Jimmy Carter photo

Elk City, Oklahoma Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting.

March 24, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. None of you could know how good it felt for me to come back to Elk City this evening to be with all of you.

I would guess that during the campaign in 1975-1976, that I visited more than a thousand cities and towns in the United States of America. I never visited a single place that gave me as warm and as openhearted and as exciting a welcome as you did then, and you have equaled yourselves this evening. And I thank you for it.

I'm particularly glad that Senator Boren is here; Governor Nigh is here; Lieutenant Governor; Congressman English; your fine mayor, who was in the forefront of the welcoming committee when I was here before.

As you know, I'm going to spend the night with Larry and Mary Jane this evening. I believe in open government. I know Larry does, too. He tells me that every time he has a meeting of the city government, that it's open to the press.

I'm also going to be attending Sunday school and church in the morning, and I hope that all of you Baptists will be there with me.

As a Baptist, as you know, I'm not very enthusiastic about gambling. But I modified my views somewhat when I heard they had a lottery tonight— [laughter] -to decide who was coming to the meeting. The only problem is that nobody told me whether I was speaking to the winners or to the losers. [Laughter]

One of the nice things about being President is you get to go to a lot of very important places. Just recently, I've been in Mexico City; I've been in Jerusalem; I've been in Cairo, Egypt; and now, to Elk City.

Three and a half years ago, November 11, 1975, I promised to come back as President. You helped me become President, and here I am.


I want to say just a few words before I start taking questions. I'm here because of your friendship and because of a promise, but I'm here for another reason as well.

I and all Presidents make decisions every day that affect the lives of everyone who lives in our great country. We make speeches quite often, trying to explain what we do, why we make certain decisions, take certain actions. But it's important that Presidents listen to people also, not just the ones that are able to come to Washington to express their concerns but also to the farmers and the housewives, the storeclerks, the schoolteachers who never have a chance to get to Washington.

Sometimes, the very size of our country and the complexity of the issues makes people feel that just one person doesn't make a difference. I think that those who live in relatively small cities like Elk City can clearly see how your own attitudes, how your own lives do affect those who live around you. You can see at first hand that unselfish participation and cooperation are essential to the success of your schools and your churches and your town.

We need the same sort of cooperation, the same recognition that every person matters if we're going to solve the difficult problems which our Nation faces today.

We've always been able, in a time of crisis, to muster that sense of common purpose, particularly in wartime, but it's just as crucial in times of peace. President Franklin Roosevelt said in 1933, and I'd like to quote, "It is a mistake to assume that the virtues of war differ essentially from the virtues of peace. All life is a battle against the mistakes and the human limitations of man, against the forces of selfishness and inertia, and laziness and fear."

We especially need that spirit that Franklin Roosevelt called upon us to assume in 1933 in our current battle against inflation. The decisions and actions of all of us—government, business, labor, consumers-contribute to inflation. It's not a problem that government can solve alone while everyone else continues business as usual. All Americans will either win the battle against inflation, or we will all lose the battle against inflation together.

I believe that in a few weeks, we will begin to see the results of this common battle. I need your total support in this fight.

I was deeply disturbed yesterday at the Consumer Price Index figures. A large part of that increase was obviously due to international commodity items, to world oil prices, to severe late winter weather, and other factors which were beyond our control. But those factors do not account for the sharp increase in prices for many goods and services. That inflation level is unacceptable. And those figures are a warning and a message to government, business, labor, and consumers: This must be a time of restraint.

I've been very encouraged by the willingness of working people to join in this battle, but we still face a series of crucial labor negotiations. It's vitally important that those who are responsible for the outcome of those negotiations recognize their obligation to show moderation and concern for the economic well-being of our country. I expect restraint, and the American people expect restraint. Fueling inflation is not in the long-term interest of any American.

On the price side, many of our very largest corporations, whom we monitor every day, seem to be complying with the program. But I'm very disappointed that many medium-sized and smaller businesses are not showing the same sort of restraint. Too many business leaders seem to feel that the anti-inflation program just doesn't apply to them. And the result is higher prices for everybody.

I will take very firm steps to deal with this problem in the immediate days ahead. I intend to substantially increase the staff responsible for monitoring these prices, and we will also be working with labor and consumer groups and with you in a national price-monitoring effort.

