National Newspaper Association Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Members Attending the Association's Annual Convention.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm very glad to be able to talk to you all, and I want to say first that I've been pleased at the administration's progress so far. We've addressed a lot of very difficult and controversial, long overdue issues.
I think the Senate is now hard at work on energy legislation. The House has taken its stand on it, and also social security. They're beginning to debate over the welfare proposals. We're making some progress on SALT. And I think that, in general, we've repaired the relationship that was fairly weak between ourselves and the developing nations of the world, particularly Africa.
I think we've strengthened our ties of friendship with the Latin American countries, made good progress on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and I'm very pleased so far.
We have a heavy agenda, but I particularly wanted to get most of the controversial and very important items on the table for debate and congressional action this first year.
I would guess that the pace of introduction of major items would drop off substantially next year, and I would like to say that I want to express my appreciation to the National Newspaper Association for letting me have a chance to open with this brief comment. But 1 would like to spend most of my time answering questions, and I'm prepared to answer those now if you're prepared to ask them.
GEORGE JOPLIN. Thank you, Mr. President. We also appreciate your taking the time to be with us this morning.
Mr. President, our first question is, it has been suggested the economy of our country could be boosted by resuming promotion of our agricultural products in world trade. Why do you not advocate such a program, or what do you propose to boost our farm produce for export?
THE PRESIDENT. We've just gotten the figures for the last 12 months, and we've had the highest sale of agricultural products in the history of our Nation, a little more than $24 billion. In addition to that, in spite of fairly good crops around the world and, as you know, high reserve supplies of the basic feed grains and food grains on hand, we're mounting a major effort to increase sales this year over what we had anticipated earlier. We've just approved in the last few weeks, for instance, an increase from 8 million tons to 13 million tons of the grain that the Soviet Union can buy, before they have to go and start reporting individual purchases from us.
We've not been very successful in selling wheat to China this past few years. Most of their purchases have been from Argentina, Australia, and Canada, but we hope to improve this in the future. We're increasing the allotment of time of the Secretary of Agriculture who, as you know, made a trip throughout the world during the summer, particularly in the southeastern part of the Pacific area.
So, we are mounting an all-out effort to hold up foreign sales as much as we possibly can, and I think we've had remarkable success so far with the highest sales on record.
STATE OF TEXAS
Q. Mr. President, I'm Harold Hudson, with the Perryton Texas Herald. You said in Denver last week that the United States bought and paid for Texas. Was this a misstatement, or is it indeed a fact that Texas was bought and paid for? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. No, sir. Anybody who lives among as many people who have moved out of Georgia, including my own ancestors, to go to Texas and fight for Texas independence, neighbor of Tennessee and North Carolina and South Carolina and Alabama, who provided people who fought for the independence of Texas, know the history of your great and courageous State.
Only a small part of the territory that was originally claimed by Texas was actually bought by the United States. As you know, we paid, I think, about $15 million for areas that had been previously claimed by Texas but that don't lie within the Texas boundaries now. This was territory to the west of Texas. But I know, and I think everybody in this country knows, that Texas was independent, voluntarily became a State of our Nation, and I'm very proud that some of my ancestors participated in that process.
REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
Q. Mr. President, I'm Bob Bailey with the Buhl, Idaho, Herald. And my question is, recent events in South Africa contradict this Nation's basic philosophy of equal rights for all humans. Are you going to impose sanctions against the Republic of South Africa, and if so, what sanctions do you plan?
THE PRESIDENT. All right, thank you. We have tried to work as best we could with the South African Government during this last 10 months and have had some cooperation with them on resolving the problems in Namibia, which was formerly Southwest Africa, and also the Rhodesian-Zimbabwe question, where they have a major influence on Ian Smith. At the same time, we've tried to use our influence on the South African Government, not to tell them how to run their own affairs, but to let them know the condemnation that exists in the rest of the world for the apartheid system, for the requirement that the majority of their citizens carry passes, that they're not given equal opportunities for employment, promotion, educational opportunities, and so forth.
