Jimmy Carter photo

New York City, New York Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting With Residents of the Borough of Queens.

September 25, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Pat Moynihan, Mayor Ed Koch, Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, President Don Manes, President Saul Cohen, and my friends from Queens and from New York City:

I am very glad to be back with you.

First of all, I want to thank the Queens Symphony Orchestra for a tremendous reception.

I was going to make an opening statement or speech. I've decided that since so many people are here, and I know you have a lot of questions, that I will not do so. So, if you will not be timid with your questions, I will not be timid with my answers. Let's get on with the question-and-answer period.


Q. Mr. President, this is a great honor. My name is Nicholas Gray. I live in Manhattan, and I own a store there called Gray's Papaya. [Laughter] We're famous for our better filet mignon frankfurters.

THE PRESIDENT. My name is Jimmy Carter. I'm President of the United States. [Laughter]

Q. I am a fan of yours, and I was told to tell you this.

THE PRESIDENT. I know. Great.

Q. Mr. President, welcome to New York City.

THE PRESIDENT. And I grow peanuts, you know, so eat peanut butter. [Laughter]

Q. Welcome to New York City, Mr. President. You look great. There are many millions here who stand firmly behind you and who look forward to your reelection.

My question is friendly and personal. I wonder if you'd take a couple of minutes to tell us about your jogging habits and how you are feeling in general since

your race in Maryland last week?


THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to answer all the questions, including this one. Thank you, Mr. Gray, for your welcome.

I've been running in college. I've been running for the State Senate, and then for Governor, and then for President- [laughter] —still have running on my mind.

I run about 3 or 4 miles a day on the average—sometimes as much as 12 miles, sometimes as little as 2 miles, and enjoy it very much. My wife runs from 2 to 5 miles with me each day. It helps me to be by myself, enjoy a conversation with my wife, and I look forward to it very much. And I stay in good shape, ready for running in the future.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. You look great.



Q. Good evening, Mr. President. My name is Stewart Weinberg. I'm 22 years old, from Bayside, Queens, and I'd sure like to thank you for making me feel almost as if I'm in touch with my Government. I think it's great. I really do.


Q. I want you to know that in 1976 I worked very hard for your election campaign. [Laughter] Just cool it people, just cool it. I worked very hard, and I'd like you to take that into consideration when I ask you this question. [Laughter]

Consider your 1976 election campaign promises, and consider how those ideas and programs have progressed. Consider that the American dollar has been plummeting. Consider the rise in inflation, the oil crisis, the gas lines, the tremendous cost of home heating oil. Consider the tumultuous nature of your ever-changing Cabinet. Consider how we have added more destruction to our ecosystem with nuclear energy. and oil spills. Consider that we really don't have a comprehensive national energy or health program. And consider that I am a college-educated young man who has been unemployed for 3 months, and I'm very unhappy about that.

Evaluating what I've pointed out, please explain why I should support you for your reelection. What makes you think your first term merits a reelection? I want to know if I should work for you a second time, and why.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mr. Weinberg.

I've now been President for a little more than 2 1/2 years. We've had some notable achievements and we've had some disappointments. I think in trying to go down the list of things that you described—and I'll confine myself to that and not talk about the good things, okay?—to be fair to you.

Employment—when I was elected President and inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 8 percent. Now it's 6 percent. We've had a net increase in jobs in this country of 8 million, a net increase in jobs. This record has mirrored itself in New York City, where the unemployment rate has dropped about 2 percent.

I would like for every college graduate, like you, and also for every person in our country who hasn't had the advantages of college, to have a job. It's not possible to give a job to everyone. I think we've made reasonable progress.

On inflation—we've had inflation with us for about 10 years, 11 years. It's been as high as 12 or 13 percent in 1973 and '74, when OPEC raised their prices. It's up to that level now because OPEC has raised their prices.

In the last 3 months, for instance, the inflation rate, not counting energy, has gone up one-fourth of 1 percent. In that same time, because of action taken by OPEC, over which I have no control, the inflation rate in energy is going up 100 percent per year. And obviously, when that's mixed in with the other costs, the inflation rate is high; it's too high. I wish I could get it down.