I've instructed the Council on Wage and Price Stability to use its legal authority to get regular reports on price increases, all price increases, from firms in problem industries where prices are going up too high.

We've already identified several companies which appear to have broken the guidelines that we've established. We'll be identifying others in the days ahead. They'll be given a chance to explain the purpose or the reason for their high prices. But I will not hesitate to identify those companies that violate the price guidelines, so that the people of this Nation can take appropriate action.

An absolutely vital element in the fight against inflation is to restrain Federal spending. We cannot tolerate ever-increasing Federal spending. I am committed to a balanced budget, and that's a goal I intend to achieve. And I need for you to help me with it.

In the past 2 years, we've cut the $66 billion deficit that I inherited by more than half. This year, I've sent the Congress a tight, responsible budget that cuts the deficit even further. I'm determined to hold the line on Federal spending this year, and I hope you'll give me your support.

And finally, let me say that the problem of inflation is difficult, frustrating, terribly complex. It's been with us now for more than 10 years. But it is not beyond our power to control.

For 30 years, many believed that the chance for peace between Israel and Egypt was beyond our grasp. But on Monday, our Nation will welcome Prime Minister Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to the White House to sign a treaty of peace. We never thought it would be possible.

We never thought it would be possible just a few months ago, but with courage and determination and cooperation, success is now within our grasp. We need that same kind of daily commitment, determination, courage, and cooperation to lick the problems that face our own country-the problem of inflation. These qualities have always been part of American life. And I know the same spirit exists among you and among other Americans throughout this great country. I know that we have the will and the ability to win this fight together.

And now, I would like to have your questions, and I'll start with the first microphone on my left.



Q. Mr. President, I'm Jimmy Dillard, and I'd like to know, how sound is the peace treaty, whose foundation is built with 5 billion inflated American tax dollars?

THE PRESIDENT. This peace treaty is a result of 30 years of war and the lessons which our Nation has learned from it. We have two notable friends in the Middle East, among others—Israel and Egypt. At this moment, they are in a state of declared war against each other. Thousands of people in each country have lost their lives. Our own interests are directly involved. We will provide part of the cost of removing the armed forces from the Sinai Desert. This is a very expensive proposition.

The Egyptians have five divisions on the Israeli side of the Suez Canal. The Israelis have two divisions, two large airfields built on Egyptian territory. Israel is very much in need of economic stability. Their inflation rate last year, for instance, was more than 50 percent. We will help them bear the costs for these peacetime changes. The cost will run a little more than a billion dollars a year for 3 or 4 years for both nations combined. Our Nation can well afford it. It's an excellent investment, and I believe the American people are strongly in support of this very modest cost for peace, when the cost of war, even to our own Nation, to our own taxpayers, would be much, much greater.

I believe it's a very good investment.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Danny Vinyard, and I'm a senior at Oklahoma State University. I have a lot of questions I'd like to ask you, but what I'd really like to know is whether or not you think it's fair to reinstate the draft and randomly make young males sacrifice for the whole society, or would you be in favor of increasing salaries so that the military could be remanned on a voluntary basis?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, I have the authority at this moment to require registration for the draft. But to induct young people into the Armed Forces would have to require an act of Congress. I don't see any present need to do it, but it is being considered, and we'll make a final decision later on.

If we ever find this to be necessary, I would certainly want to institute some different draft procedures. I don't think in the future, for instance, that just because a young person is in college and probably comes from a more wealthy family, that they ought to be excluded from the same treatment as the poorer young men who have to struggle.

We have now provided, with the help of the Congress and my own predecessors in the White House, I think very reasonable salary levels and very high training and good career opportunities for those who volunteer.

We are meeting the needs of our Armed Forces with the present volunteer arrangement. Some of our Reserve units are short of volunteers, and I would like to appeal tonight to all those who listen to my voice to consider the Armed Forces as a career and, certainly, to volunteer to help with the Reserve forces. But at the present time, we don't need to reinstitute the draft.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Jim Fowler, and I feel it's an honor to be here this evening, and I welcome you to Elk City.

