can say with any authority, the President or the Director of the Budget or any Department, what the budget is going to be, because it hasn't been determined. We are going to cut out every dime of waste that we can in order to have as much to spend on the unfilled needs of this Nation. We are going to be very careful not to sacrifice our military posture or weaken our combat strength.

But where we can, we are going to reduce the expenditures that are not essential to the Defense Establishment. I anticipate that the first of the year, the Defense Department for the first time in 15 years will have below one million civilians employed. I anticipate there will be installations in 15 States that will be well on the road to being closed because they serve no essential defense need. I anticipate that other surveys will be made of the remaining 6700 bases. When and if and as they may become surplus to our needs, we will take them up with the persons properly concerned and then make announcements as to their closing.

We do have an increase in population. It is up 21 percent since Mr. Truman was President, so we must expect an increase in expenditures. We will have an increase in expenditures. The father that adds two or three extra children to his home and takes in a few of his nieces and nephews has to expect an increase in the food bill. When we have an increase in population, we are going to have an increase in the budget.

But we are going to keep that increase at the lowest possible level, first because we believe in frugality and thrift, and second because we hope that we won't send to Congress a budget that will require severe and drastic reductions by the Congress. We think that they are overworked now, and we don't want to add to it.

[7.] Q. Assuming that you are the Democratic nominee for President in 1964, will you agree to debate your opponent ?

THE PRESIDENT. I will make those decisions at the time I am the nominee, and in the light of the circumstances existing then. For the present, I am not going to discuss any political matter.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any plans, sir, to meet with any other world leaders in the near future that you might tell us about, after your meeting with Chancellor Erhard?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. First of all, yesterday there was a meeting with world leaders from 113 countries3 I had met most of them before. A good many of them had visited my home in Texas before. Some of them were here just a few days ago for the funeral. But it was a very productive meeting. I think it was very helpful to all of us. I think it created better understanding. I am very grateful for the invitation extended to me, and for the hospitality shown.

3 The President referred to a meeting with the U.N. members at a reception, following his address to the U.N. General Assembly on December 17.

I expect to meet with Mr. and hold the meeting he had planned to hold with Mr. Kennedy. I will meet him on the 28th and 29th of this month at my home. I expect to meet with the President of Italy in the early part of the new year, with the Prime Minister of Canada, with the President of Mexico, and with any other leaders where it is indicated a conference would be mutually desirable.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, Secretary Freeman, referring to your remarks earlier, said he would consider poverty as an important concern of yours in the administration. Is there any attempt going to be made to coordinate the various approaches to the national problem in the rural areas?

THE PRESIDENT. Any kind of poverty will be a concern of this administration, and a very serious concern of it. All of us know enough about it to not want the people to have to experience it any more than is absolutely necessary.

I have in the next room now the leaders of the farm organizations of this country.4 I have asked them to try to find areas of agreement and to give me their recommendations and be prepared to give them to the Senate committee. We have passed a cotton bill, and there are some indications that the Senate may desire to act on a more comprehensive bill this year. I have asked these leaders, these experts in the field of farm legislation, not by commodity groups but by national organizations, to come in and give us their best thought. High on that agenda of priority is poverty legislation. They are two different things but they relate to each other--a general farm bill and specific poverty legislation for the lowest income groups.

4 The President referred to the leaders of nine major farm groups with whom he had met earlier on the same day, namely: William Brook, president, National Grain Trade Council, Harry B. Caldwell, chairman, National Agricultural Advisory Commission, Fred Heinkel, president, Missouri Farmers Association, Kenneth D. Naden, executive vice president, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Herschel D. Newsom, master, National Grange, James G. Patton, president, National Farmers Union, Charles Shuman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, Oren Staley, president, National Farmers Organization, and Jerry Voorhis, secretary, American Cooperative League of the United States.

I spent some time this morning with the Farmers Union and various groups. I am very hopeful that there will come from these meetings that they are having a consensus which will be helpful to me and helpful to the committee that is considering it. I think while this Nation is very prosperous at the moment, not all of our people are fortunate enough to be in the upper income groups.