You point out that we have no energy policy. We are hammering out a comprehensive, excellent energy policy which I believe and predict flatly will be on the law books by the time this year is over.

We have not ever had before any semblance of an energy policy. And in spite of my efforts for the last 2 1/2 years, the Congress has yet not passed one word relating to oil.

In the past, the oil lobbies have permeated the influence on the Hill in Washington, because consumers had no strong voice. And I have to admit, at that time that oil prices were relatively low. Now it's just about an even thing. But I still predict to you that we will add on to a very good legislative program last year, a complete energy policy this year. It's long overdue, but there's only so much that you can do in 2 1/2 years.

The second thing I'd like to say is that so far we've already saved, because of actions taken within the last 12 months, about 4 million barrels of imported oil that we will not have to import by 1990. My additional proposals, which will pass this year, will save an additional 4 1/2 million barrels of oil.

I know how serious the problem is. I don't know how you reacted in April of '77 when I went to the people on evening television and said this is the moral equivalent of war. Very few citizens, perhaps even including you, rallied to my side and said, "I agree with you, Mr. President. We will fight for an energy policy." But I fought for it, and a lot of people in this country thought it was a ridiculous thing to say. And now we are seeing that we have a serious energy problem that really endangers the security of our Nation.

You mentioned the Cabinet changes. I went 30 months and did not make a single change in my Cabinet. And then I decided that that level of the Cabinet had done some extraordinary things. They had initiated good programs—like Jim Schlesinger, for instance, and put through a major part of the energy program and also set up a Department of Energy, and his time had expired. He wanted to step down.

So, I've now got Charlie Duncan in there—highly qualified, administrator, manager—who can take over an existing department and make sure it functions smoothly.

I've appointed a man as head of HUD, Housing and Urban Development, Moon Landrieu, an accomplished mayor, a mayor of New Orleans. And those of you who keep up with the history of New York City know that just a few years ago, not too long ago, when New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy and despair, there was one mayor in this country who left his city and traveled all over the Nation with 11 other mayors to tell everybody in Georgia, in Washington, in Oregon, in Iowa, "We have got to save New York City." You know who that was? Moon Landrieu, who's now the Secretary of HUD.

And we've got another good man named Neil Goldschmidt, who's taken over now the Transportation Department, an experienced man.

I have no apology for keeping my original Cabinet 30 months, and I have absolutely no apology for making a change when I see fit. It's a prerogative and a responsibility of a President to have his own Cabinet.

I'll say one more thing. This is a long answer, but I think it covers a lot of questions that might have been asked later.

You mentioned national health insurance. I am for national health insurance. We have not had legislation passed through the Congress to improve our health system in any degree for the last 30 years. We need to have it passed. President Truman called for a comprehensive, nationwide health insurance program; we don't have it. Senator Kennedy has been in Congress now for 16 years. His major premise, his major goal has been to establish a comprehensive, national health insurance policy for our country. He's the chairman of the Health Committee in the Senate. He has never gotten a comprehensive national health bill out of his subcommittee. It is not easy.

But I'm determined to get a national health insurance program for our country, and I believe that I now have enough support in the Congress to do it before this term is over. So, we are making some progress, we're making some progress.

Q. I would just like to say one thing.


Q. That is, you might just get me to work for you a second time.

THE PRESIDENT. That's a deal. Thank you.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Barbara Miles, and I'm glad to hear you say you want the hard questions, because I have one for you.


Q. I represent a new coalition of religious and community organizations called the Crusade for Work. And I think you can infer from the name what our major interest is.

I think you also will realize that unemployment is dehumanizing and life-threatening, and I'm very glad to hear you say that you've been able to bring the unemployment rate down by 2 percent. But I want to dwell on that a little bit, because we're very disturbed now by your new monetary policies, as articulated by G. William Miller and by Paul Volcker, because those policies, as I understand them, threaten to raise the unemployment rate back up to 8 percent again, while there's no evidence as far as I can ascertain that you will be successful in curbing inflation. So, in view of the risk and the painfulness of this process, then why are you willing to take such a large gamble?