My question is a three-point question, if I may ask one. First, I know that you're a man of religious principles and endeavors, and I've seen much written in the papers and such. And I know that you're attending church tomorrow. But I'd like to hear you state with your own mouth that you are a believer of Jesus Christ and you accept him as your Lord and Savior. And the second point is, I'd like to know, as leader of this country, how much time that you spend in prayer and study as far as the direction of this country. And the third point, Mr. President, I ask in all due respect: I would like to know by what scriptural basis you and Mrs. Carter support the ERA by scripture?


I am a believer in Jesus Christ and a born-again Christian. I do worship regularly. I spend a lot of my own time in prayer. Every evening, my wife and I have religious services together, one of the last things we do each day. And we never miss under any circumstances. Since I was going to be gone tonight, we had our worship service before I left the White House today about 3 o'clock. So, I do perform my partial duties as a Christian. I still fall far short of what God expects of me.

I don't predicate my support of the ERA on scriptural references. I think if one reads different parts of the Bible, you can find a good argument either way. I know that Paul felt very strongly that there ought to be a sharp distinction between men and women, and women's role ought to be minimal. But I have a feeling that Christ meant for all of us to be treated equally, and He demonstrated this in many ways.

But I really don't think that it would be possible for me to prove all the arguments for or against ERA by reference to the Bible. I look to the Bible as a source for guidance and pray for God's guidance. But that's about the best answer I can give you on the ERA.


Q. Good evening, Mr. President. I'm Pat Walker. And since this is an agricultural area to which you have returned, and we are primarily a farming community here, would it be possible for you to meet with our Elk City farmers—not a radical agriculture committee from out of State, but with our hard-working young farmers in this area?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll try to. I don't know when I'll have time to do it, but I would like very much to. Do you think that a group of them could come to Washington to see me?

Q. I think so, sir. If they had a special invitation, I'm sure they would. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I extend to a group of Elk City young farmers an invitation to come and visit me at the White House. I will be glad to listen to them. And I also would not object at all to their bringing along some of the so-called radical farmers. [Laughter]

I have no objection to their expressing their beliefs and their desires. I have recognized many years of my own life, when I was a full-time farmer, the need for the farmers' voice to be heard. And I look forward to having them come, and you can contact me directly at the White House for arranging the time for the visit.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to ask one of my staff members to—it might be better for us to contact you, because I get about an average of more than 50,000 [5,000] 1 letters every week, and I would certainly hate to see your letter, Ms. Walker, get lost. So, Keech,2 if one of you would contact Ms. Walker and get the address. We'll contact you, okay?

1 Printed in the transcript.

2 Keech LeGrand, White House staff advance


Q. Noel Patten from Viola, Kansas. It is indeed a pleasure to be here tonight. I would like to extend to you a personal greeting from the Wheat State.


Q. Mr. President, recently it was announced that there was a 26.4-percent increase in corporate profits over last year. Is the Government really going to be able to control business in its fight against inflation?

THE PRESIDENT. It's hard to say. As you know, the profits fluctuate so wildly from one quarter to another or one month person. to another, that it would be a mistake to judge the entire business community's actions on the basis of that one statistic. I think the trend over the last 10 years—I was examining this today, as a matter of fact—show that business profits have been well in line with the average income increases of American families. This is a wheat State; Oklahoma is very heavily dependent on energy and on agriculture.

Last year, the average net income for farm families in this country went up 30 percent, and I don't hear many of the farmers who were sitting on their tractors complaining about their income going up too rapidly. So, I think those statistics that come out, although they are very shocking when one first hears them, have to be taken in the context of the entire Nation's economic structure.

There's no doubt in my mind that some business firms have cheated on the wage and price guidelines by increasing their prices more than was warranted. But I think you have to remember that all over the world at this point, there are inflationary pressures that neither I nor anyone else can control.

Let me just give you a few quick examples. There's a beef shortage worldwide. We have an import quota at this point, and as you know, we are having a difficult time having that quota itself filled, because there's a shortage in other countries at the present that in the past have been eager to sell their beef; now they have a very ready market for it.

International commodities, including food, feed grains, soybeans, aluminum, bauxite, copper, silver, gold—these kinds of things are going up quite rapidly in price. Oil prices are going up as well.

So, on an international basis, prices are going up, and you couldn't blame them on a President or the consumers or any one entity or person.

You have other things that are produced in our Nation, where no company can control them. For instance, we've been building about 2.2 million home units per year for the last 2 or 3 years, a very high rate of production of homes for American families. This has created a shortage in some building materials—plywood, lumber, insulation materials, and so forth. And no one company, obviously, controls the price of timber being sold by landowners, nor the price of lumber products coming from that timber.