What precipitated the deepest possible concern, however, was an almost complete abolition of any voices of dissent in South Africa last week among groups representing black citizens and the taking away of the privileges of newspapers to publish the facts to the South African people.
As a result of this action they took last week, we are supporting sanctions against South Africa, working with the allies that we have in the Western World, and also working, hopefully, with some of the leaders of the African nations themselves. These sanctions will consist of a mandatory embargo on the shipment of weapons to South Africa. This has been a voluntary imposition in the past.
Our belief is that this will be overwhelmingly passed by the Security Council. We hope that because of its action, the South Africans will take more constructive action in the future.
I might add one other point. There are other matters, of course, that will be considered. We are quite concerned about Prime Minister Vorster's statement this past week that they had not given us assurances against the testing of atomic weapons. In both a public statement that we've made and also in private dispatches through diplomatic channels and a private message directed to me from Vorster, they had unequivocably committed themselves not to design nor produce nor to test any atomic explosions at all, either peaceful or weapons. So, we have some concerns about South Africa.
I think at this time we'll limit our United Nations sanctions to an arms embargo and we hope that will make progress with the South Africans' attitude toward the rest of the world and toward their own people.
UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS AND INDOCHINA REFUGEES
Q. Mr. President, I'm Jim Gill with the Hemet, California, News. My question is, on the West Coast and the four border States in the Southwest, we are very perturbed over the Government's position in allowing many people from the Asiatic countries, particularly the bringing of thousands of entire families from Vietnam to the United States, plus the thousands of illegal aliens in the United States from Mexico every month.
This migration, we think, has reached a breaking point when the unemployment of our own citizens and their care continues to soar. What are your plans to halt this situation so we can take care of our own citizens first?
THE PRESIDENT. You've covered two very important issues. On the subject of illegal aliens from Mexico, from China, and from many other nations around the world, for the first time, so far as I know, of any administration, we have submitted to the Congress for consideration a very strong, I think, very adequate legislation.
I hope the Congress will pass it next year. It's supported by a wide range of Members of the Congress--Peter Rodino in the House and his committee, working with Congressman Eilberg, and in the Senate, Senator Eastland from Mississippi and Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts are joint sponsors of the legislation.
This would provide an inventory, through registration of those illegal aliens who are already in our country, and tighten up considerably on border control. And I believe for the first time, we'll have a handle on a rapidly increasing problem for our country.
It's controversial legislation. We're trying at the same time to protect the basic civil rights of those who are of Chinese or Mexican descent and who have legal rights to be in this country. We don't want them to feel any sign of discrimination on employment and so forth.
On the Southeastern Asian refugees, as you know, this is a fairly tiny group. And in the past, immediately after the Vietnam war and the war in Laos and Cambodia, our country accepted about 150,000 of these refugees. We encouraged other nations to do the same. The only expansion of this will be for about 15,000 of those kinds of refugees who have been living on boats for many years. And the Congress has just recently signed or passed a law, which I've signed, authorizing these to come in.
That's a tiny portion of the people who have suffered so severely in that area. We are providing for them language instruction, vocation-technical training, and also job counseling, to make sure that the impact on the labor markets are not excessive.
I think this is a proper thing to do. I do support it. But as far as our national population is concerned, it's a tiny portion of the problem that we have--150,000. The illegal alien problem, though, is one that consists of 7 or 8 million, perhaps, and is a profound problem. But I hope that the Congress next year will take our own advice, and I believe that this legislation we have proposed and which is widely supported will be passed.
FEDERAL TERMS OF OFFICE
Q. Mr. President, I'm Milton Chilcott with the Sheridan, Wyoming, Press. My question is, many Americans suggest that limitation of the Presidential term, as well as terms of Senators and Representatives, would be a positive contribution to better government. Would you care to comment?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope you're not thinking about cutting it down below 4 years. I would certainly hate to see that done, certainly, you know, within the next few months. [Laughter]
I believe that the present arrangement is the best one. I've seen proposals made and highly publicized to change the Presidential term from two 4-year terms to one 6-year term.