THE PRESIDENT. I have the same feeling you do about unemployment. This is very important.

[At this point, there was an interruption from the audience.]

THE PRESIDENT. Now, it's okay. It's okay. It's all right. It's a free country. [The interruption continued.]

THE PRESIDENT. If you all can hear me, I'll go ahead with my answer. [Applause]

Miss Miles, I'm as concerned as you are about the high rate of inflation. But one of the things that we have to remember is that inflation at a high level and unemployment at a high level are directly related. And one of the reasons that we have the prospect of higher unemployment in the future is because we have not been able to control the inflation rate. Most of the cause of that has been because of uncontrollable OPEC prices. But there has to be some dealing with inflation and its root causes.

Every poor person, whether employed or not, is robbed much more severely by inflation even than those who are more wealthy and more able to accommodate their basic needs and may have to do away with some of the luxuries because inflation strikes their family.

We are trying to maintain employment levels high, to target programs. We now have two programs before the Congress: one that would provide additional aid to a locality, perhaps where you live, if the unemployment rate gets above 6 1/2 percent. There's another triggering device, separate program, that would give .jobs, above and beyond the ones we have now, on a nationwide basis, if the unemployment rate gets above 6 1/2 percent. That's a kind of an insurance policy for the future. But in the meantime, I'm determined that we will not waste money.

I have been able, since I've been in office, to cut the Federal deficit more than 50 percent. I think this is important. We've increased services. For instance, since I've been in office, we've increased the amount of money given to education, primarily for the poor, by 60 percent. We've never had that increase before. We've given aid to New York City, $700 million increase, since I've been in office. We've still cut the budget deficit down by 60 percent. At the end of next year, we'll have 20,000 fewer Federal employees, doing a much better job, I think, of administering what we've got.

So, there has to be a combination of restraint on inflation, and it has to be consistent, at the same time more narrowly focusing job opportunities on those who need them most. And I gather from what you say that you represent those who are poor, perhaps minority groups, perhaps even the young, who are most heavily afflicted by unemployment.

We are not ignoring them, and we've made some progress. We still have a long way to go. I will not ever use inflation as a means to wring out our economy and make the poor or the unemployed suffer.


Q. Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to ask you this question. My name is Elizabeth Howie. I'm a social studies teacher in Jamaica, Queens, Dominican Commercial High School.

My question is, I believe both you and Senator Kennedy are in essential agreement on most of the basic issues confronting our country today. Many believe the nomination and election will be decided on the question of leadership. And in view of our apparent, as you call it, crisis of confidence, how do you intend to lead, how do you define leadership, how do you intend to inspire us?

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. First of all, I want to say that neither Senator Kennedy nor I are announced candidates. We will have— [laughter] —I will have plans to announce later on this fall. I think on October 13, there will be a preliminary political skirmish between myself and Senator Kennedy in Florida, and we look forward with great anticipation to that encounter. I have no way to know how it's going to come out.

On the subject of leadership, I think the records have to be examined. Let me just not refer to him, because he can speak for himself. But I've never been afraid, since I've been in office, to tackle a difficult issue, even if I knew it was going to cost me votes. I'll give you just two or three quick examples.

I think this is one example of leadership: In the Panama Canal treaties, this had been negotiated for 14 years, and when we ran a public opinion poll—I didn't run it, Gallup Poll did it independently of me—only 8 percent of the American people were in favor of it. But I felt that it was in the interest of our country to go ahead and consummate the treaty and to have it ratified, which has now been done. I could have ignored it.

When I made my speech to the Nation in April of 1977 on the evening television, I said that when I go to the country with an energy policy the consumers are going to be dissatisfied, the producers are going to be dissatisfied, there is no way to win politically—I'll probably lose 15 percent in the public opinion polls. I grossly underestimated my loss in the public opinion polls, but I think this needed to be done.