So, a lot of the causes for inflation are almost uncontrollable, and they're because people around the world are getting more affluent. They can buy more beef, they can buy more wheat than they could in the past.

So, I don't believe it would be fair, even though it would be easy, for me to blame business for inflation just because their profits seemed to be high last quarter. They were very high. I was surprised. But it would be easy for me to say, "Well, the working people and the farmers are great, the consumers are great, I'm a great President, let's blame American business." That's not fair, and not exactly accurate. We're all in it together. Unless we do cooperate and not try to find a scapegoat or someone to blame, we won't be successful. I think we ought to form a partnership and all of us see what we ourselves can do. I believe that if we work together, we can control inflation in harmony, not by blaming one another.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Darlene James. Our doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals spend so much of their time filling out Federal forms, even here in Elk City. Do you foresee any possibility of less Federal control in our medical system, or are we destined for socialized medicine?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think we're going towards socialized medicine. But I think that the Federal Government is going to continue to play a major role in medical care for our people. We have reduced substantially the number of forms and reports and requests that have been required, in the last 12 months.

I was looking at some statistics on the way here, because I'm going to talk about that tomorrow when I get to Dallas. HEW has eliminated 300 different forms that are used in medical care alone. That's dealing with Medicaid and Medicare. But quite often the different Federal agencies, each one individually in the past, have required a separate form to be filled out.

We are making some progress with it. I'm going to submit legislation to Congress this coming week on deregulation that will restrict substantially the number of new regulations, forms, and reports that can be required in the future and put the responsibility on each one of the agencies in Government to mandate a benefit-cost analysis before a new form can be instituted or a new regulation can be promulgated.

I might add that it's not all the Federal Government. We've just had an instance with Sohio Company. We were very hopeful, for instance, that the Sohio Company would build an oil pipeline across our country to bring Alaskan oil to the central part of the Nation and to the northern tier of States.

When we investigated the reason why they withdrew from this project, we found they had to fill 715 permits. Only 12 of those were Federal permits; the other 700 were' required by the different States through which that pipeline had to come.

And for that reason, Sohio withdrew from the project. We are now working to try to get Sohio, you know, to go back and build a pipeline to bring oil from the west coast.

I might say that they completed all the Federal forms more than a year ago. So, the States and the Federal Governments are both at fault. And I would hope that we can make some continued improvement in the future.

One of the most heavily criticized agencies in Government, before I became President and shortly afterwards, was OSHA. And in 1 day last year, OSHA eliminated a thousand of their regulations, I think without any adverse effect on the health or safety of American workers.

We are making some progress, but it is a very difficult thing to do.


Q. Mr. President, welcome to the shortgrass country. The cattlemen in this country can now look back on 5 bad years. During those years, their land was mortgaged and debts increased. Now that cattle prices are high enough to reduce some of the loans, do you expect to put controls on cattle prices?

THE PRESIDENT. As long as I'm in the White House serving as your President, there will never be price controls on beef, and you can depend on it.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Danny George, and I'm originally from Butler, Oklahoma. Before I could get out of the house today, my little daughter ran over to me and asked me, "Daddy, where are you going tonight?" And I said, "Well, dear, I'm going to see the President of the United States." And she said, "Oh, goody, can I go and play with Amy?" [Laughter] And I told her, I said, "No, dear, not tonight, but maybe some other time." [Laughter]

My question falls around a picture I saw the other day. And in this picture was Atlas holding the world, and Atlas was a little bit different than usual. He was gray-haired. And in 1975, Mr. President, when you were running for the Presidency, your hair seemed to be a little darker. [Laughter] And I was wondering, now that it seems to be a little lighter, if you would attribute that towards holding the highest position in the United States?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, tell your daughter I hope she can come and see Amy, first of all. Secondly, I can't deny that the Presidency of our country is a tremendous responsibility. A lot of things fall on my shoulders that no one else can answer. If a question is easy to answer, it's ordinarily resolved in a person's life or within a family. If the family can't resolve it, maybe at the city hall. And if he can't do it in the county or city, it goes to the State legislature. And then if it's so complicated or so difficult or so far-reaching that it can't be resolved at the State level, it comes to Washington. And then, of course, it's the responsibility of the Congress and the President.