I think if you look back on the Presidential tenure in office since Eisenhower, for instance, with Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, you see that the American people have, either through tragedy or through votes or voluntary withdrawals by Presidents from running for reelection, had a very tight control over the Presidency itself. Even with President Truman, I think that the pressures of the office and, perhaps, a very low popularity after he discharged General MacArthur caused him to decide not to run for reelection.
So, I believe that the present arrangement is the best one, with accountability every 4 years, and in times of strife or turmoil or lack of confidence, the President either voluntarily deciding not to run for reelection or the voters deciding to change. So, my summary is leave it like it is.
ADMINISTRATION'S POSTAL POLICY
Q. Mr. President, I'm John Andrist from the Crosby, North Dakota, Journal. My question is, do you realize that the postal policy announced by your administration on September 20, if implemented, would literally destroy many small newspapers?
THE PRESIDENT. No, sir. I don't recognize that it would destroy many small newspapers. I recognize, though, that the small newspapers, the large newspapers, the magazines, and also the companies that sell books would like to have a much more liberal postal policy than the one that we advocate.
I believe that the position that we took is reasonable. It does provide direct aid or subsidies for postal costs. We recommend a line-item approval for this subsidy, and I believe that the small newspapers would have a very high priority within the Congress and certainly would with my own administration.
We are faced with a very high budget impact if all those groups that I described got what they wanted. We're talking about 3, 4, perhaps even 5 billion dollars a year which, over the 4-year period that we are talking about, would mean about 15 or 16 billion dollars in drain on the American Government Treasury.
But I believe that if we put it on the basis that we advocated, with the line-item or individual decision by Congress on which subsidies should be supported, that the small newspapers will come out very well.
LABOR LAW REFORM BILL
Q. Mr. President, George Joplin, again. The so-called labor law reform bill, recently passed in the House and now pending in the Senate, would impose severe economic sanctions against employers, deprive employers of their rights in representation elections, and give unrecognized unions access to the premises and time of employers. It says nothing about the rights of the employers. Why do you so strongly support this, what seems to be one-sided and unfair legislation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, George, I have to say that if I agreed with your description of it, I would not support it. [Laughter]
I have gone over every item in this labor reform package. It's much more moderate or conservative or much more inclined toward the employer's position than it was in its original form because I have the same concern that you do.
I am a businessman, I have been an employer, and I want to be sure that both the rights of workers and their employers are protected. I consider the proposal to be very modest in its scope, and the major thrust of it is to expedite whatever decision is made.
I have seen in Georgia, for instance, that when the application of the present law was attempted, that because of subterfuge or delay, a final determination in the labor dispute might be dragged out 2, 3, 4 years. And I don't think it's right to circumvent the law by unnecessary delay. This would expedite it.
Also, I don't think that any worker should be punished through immediate discharge who tries to seek the rights that are applicable in almost all parts of the country for workers.
But I think if you would get the copy of the law as it was proposed by us and passed by the House and go over it paragraph by paragraph, I would like very much to have you communicate with me directly, Mr. Joplin, and let me know what your specific concerns might be.
I was concerned about the legislation originally. The deeper I got into it, the more I could see that it was fair, was moderate, and had a primary thrust of expediting decisions that ultimately had to be dragged out through the courts for several years and quite often hurt employment and hurt the economic stability and strength and prosperity in the small communities, in particular.
So, how about taking a look at the individual component parts and let me have, either by telegram or direct letter from you, how you feel about the individual paragraphs?
Q. All right, sir, I certainly will, and I appreciate the opportunity.
NATURAL GAS DEREGULATION
Q. Mr. President, this is Harold Hudson from Texas. During the campaign, you said you favored the deregulation of natural gas prices, and now you're opposed to this. Why have you changed your position?
THE PRESIDENT. As I said in my campaign and also as I said to the Congress when I made my energy speech in April, we are working toward deregulation of natural gas. I said in my speech that I would work with the Congress toward this ultimate goal. I don't think we ought to do it all at once, Mr. Hudson. It would just be too much of an impact on our national economy.