And I won't go down the list of things. We have had a country at peace. We've not had a single person wounded or killed in combat since I've been in office. That's a sign. In addition, we've had some crises where it required a steady hand and a careful and deliberative decision to be made. I don't think I panic in a crisis.

I'm willing to fight for what I believe in. I was willing to challenge the Republican incumbents in 1975 and 1976 and prevailed. I'm an incumbent President. I think that my record has got to be examined very closely, what we've achieved and what we haven't achieved.

We've made good progress in finally getting a SALT treaty. It must be ratified. It's in the best interest of our country to control nuclear weapons. There has been a 7-year effort to get the treaty completed, unsuccessfully; I was fortunate enough to get it done. I've already mentioned some of the things that we've done on unemployment

The Mideast is an area where the hearts and the minds and the souls of Americans went out to an area tortured by constant war, not just the last 30 or so years when four wars have been fought and thousands of people have been killed, but literally for hundreds of years. And I think it required some degree of leadership, against the advice of all my diplomats, against the advice of all my political advisers—"Do not go to Camp David," "Do not go to the Far East—to the Mideast, because you are doomed to failure." But I had confidence in Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, and we made some progress.

That's the kind of thing that I've tried to do. But we've had some disappointments. And I will have to face the music for those disappointments and try to point out to the American people what might be accomplished in the next 4 years if my announcement later on this fall is as a candidate.

Q. I wish you luck. Thank you, Mr. President.



Q. Good evening, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Good evening.

Q. My name is Zahava Teitelbaum, and I'm a housewife and I work for a program for new immigrants. I just came back last week from a trip to Jerusalem, the beautiful and divided capital of the Israeli Government.

My question is, I know the United States would never tolerate terrorist attacks from Cuba, and I wanted to know why the President opposes Israel's right to defend itself on its northern borders against the PLO terrorist incursions into Israel.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't. I think any nation has a right to defend itself; obviously, including Israel. Let me recapitulate just for a moment what has happened.

Two years ago, I met with Prime Minister Rabin and then with Prime Minister Begin and also with President Sadat and others. There was a conviction in their minds that never in their lifetime would they have direct communication with one another and no chance to negotiate a peace treaty between them.

A year ago, almost exactly, we went to Camp David and came down with the Camp David accords, which set out not only a basis for peace between Israel and Egypt but also a basis for a comprehensive peace settlement for the entire Middle East, including all of Israel's neighbors.

Six months ago, we concluded the Mideast peace treaty. And a lot of people say, you know, "What have you done lately?" Well, the fact is that now we are looking to President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to negotiate directly. They have developed a very good respect for one another. And it was a thrilling thing for me to see Sadat sail into the Haifa Harbor recently in an Egyptian yacht, escorted by American and Israeli warships and American and Israeli airplanes, and see him received so well in Haifa.

A basis of the Camp David accords was the right of Israel to defend itself, a right of Israel to be secure. And along with that was a commitment made by President Sadat and myself and Prime Minister Begin that the Palestinian question in all its aspects would be resolved, that the Palestinian people have a right to a voice in the determination of their own future. But, at the same time, Sadat agreed on behalf of many Arabs that Israel would have a right to defend itself. And I have never questioned Israel's right to defend herself against terrorism from the north or against her neighbors from the east or from the south.

The second thing I'd like to say is that we give Israel—as a good investment for our own security, because we derive great benefits from Israel being strong and free and at peace—great aid, the most aid we give any other nation on Earth, because we believe in Israel having the ability to defend itself. In addition to that, as a result of the Camp David accords and the Mideast peace treaty, I advocated to the Congress, and the Congress agreed to increase that aid by $3 billion. And we're now working out with Defense Minister Weizman, who was in Washington in my office last week, how to spend that money to give Israel the means by which they can defend themselves.

But this Government and this President will never abandon Israel. We will always support Israel, and we will always make sure that Israel has the means by which to defend themselves.