As I talk now, I am told by the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers that we are now passing the $600 billion gross national product rate. That is about as fine a Christmas present as could come to the people of this country. I am very happy about it. If we get the tax bill, we expect to increase that rate substantially. About every month that the tax bill is delayed, we lose about half a billion dollars in our economy.

We are very hopeful that we can help solve this poverty question and create additional incentives for our private enterprise system, and particularly our businessmen and our workers, by the early passage of the tax bill.

Senator Byrd has given me assurance that he is willing to have the bill voted on as soon as it can properly be voted on after amendments are offered. Although he does not agree to vote for the bill, he agrees that it can be voted upon at an early date.

What is really important in connection with our Government budget and our poverty program, with our whole economic picture, is the percentage of our gross national product, what our gross national product is first, and second, the percentage of that that we are actually spending for governmental purposes.

In the Roosevelt war years we spent as high as 46 percent of our gross national product for administrative budgets. During the transition period under Mr. Truman we spent 29 percent. In 1954, under Mr. Eisenhower, we spent 18.6 percent. We are hoping that we can come under that figure in our budget next year--in other words, that our budget expenditure as a percentage of our gross national product will be less for the fiscal year 1965 than it has been for any of these periods I mentioned.

Of course, a good deal of that depends on the size of the budget, whether we can keep it within bounds, and the size of the gross national product.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect to propose any new programs that will cost money in the fiscal year coming up?

THE PRESIDENT. There will be new programs. We are not going to stand still in this country; we are going to move ahead. We are going to be enlightened. We are going to be forward looking. We hope that our private sector can make substantial contributions after the tax bill is passed in relieving our unemployment problem and increasing the number of jobs.

But we do expect to have programs that will deal with new situations and we do expect never to just be content to sit in our rocking chair and enjoy the status quo. We are a growing Nation, and we expect to keep moving if we are to lead our own people, as well as lead the world.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect to send an administration wheat bill to Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I have discussed that to the extent that I think your question is answered by saying that I have asked the farm leaders to make their recommendations on an agricultural bill, to make them to the Senate committee. I should like to get the benefit of their recommendations, talk to the Senators concerned, and then determine what, if any, kind of comprehensive agricultural legislation could come from this next session.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, have you reached a hard decision on changing the space program, including eliminating the Rover project? 5

THE PRESIDENT. No.

5 Development of a nuclear-powered rocket for possible future space missions.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, is this the type of press conference you intend to hold ? Is that the decision? Or is this just an interim press conference?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say that we are going to maintain an adequate flow of information to the press at all times in the best manner that we can. We will do what comes naturally. Maybe it will be a meeting of this kind today; maybe a televised meeting tomorrow; with maybe a coffee session the next day. We don't want to be too rigid. We always want to be flexible.

One thing, though, that we are determined to do is to let you know as much about what goes on in your house and in your Government as we possibly can, consistent only with the interests of our country and self-preservation of our country.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, are you planning to send some warships to the Indian Ocean, part of the 7th Fleet?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I will have no comment to make there about the details of it. I have seen the statements that have been made about it, and the character of the operation. The contemplated plans that may be in the offing should come froth the Defense Department. Mr. McNamara will no doubt be glad to give you that when he gets back.

I talked to the Secretary of State this morning. He told me that his meetings in NATO were very satisfactory and he thought quite helpful. Everyone was quite understanding and united against any external dangers.

I talked to the Secretary of Defense. told him how grateful we were that he had been spared this accident which could have been very tragic.6 He told me he expected to be in Saigon a little later.

6 The Secretary of Defense's plane, on take-off December 18 at Orly Airport, Paris, had a near collision on the runway with another plane which had just landed. One of the tires of the Secretary's plane burst as a result of the emergency braking used by the pilot to prevent a collision. The Secretary, who had been in Paris to attend the North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting and was en route to Saigon to confer with leaders of the new South Vietnamese Government, left a few hours later on another plane.