The present price for natural gas, as you know, is about $1.45. We advocated raising it immediately to $1.75, which is a substantial increase and, I think, about 600 percent higher than it was 5 or 6 years ago; also, that we provide a step-by-step increase in the price of natural gas from one year to another, bringing it up to the equivalent price for international oil and, I thought, with a fairly liberal definition of what is new gas, to have an incentive for the production and exploration, particularly in the new gas areas.
So, my goal is still to deregulate natural gas. I believe that we made a major step in that direction. I just don't want to do it too rapidly, and I don't want to define old gas which has actually already been discovered and is being produced as new gas.
I think that the House of Representatives has gone along with our position. It's been supported both publicly and privately by some Members who represent gas-producing States, and I think it confirms my campaign promise and my speech to the Congress that we are working toward ultimate deregulation. I just don't want to do it too fast.
Q. Mr. President, this is Bob Bailey. My next question is, what is your plan to salvage the social security system? Do you agree with pending legislation that would drastically increase amounts that employees pay in social security taxes and end the equality of tax between employer and employee? Is this not inflationary, and what effect will it have on employment?
THE PRESIDENT. Our position on the social security package has been already promulgated with a message from me to Congress early this year and also by legislation that we drafted and presented.
The House action is fairly compatible with what we proposed. The fact is that one of the major social security funds will be completely bankrupt in about 2 years if we don't take action, and another one of the three major funds will be running out of money within about 5 years.
What we are trying to do is to put the social security funds, all three of them, on a sound financial basis, permanently, and to make sure that we have a minimum adverse impact on the economy and on the working people of our country.
I think that this is, to some degree, inflationary. But I believe that the major impact might be a dampening effect on our economy. I have announced yesterday that we're going to hold off our tax reform proposals until we can see what Congress does on social security. And I would guess that a major factor would be that if the social security tax increase is substantial after the Congress gets through, we'll try to compensate for this in the tax reform package. But there's no alternative that we have. We've got to increase the contributions to the social security system so it won't go broke.
And this one decision which the Congress is making--I hope this year; the House has already passed it--will put the social security system on a sound basis permanently, certainly throughout the rest of this century. And we'll try to compensate for the inflationary impact or the tax increase on working people by other means to make sure that the economy is not severely damaged by this action.
IRRIGATION OF LAND
Q. Mr. President, this is Jim Gill from California. My next question is, why has your Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Andrus, resurrected a bit of legislation enacted in 1902 that irrigation waters should no longer be available to any rancher who is farming more than 160 acres? The reenactment of this ruling is most archaic today.
Farming methods are geared to production of food on a large scale, which is the backbone of our Nation. It is not economically feasible to continue farming parcels of 160 acres. Are you going to stand by and permit our most needed industry--the feeding of millions of people-to be scuttled by a misinformed member of your Cabinet? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Gill, I appreciate your very fair and objective analysis of the question. [Laughter]
Let me respond briefly, because this is a matter that is very widely misinterpreted in some parts of California. I've been down to Brawley and in the Imperial Valley area as a candidate and have been thoroughly familiar at that time, even, with the circumstances. This was more than a year ago.
The action that's being taken even by the Interior Department was not initiated by us, including, of course, the Secretary of Interior. This action is a result of very long, very controversial judicial decisions where nongovernmental persons filed a lawsuit saying that the 1902 law was passed by Congress, signed by the President, and had been violated.
When the State and the Federal courts made a ruling, they said that the law must be enforced and directed the Secretary of Interior to take action to enforce the law, which, as you know, had not been enforced in the past. And that's what we're doing. We did not initiate this action. We're carrying out the court order. Both I and all the Members of Congress have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws of our country as interpreted by the courts.
I'm a farmer myself, as you know. I own 2 or 3 thousand acres of land, and I recognize that the scale of farming is quite different from what it was in 1902; in fact, even what it was in 1952, when we were still plowing with mules down home.