In addition to the legislation that we have to deal with, which is very controversial and quite often there's no way to win, politically speaking, there are responsibilities of international peace, the defense and security of our own country, dealing with foreign nations, trying to raise the banner of human rights, trying to repair some damage that was done to our Government by Vietnam and Watergate and the CIA revelations. So, it is a very heavy responsibility.

I might say that it's a voluntary job. Nobody made me run for it. And I enjoy it. I have never yet gotten up in the morning-and I get up quite early—that I haven't looked forward to the day, because I recognize that in spite of the gray hairs that come along with the job, it's one of the most exciting and gratifying jobs on Earth, because I represent the greatest country on Earth.

Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.



Q. Mr. President, my name is Karen Ensey, and I'm from Dill City, Oklahoma, and I'd like to know if I can have a kiss. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President kissed Ms. Ensey.]

THE PRESIDENT. I might say that I don't have any rule against the same question being asked more than once. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President kissed several women in the audience.]

I didn't blush the first time, but I blushed that time.


Q. Now I have double butterflies. My name is Lorene Mikles, and I'm from Sayre, Oklahoma, and we do welcome you to Elk City, Mr. President.

And instead of a question, I have a comment. As a citizen of the United States of America, of western Oklahoma, and of the rural community and, more particularly, as mother of three teenage sons, I want to express to you my personal prayers and gratitude for your role as peacemaker in the world today.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mrs. Mikles, very much. I don't think the program could get any better from here on. Thank you so much.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Gene Johnson, and I promise I'm not going to ask the same question they did. [Laughter]


Q. Mr. President, I have a two-pronged question. First of all, I left a wife and three kids at home that didn't get to see your motorcade, and I promised them that if I was lucky enough to get to ask you a question, I'd ask you to tell them hello. So, it's Stef and Jeff and Kevin and—

THE PRESIDENT. If your father thinks of your name, I'll— [laughter] —Stef and Jeff—I tell them hello.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, my main question—you alluded to it a little bit in your opening remarks concerning inflation, which definitely, to the middle-income and lower income people, it is the number one problem.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is.

Q. And our increased labor costs seem to snowball this thing. And other than voluntary restraint, what can be done to, in your opinion, to keep these labor demands from being quite so inflationary?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I might say that so far, since we promulgated the voluntary guidelines or restraints, labor has complied almost completely with the hundreds of labor settlements throughout the country that take place every week. Some of them are very small groups of working people; some of them are larger. And the ones that have tried to violate the guidelines so far have been very highly publicized.

It's always important for a labor union or a worker who's not a member of a union to take a lower wage increase than the rate of inflation. And I have realized from the very beginning that in order to make the wage and price guidelines work on a voluntary basis that I would have to do my share, as President, in the budget and so forth, and also encourage price restraint in order to have a permanent compliance by labor. But I think it's accurate to say, looking at all the statistics, that so far, labor has complied.

We now face two or three very large wage negotiation problems. The first will be the Teamsters. The next will be the rubber workers; later on in the fall, the UAW, the United Auto Workers. I hope that we can demonstrate to these three groups that we are sincere enough and determined enough and successful enough in holding down the general inflationary trends to make it advisable for them to hold down wage demands.

Most wage earners, judging by a Gallup poll recently, said they would rather take a lower wage increase if inflation was being controlled than to take a higher wage increase with uncertain inflation. And I think everyone who thinks about it knows that you cannot start inflation being controlled in just 1 or 2 months. It's got to take 3 or 4 months, at least, before you can see the first indications of these restraints being felt.

I believe that we can be successful, and I believe that we can continue the good cooperation that we've already received from labor if we do our part together.

Thank you.


Mr. President, with inflation increasing every month, can you foresee a time when the average American family will be able to live on one salary again? Or are we doomed to be working housewives?

THE PRESIDENT. I would guess that the trend for more than one person working in a family would continue. Now the two people working make a much higher income, much more than twice as much income, as a single person working in a family did 10, 15, 20 years ago. We have a much higher standard of living.

I remember when I was a boy, for a family to have an automobile made them one of the richest families in the community. And I grew up without electricity or running water in my home. And many things now that are taken for granted, even by supposedly poor families, would have been considered extremely wealthy, you know, back just when I was a child.

