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Interview With Richard Ford of KSDK - TV in St. Louis, Missouri

November 13, 1991

The Economy

Q. Well, I guess you know everybody's anxious to talk about the economy.

The President. Yes.

Q. Well, it is the economy I want to talk about, too. And I might preface this, Mr. President, saying some of the questions I'm asking reflect some feedback that we get from our audience. And here in Missouri, for instance, the economy has been described as stagnant in the St. Louis area for a couple of years: Unemployment about 6.8 percent and not really changing very much; 25,000 manufacturing lost in the last year alone; people out of work who have never been out of work before and not the chronically unemployed. And I'm getting a sense of maybe frustration, maybe even anger on the part of these people. And I wonder, what can you tell them? What can you tell them about the future?

The President. I can tell them we've been through a tough time. We've been through a recession. And I say through because technically I don't believe this country is in a recession. In this area, we've had some economic dislocations because of our success, the success in beating down a military threat that still exists, incidentally, but has enabled us to make some substantial cutbacks on defense. And so, what we've got to do is to "incent" this economy in the ways I've been proposing to the Congress for 2 years. And I'm talking about capital gains, R&D, IRA's, enterprise zones; a transportation bill would kick the economy right now.

So, we've got some answers. I've got a big problem with the Congress. And apparently the people blame the Congress. I'll take my share of the blame. But we're going through a transitional period here, and we've got to help these people.

Q. One of your biggest critics in Congress, of course, is St. Louis Representative Richard Gephardt -- --

The President. Yes, he is.

Q. -- -- who says you have no sense of leadership. You're frozen by insensitivity to what people are thinking.

The President. I'm disinclined to respond to those kinds of personal attacks. I don't agree with that, and the American people, fortunately, don't agree with that. I think the American people see Congress as a major stumbling block, and he happens to be the leader of the House over there. And if they would go forward and do some of the things I've asked, I think we'd be far further along in the economy.

But today, for example, we get a breakthrough on unemployment compensation, helping people whose benefits ran out. But we did it by beating back a lot of bad ideas that would bust the budget agreement and tax all the people that are working, the 94 percent of the people that are working. And I don't want to do that. And I have a big difference with the liberal ideology of the leadership in the Congress.


Q. Some cynics might say that you agreed to that unemployment benefit extension because the polls show you losing in popularity or losing in this rate of approval.

The President. Some cynics might say that, but they don't know the facts. The facts are, if the Democrats had done what they're willing to do now, we could have had a bill 2 months ago and should have. But they asked me to bust the budget agreement and further tax the 94 percent of the people that are working. And by standing up and saying, "No, we're not going to do it that way. We're going to beat back the liberal idea that you can just keep on spending forever, that got us partially in the mix we're in now." And so, I had to stand up against it.

But now, apparently, we've got a deal. Haven't got it passed yet, but it's a good compromise. But I don't think somebody will charge that because they can see the evidence of the legislation.

Q. You're familiar with this Times-Mirror poll that was taken that showed this drop in popularity. There was another statistic in that poll that's disturbing to some, that 39 percent of those polled are afraid that some member of their family is going to lose their job. And isn't it very difficult for people to spend money to stimulate the economy when they live with this fear -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. -- -- that maybe they're going to be unemployed?

The President. Yes, yes, it is.

Q. What do we do about that?

The President. What we do about it is passing the incentive programs that I've got up before the Congress. I'm not sure that will happen now because Congress is going to go out, and I think they should go out. It's long overdue that they go out in my opinion. And then I will make some proposals at the State of the Union message and take my case directly to the American people. And I think they'll support me. I hope things are better by then. But even if they're not, I'm going to have a program that I will say -- look the American people in the eye and say, "Look, they've tried it their way. I've had to block some of the lousy ideas that the Democratic leadership has come up with. And here's what I think is best. Now, you back me, and let's try to get it done."

But you're right, confidence is a big, key thing. But there's some good news on that. Interest rates are down, and today yet there's -- another very important credit card company came down on their rates. At some point when those rates are, people see the rates are where they are, I believe you're going to see confidence start back in housing or in consumer buying. And that's what the economy needs.

Q. But people don't have jobs, sir. They don't have any income. They don't care what the interest rate is. They can't spend any money. They can't borrow any money.

The President. That's right, 6 percent.

Q. Their credit cards are maxed out already.

The President. There's 94 percent of the people that can stimulate the economy and help create jobs, however.

Transportation Bill

Q. Two Governors were in town here yesterday, both Republicans, Ashcroft and Edgar from Illinois. And they say we need a new bridge across the river, a very expensive bridge that has to be built. The rest of the infrastructure here could be helped. I was just wondering if you would approve or consider some sort of WPA kind of thing. If you will, that would stimulate the economy and also rebuild the infrastructure.

The President. Before we need a whole new WPA program, what we need is -- you're right, we need to do something about the infrastructure. And they ought to pass our transportation bill. You remember last March when I challenged the Congress to pass it in 100 days? Said, "Hey, you guys are sitting around here. Can't you at least pass something that will help the infrastructure, help the highway system in 100 days?" It's now how many months later? We might still get it before the end of this session. But I'm a little bit skeptical.

But that's the kind of thing we ought to do rather than go out and try to think of some big new way to spend money. We've got a good transportation bill that would do exactly what you're talking about. Now, whether it takes care of that bridge or not, I don't know.

Sale of F - 15's to Saudi Arabia

Q. Not far from here, we have a McDonnell-Douglas plant, where you've already alluded there's a lot of unemployment because of defense cutbacks. Will you support the sale of F - 15's to Saudi Arabia that would keep employment there at a good level through the next several years?

The President. We have no requests, and I'll consider all these requests when they come to me. We have no requests yet.

Q. For the F - 15's sale -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. -- -- not formally been made yet?

The President. No.

Wage Levels

Q. There's an economist -- and this will be my last chat here -- who says that it's not high taxes and it's not high interest rates that are the problem, it's low wages, that people aren't making enough money in this country because all of our manufacturing jobs have gone someplace else. Do you think there's any truth in that?

The President. No, I don't think there's any truth in that.

Note: The interview began at 4:30 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, St. Louis Airport. A tape was not available for the verification of the content of this interview.

George Bush, Interview With Richard Ford of KSDK - TV in St. Louis, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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