As you know, a husband and a wife of a farm family can own 160 acres each, which makes a total of 320 acres. I doubt that this is the final word about the subject. The Congress is monitoring this very carefully. Legislation might be introduced to modify the 1902 law. I think that there ought to be some larger permits for land holdings--I can't say the exact acreage right now. But in the meantime, we'll have to comply with the Federal court rulings.
I might say that at the banquet that was held in Los Angeles this past weekend, we had a very large contingent there of Imperial Valley farmers to support me and also the Democratic Party and what we are trying to do. We are trying to approach it in an objective and fair fashion, but we're constrained to enforce the law and we'll continue to do so.
But we did not take the initiative. We are familiar with the problems there. I think some modification might very well be made in the law in the future, but in the meantime, we'll have to carry out the court directive.
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
Q. Mr. President, George Joplin again. Labor costs currently account for about 86 percent of postal service expenses. In light of this, it is clear nothing can be done about the rising rates and declining services unless the labor cost problem is dealt with. How do you intend to deal with this?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, I don't have any authority over the Post Office. This is a matter that was decided by the Congress just a few years ago, to make an independent Postmaster General who is not appointed by the President and who is not accountable to me, and also a ratemaking board which is an independent board.
At the time this new legislation was passed, the postal employees were among the lowest paid Federal employees. They've had a very rapid increase in salaries, and now they are among the highest paid Federal employees. They are separate from the others because of the independence of the Post Office, as determined by the Federal law that was passed by Congress.
We've advocated to the Congress that the Postmaster General be a Presidential appointee, that he serve for 6 years, that his appointment be ratified by the Senate, and that he be accountable, not only to the public but also, at least to that degree, to me as President.
I just believe that there has been progress made in making the Post Office more efficient. The rapid rise in wages, the rapid rise in inflationary pressures have created serious problems, but we will continue to subsidize the postal rate structure. And we will also single out for the rate of subsidy those elements of postal users who provide the greatest and most advantageous services to the American people. And of course, that would include, in my opinion, the local newspapers whom you represent.
But I think it's good to set the record straight that there is absolutely no accountability now from the Post Office department to the President. The only rights that we have are through the Congress when supplementary appropriations are required. And this is established, as you know, by formula.
We'll do the best we can through public expressions of concern, and we're trying to work with the Congress now to have more accountability built in.
I want to say one other thing in closing. My grandfather was a postmaster, and my mother worked in the Post Office. My mother-in-law has just retired at the age of 70 from the Post Office in Plains-my grandfather was the one who proposed to Georgia Congressmen the establishment of rural free delivery of mail system. So, I've seen the problem from both sides, and now, of course, I'm seeing it from the viewpoint of the Presidency.
I know that you have, speaking to your convention, congressional leaders, committee chairmen who will be evolving legislation. I've also consulted with the Senators, particularly Senator John Glenn, who is very interested on the Senate side. But I believe that we'll come out with a proposal that will be not everything that you want, but highly sensitive to the special needs of the newspapers represented by the National Newspaper Association, because our country recognizes the tremendous contribution that you do make in providing a better life for our people.
Let me say that I'm grateful for this chance to exchange ideas with you. The questions asked me were very sharp and pertinent and, in some instances, difficult to answer. I don't know all the answers. I'm learning as best I can.
I think we have put to the Congress and to the people, proposed solutions to some of the most controversial issues. And it's always beneficial to me as President to have a chance to explain with you, George Joplin, and with Mr. Hudson, Bailey, and others, the questions that you proposed to me.
Good luck to all of you. I hope you have a very successful convention, and I look forward to hearing from you often. And particularly, I'm looking forward, Mr. Joplin, to having your analysis of the labor reform legislation. Thank you very much.
MR. JOPLIN. Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: The President spoke at 10:45 a.m. from the Oval Office by telephone hookup to members of the association meeting in Houston, Tex. George Joplin was the outgoing president of the association.
Jimmy Carter, National Newspaper Association Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Members Attending the Association's Annual Convention. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242386