I want to say one more thing, and then I'll close this answer. Israel's got one sure friend, and that's the United States of America. And I look with great concern and disgust at a growing clamor around the world, even making the ridiculous charge that Zionism is the same as racism. That's an outrage and a disgrace to human beings.

And I'm not asking you—Miss Teitelbaum, right?—I'm not asking you to give me your support or to approve everything I do. But let me say this: It's important for Israel, for a President like me, to have your support in carrying out the agreements made at Camp David and with the treaty. I need your help and I need your support.

God knows that politics is secondary to me when it comes to the defense and the strengthening and the peace and the security of Israel. But I think that our Government, which has already done so much—working with Sadat and Begin and others to make this major move toward peace—really needs the unity and the support and the understanding of making further progress. Condemnations and criticisms during these transient times, I don't believe help Israel. I don't want you to approve everything I do, but I need your support and your prayers that my future efforts, along with those of the Israelis and Egyptians, will be as successful as they have been in the last 12 months.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Barbara Glick. I live in Forest Hills, and I just graduated from York College as of June and, at the moment, am an aspiring, unemployed journalist. And my question centers around a concern that a lot of New Yorkers feel is quite relevant to them.

It has been reported that if a nuclear accident were to occur at Indian Point, depending on the direction of the wind, radiation could spread over a 30-mile radius, causing thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of eventual deaths resulting from cancer, with hundreds of thousands becoming ill.

My questions are these: What requirements are you going to enact, as President, to see that the Three Mile Island syndrome doesn't occur at populous plants such as Indian Point? And B, can you force these plants to come up with adequate emergency plans concerning proper evacuation procedures, which are lacking at the present time?

THE PRESIDENT. Are you referring to the plant in Virginia, where we had the little incident today?

Q. No. I was referring to Indian Point.

THE PRESIDENT. Indian Point, okay. We have by the way, there was an incident today in Virginia, and I've gotten a report from it just a few minutes ago. I don't know the name of the plant. But it is under control, and they are shutting it down. And I understand there are no-there's no danger to it.

Now, we will have a report from the Kemeny Commission on the Three Mile Island accident, I think, within the next month. Until that time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is acting with extreme caution, waiting for Kemeny and his committee and the NRC and others to decide what was the cause of that accident, whether it was a design failure or an installation failure or an absence of training or improper operating techniques.

When that report is made, I will examine it very thoroughly to see what can be done to ensure in the future that nuclear powerplants are safe. If they aren't, then I would certainly not approve them. There is no guarantee, obviously, of what the Kemeny report will advocate.

We now have in this country about 13 percent of all our energy coming from nuclear powerplants—in Connecticut, I think, 60 percent; in Chicago, maybe 50 percent. And to require those plants to shut down would be ill-advised, and I am not going to do it. But we will do what we can in the future to enhance the security of the plants that might be operating in years to come.

Q. What about as far as evacuation procedures regarding Indian Point? There are none.

THE PRESIDENT. I think that will probably be part of the Kemeny report. And on that basis, we will do what we can.

As you know, the States have a right to decide whether or not a nuclear Power plant can be located within its borders. Some of the States have forbidden, through referenda and through action by the State legislatures, the installation of nuclear powerplants in their State. There is one plant in Georgia that was built while I was Governor. And we have taken action to encourage States to evolve evacuation plans.

And I think that what you have asked and what the people of New York decide is a very important consideration. For the Federal Government to mandate, however, that the nuclear powerplants in New York should be shut down under present circumstances, I think, is an unwarranted encroachment on the local prerogatives. And I would not favor that,

and neither would the Congress do it.

Q. Thank you very much.


Q. And by the way, I love you.



Q. Mr. Carter, my name is Fred Feingold. I'm from Hollis Hills, here in Queens, and I'm a sales representative. I was going to ask you a question about inflation, but that subject has been gone over a bit. I then was going to ask you a question about national health care, but that question, I think, was pretty well done. [Laughter] I was then going to speak about Israel, and that question— [laughter] —was covered. Therefore, to avoid repetitious questions, I'm going to ask you about the Russian troops in Cuba.