So, I would guess that because people do want to live a better life, to have more leisure time, to learn more about the world, to do more study, to have more recreation, that they will continue to want to have a higher wage income even than one person can provide.

I know many people—I know you do as well—where a husband might make a fairly high income, $50,000 or $100,000 or more, where the wife decides to work because she wants to express herself or because she has some special talent or wants to expand her life beyond the family itself, certainly after the children are grown or able to take care of themselves.

So, I would guess the trend would continue. It's not all because the families would starve without the wives' help. But I know that in this time of inflation that two incomes can give a family that standard of living which they want and deserve.

I don't think I've answered your question very well, but to say that I think it's a permanent fixture on the American scene to have many double wage earners or even more, with children counted, in a family, I think that's a time that's come. I think it's going to stay with us. I don't see anything wrong with it.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Sonja Merz, and my question is dealing with the subject abortion. And I'm very against the subject, and I was just wondering what your feelings are on it.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. As President, I have a feeling that I should do everything possible to hold down abortion in this country. I am not in favor of Government funds, for instance, being spent for abortions. I would like to see a time in our Nation come when every child is a wanted child.

This is a very sensitive issue. It's one that's very divisive. And as I watched the 1978 election returns coming in in November, I saw many of the Members of the Congress, particularly who had favored encouragement of abortions, lose their seats because of the strong feelings against it.

I want to be fair with you: I'm not in favor of a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortions, but I think that within the realm of legislation and the action that can be taken by Government and by private organizations and by individual Americans, we should do everything we can to minimize any need for abortions.

Q. Thank you.


Q. My name is Joanne Savage Mefford, and this is my daughter, Kelly. And through Community Action, I work with children at Head Start that have special needs.

Mine is not a question, really, but a welcome to you to my hometown and a request for you to fulfill. I am a farmer's wife, and I have mixed feelings towards you. But I respect you and like to believe that more can be attained through love than through violence.

This is where my request comes in. Some people save many different things for memories. My mementos fall in a little different category. The last person to fulfill my request was Governor Nigh. I don't believe he quite remembers. But I don't want it to get old, but I'll be darned if I'm going to miss out on the kisses. Okay?

THE PRESIDENT. Very fine. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President kissed Ms. Mefford.]

This is my favorite place. I'm just on the verge of promising to come back to Elk City again.


Q. My name is Myra Crawford, and I'm from Lawton, Oklahoma. And if I had known all this was going on, I would have asked you 2 years ago to kiss me in the back seat of the car when we were riding together. [Laughter] I got to tell you just a bit of trivia. I guess my car has—I rode with the President before he was President, and then his lovely wife after. And I didn't even ask for a kiss from either one of them. My goodness, what did I miss? [Laughter]

Anyway, the one thing I want to ask, and as I asked you the evening I was riding with you, about military subsistence and Category B. I don't know if a lot of people know what Category B is here. You do, don't you?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not sure.

Q. Okay. Category B is where people live off the base and they work on base and don't pay taxes.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand.

Q. You understand?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, ma'am.

Q. You know, then?


Q. This is in dire need. Lawton, Oklahoma, will lose $1.6 million for the school system, and we cannot survive if we don't get that money. I wish you would please look at it again before you turn your head against it. That's all I ask. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. Thank you, ma'am.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Willie Rogers. I'm the State representative for the area where you're standing.


Q. I would like to know what you plan to do in order to help the elderly, retired, disabled, and lower income people with their utility bills.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, it's very difficult to answer that question successfully, because one of the major component parts of the utility bill charges is the price of energy that goes to generate electricity, primarily.

We have passed legislation that supplements the ability of a family to insulate homes and to cut down on the waste of heat and electricity. Also, we have new legislation just passed last fall that gives us the right to change the rate structure for electrical charges, so that if a person is poor and can use electricity at a time during the day when it's most efficient to produce or when the demand is low, that they could again have a lower charge for their utilities.

The other thing that I would add is that the general allocation of Federal funds for the poor people has been substantially improved.

Last year I submitted a budget that's now in effect during 1979 that increased total allocation of Federal funds for the poor by $4.5 billion. And next year, even though it's a very tight budget for fiscal year 1980, beginning this October, we again increased the allocation of funds for the poor $4 billion more. So, with the change in aid for the elderly who are genuinely poor and for the changes in the rate structure of electricity and the help for insulating homes, that's what the Federal Government can do.