[15.] No controversies came up in the NATO meeting. The conference was a very satisfactory one. We expect to name very shortly an Ambassador to the OAS and a replacement for Mr. Mann. We have invitations out, but because of a health problem in one of the men's families, not with himself but some member of his family, he wanted to consult them before final acceptance. If you want to force someone to leak those names I will give them to you myself very shortly.7

7 The appointment of Ellsworth Bunker as Ambassador to the Organization of American States was announced by the President on January 2, 1964, in a statement released at Austin, Tex.; the President's intention to appoint Fulton Freeman as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico was announced by the White House in a release dated February 12. Mr. Freeman's nomination was confirmed by the Senate on February 25.

Q. Mr. President, does this elevation of Mr. Mann indicate any increased urgency on the hemisphere problems?

THE PRESIDENT. We know of no more important problems anywhere, any time, than the problems of our neighbors. We want to see our relations with them be the very best. We think Mr. Mann, who was the Assistant Secretary in the last administration, under Mr. Kennedy's administration, and who has served with great distinction as attaché, minister, and counsel at many of the embassies in this hemisphere, who has also served with distinction in this place before, is the best man to do it.

We also feel that we want to coordinate these programs, not eliminate them; to coordinate them and try to make them efficient in order that we can do the greatest good for the greatest number. We think that he is the man to do this job.

We would hope that we could operate with the same efficiency in all parts of the world. It does not mean a lessening of interest in any region, but it does mean that we are excited about the possibilities of advancement in growth and prosperity in this hemisphere. We want it to be under the very ablest and most experienced leadership that we can find. We will take whatever steps it may be necessary to take in other parts of the world, when and if they are necessary.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us about your Christmas plans yet?

THE PRESIDENT. I asked Mrs. Johnson about those just before you came in. I cannot be positive about them because that will depend on the situation here in Washington. But if God is willing and Mrs. Johnson is willing, I plan to fly to my home either the night of the 22d, after I light the Christmas tree and appear at the Lincoln Memorial, or sometime the 23d. I hope to spend Christmas Eve with my sisters, my brother, my uncles, cousins, aunts, and my family. Immediately after Christmas I am going to relax a little. I might even--I don't want to keep my secrets from you people--I might even go hunting. I haven't had a chance to do that this year and I would like to go and spend a day out in the hills, communing with myself.

Some of my staff members will be coming right after Christmas and we will receive the Chancellor on the 28th and 29th. We will receive the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the 30th. We will be working on the State of the Union Message during that period. Except for just the Christmas Eve and Christmas holidays, I expect to be quite busy.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel that you can live with the foreign aid bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee has come up with?

THE PRESIDENT. That bill is pending in the Senate. I thought that the action they took yesterday was very constructive and very helpful.8

[ At this point the President spoke off the record.]

8 The bill (H.R. 9499), passed by the House on December 16, was introduced in the Senate on December 17 and was referred to the Committee on Appropriations (Congressional Record, Dec. 17, 1963, p. 23669).

Q. On the record, now, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I am on the record.

I have no doubt but what the bill that is the product of both Houses of Congress will be a satisfactory bill, and while it may not give us all that we would like to see, and it may have some limitations that we think are undesirable, it is one that the best minds of both Houses have produced. I think it will be substantial enough to advance our national interest, and, if you want to so put it, to live with.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, coming to the international situation, what do you think would be the most appropriate basis, not only for lessening tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, but also for improving relations between those two great powers?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the realization that there are three billion people in the world, and that the number one obligation of the President of this country and every citizen of every country is to learn how to live together. Failure in that mission could mean disaster for most of the world. My number one 'priority, my number one goal, my number one objective, my number one ambition, is to try to provide the leadership for my country with vision, tolerance, patience, and strength that will convince the rest of the world that we court no territory, we seek no satellites, that we are trying to live in peace and prosperity, and we would like for our fellowman everywhere to be able to do the same thing.

Alvin A. Spivak, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "The President's News Conference", December 18, 1963. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26465.
 
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