In the event that all diplomacy fails, we do everything we can diplomatically—which I'm sure you're doing now—do you foresee another Russian missile crisis if nothing works and the troops just stay there?

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, let me say that this is not the same thing as the 1962 missile crisis. At that time, the Soviets had within Cuba missiles, that could reach our own Nation, that had nuclear warheads. There was a direct threat to our country, and millions of people could have been killed from those launching pads. Our country was threatened with an offensive attack.

The present brigade of Soviet troops in Cuba is not a threat to the security of our country. There are about 2,500 troops there. They do have 40 tanks and a few field pieces; they have no offensive weapons that can reach our shores. They have no capability for a seaborne invasion; they have no capability for an airborne invasion. So, it's not a threat to our security.

The thing that concerns us, however-and this is a serious matter, and the status quo is not acceptable to us—is that it's a combat unit. The Soviets deny it has combat status. But it is a combat unit located in a country in this hemisphere, in a country that is totally dependent on the Soviet Union.

Cuba, in effect, is a puppet of the Soviet Union, and they act completely in accordance with Soviet foreign policy. A hundred percent of all their weapons are given to them by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union gives Cuba about $8 million every day to sustain it economically. They pay five times the world price, for instance, for all Cuba's sugar. They provide them with all their oil. And in response to that or in trade for that, Cuba acts, in effect, as a Soviet surrogate in many nations around the world.

In 1975, as you know, they moved thousands of troops into Angola. Since I've been President, they've moved thousands of troops into Ethiopia. They have troops in many other countries in Africa. So, because of the combination of Soviet support and Cuba acting as a Soviet puppet, this does create a great concern for us. There is, however, no threat to our Nation's security.

We are now trying, through diplomacy, to get the Soviets to eliminate the combat nature of this unit, and I don't know yet whether we will succeed. If we do not succeed, we will take appropriate action to change the status quo.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.


Q. My name is Anthony Cerami. I'm a senior in St. John's University in New York.

THE PRESIDENT. What was your name?

Q. Anthony Cerami. I was a 1976 Carter supporter. Off the record of your administration, I totally expect to support you again in 1980 if you decide to run. I think you've made some tough, sometimes unpopular decisions for the good and the great and long-range good for the American people.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much, Anthony.

Q. My question is—-

THE PRESIDENT. I was hoping you wouldn't ask a question. [Laughter]

Q. —if you run again, do you intend to emulate your 1976 strategy of running in every Presidential primary? Because there has been talk that if you lose—in some of the newspapers—that if you lose some of the early Northeastern primaries, you will drop out. Will you run in every primary? Because there's a lot of people out here who want to support you.

THE PRESIDENT. I have never backed down in the face of adversity. I won some primaries and lost some primaries in 1976. And if I become a candidate later on this year, I would intend to run in every primary.

Q. Thank you very much. Good luck.



Q. Good evening, Mr.. President. Welcome to the Borough of Queens. My name is Noel Casey. I am a resident of Woodside, Queens. I'm an active member of the Carpenters Union, Local 608.

I would like to know what your administration is going to do about the high unemployment in the construction industry in New York City, in projects such as the South Bronx, Westway, Battery Park, and the convention center. Now that we're going to have the 1980 Democratic convention in New York, we don't even have a convention center. That's my question, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I see. Well, Mr. Casey, it's hard to answer your question specifically, but in the construction industry, we have seen employment increase about 25 percent in the last 2 1/2 years. I don't claim credit for all of that, but I think we have had a massive program for public works, for local public works, and as you know, we've had an average of more than 1.8 million homes built each year since I've been in office.

What we would do in the future is hard now to ascertain. We have a broad range of things that can be done. If we see the unemployment rate begin to go up dramatically in the construction industry or others, I'm not predicting that we'll do any of these things, but we could obviously repeat the great success we had in 1977 with local public works programs.