There are many things, of course, that State governments can do, as Governor Nigh well knows, with circuit breaker-type charges for, say, property taxes, where, if a person is both old and poor, they might be forgiven part of their property taxes.

And of course, there are some States that provide special, low-cost electrical services from the utility companies and the State makes up the difference. But I think for the Federal Government to take additional action on a nationwide basis would be very difficult. And I think what I've described is at least some help—maybe not enough.


Q. Good evening, Mr. President, and welcome to Elk City. My name is Glorya Wilmoth, and what I'd like to ask you is why does the Government, every time you turn around, take food stamps and welfare away from the elderly to give to the dependent children for the mothers that are able to work, that won't work, when the elderly really do need the money, especially when they're in their seventies and are unable to work?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't deny that we give help to mothers with dependent children. But I don't think it's accurate to say that we take money away from the elderly in order to do so.

We have made a very substantial change in the food stamp laws since I've been in office by not requiring that they pay a certain amount for the food stamps themselves. Quite often, particularly elderly people living on a fixed income were not able to raise enough cash money to pay the cash portion of the food stamps themselves. So, we have removed that requirement from the law now. I think we are increasing the ability of the elderly to get food stamps in that respect.

We've also tried to channel food stamp use more accurately to people who need it most. In the past it was abused, because the original law, as it was written, let people get food stamps who didn't really need or deserve those stamps. So, I think we are focusing in much more accurately now on the people that you described who do really need help in acquiring food, but I don't agree with your premise that we have robbed the elderly in order to benefit another group of poor people. I think we are treating them relatively fair.

Q. Okay, and I would also like to have a kiss or a handshake.

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. That will be fine.

[At this point, the President kissed Ms. Wilmoth.]


Q. Mr. President, I'm Abbie Tillman from Elk City. And I had three questions in mind. Two of them have been touched on, so I'll just forget them. But, first of all, my boys said to tell Amy Happy Birthday.


Q. Okay. What I wanted to know is why does the Government threaten to stop the Federal money that we pay in taxes if the State of Oklahoma raises the speed limit to 65? Because as many or more accidents are caused from faulty vehicles that—Oklahoma has the safety inspection law. And there's a bill in the House to cancel it. And I also wondered why the Federal Government doesn't do something about the safety inspection laws.

THE PRESIDENT. The safety inspection laws are left up to the States to administer. And the inspection procedure is completely handled by the States, and I think that's the way it ought to be.

The Federal Government, in 1973 or 1974, when we had another energy shortage, passed laws through the Congress, signed by the President, which I am sworn to carry out on my oath.

One provision of that law is that if any State does not comply with the nationwide requirement on the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, that all transportation funds will be withheld from that State. If any State should change its speed limit from 55 up to 65, those funds will be lost.

That's a State option to take. One of the houses in your legislature has already done so. I realize that. But if the other house should change the speed limit upward and the Governor should sign the law and make it effective, then I think Oklahoma should realize that under the United States law, that I'm required to uphold, those funds will be withheld.

I think that the law should be enforced. I think the speed limit of 55 should be maintained. I don't want to mislead you about it. I know you apparently disagree. But if the speed limit is changed, Oklahoma is going to lose the money. I hope they don't change the law.

Q. Do we really save that much in energy?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it saves a considerable amount in energy, and I also think it saves a considerable number of lives to have the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. That's my own opinion.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sorry, but our time has run out. Let me say this in closing: I think all of you see the breadth of interest of the people of Elk City in international affairs, nationwide problems, and local matters of interest. This is part of our American system.

I've had townhall meetings now in many places, in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, in Oregon, in Mississippi, in Poland-Warsaw, Poland, in West Berlin in Germany, in Sao

Paulo, Brazil.* And I think it's one of the best ways possible for me to learn what your interests and your concerns are.


Note: The President spoke at 7:32 p.m. in the Elk City High School gymnasium.

Following the town meeting, the President met with members of the executive committee of the Oklahoma Democratic Party in a room at the high school. He then spent the night at the home of Mrs. Paul R. Wade, mother of Elk City Mayor Larry Wade.

Jimmy Carter, Elk City, Oklahoma Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249330

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