The first 2 years I was in office, we reduced taxes about $28 billion, which did stimulate the economy to some degree. We have the focused countercyclical bills for jobs under the Government, CETA jobs and otherwise, which provide several hundred thousand jobs in communities that are most highly impacted because of unemployment.

But I think so far we've got a fairly good record. We'll monitor it very closely and decide in the future what to act on, but I would guess that our future actions would be based on the successes that we've had in 1977 with that stimulus program. That's the best answer I can give.

Q. Last year you came to the South Bronx.


Q. And you promised Federal money for the South Bronx, and ,vet today the South Bronx is still the same way.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't promise to rebuild the South Bronx in 6 months. I promised to work with the local and State officials and start the rejuvenation of South Bronx.

We've spent an awful lot of time and effort and, so far, allocated substantial financial resources in the South Bronx. I don't remember the exact amount of money that we put in there extra to try to start making progress, but it's been substantial. And I don't claim, standing here before all of you, that we have cleaned up the South Bronx or put the South Bronx back in a profitable or a successful state. I can't claim that, but we've made good progress.

And I think, as you know, your own local officials, on one major proposal for the South Bronx, decided not to go ahead with it. I don't believe in a philosophy of government that lets the Federal Government come in and take over and run things in contradiction to your locally elected officials. And I'll ask my good friend Ed Koch to be responsible to you for the rejuvenation of the South Bronx in the future.


Q. Good evening, Mr. President. My name is Pete Reilly, from Syosset, Long Island. I'm a student at C. W. Post College. I'm studying economics and acting. [Laughter] I want to be a politician.

I would like to challenge you on your answer about the Soviet troops in Cuba.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know which is worse right now, to be an economist or a politician. [Laughter] Go ahead and challenge.

Q. You said that the status quo is unacceptable—

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q.—and you'll take appropriate measures to alter it.

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. What are "appropriate measures?"

THE PRESIDENT. I would rather not spell out at this point what we will do.

There are two ways to change the status quo. One is by the action of the Soviet Union. If the Soviets fail to act, then the other way to change the status quo is by action on the part of the United States. And I will report to the Nation, probably within the next week, after we get through with our negotiations with the Soviet Union, what action I will take. But it would not be appropriate tonight for me to give you the details of what we might do.

Q. I understand that.

THE PRESIDENT. Okay, go ahead, Pete.

Q. What I wanted to say was, you know, you're trying to separate the SALT II issue from the Cuban issue.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, they ought to be separated. There ought not to be any connection.

Q. Okay. But I want to tell you, the assumption of the SALT II treaty is that—we're laying the groundwork for peace between the Soviet Union and America. Why do they have troops in Cuba? For that matter, why do the Soviets back troops if they want peace? Why are they eating up Southeast Asia? Why are they in Africa? Why do they denounce peace in the Middle East? Where are we going to draw the line? Our measures have got to be effective.

THE PRESIDENT. You put me in the position of defending the Soviet Union, which I have no inclination to do. [Laughter] But let me say this: There have been troops in Cuba for a long time.

Q. I understand.

THE PRESIDENT. In 1962 there were 22,000 troops in Cuba. Evidence is that ever since that time, there have been substantial numbers of Soviet troops in Cuba.

We, this year, began to monitor that situation much more closely. In the past Cuba was not a high priority for us to monitor with our surveillance systems on a concentrated basis. We were looking at the Soviet Union to make sure they complied with the provisions of SALT I; we were monitoring Vietnam during that war, and we, this year, earlier, focused our attention more on Cuba to monitor what the Soviet troops were doing. My judgment is that the number of Soviet troops is less now than it was in 1963, for instance, months after all the missiles had been moved out of Cuba in October, I believe, of 1962.

The question is whether this is a combat unit—we're convinced it is—and whether that combat status should change. I might point out to you that the United States :has troops in several countries around the world, some of them very close to the borders of the Soviet Union. This is part of a normal interrelationship between major powers, like ours, and the Soviet Union. We have troops in South Korea, we have troops in Japan, we have a few troops in Turkey, we have had some troops in Iran, and so forth. And so, this is not a new thing.

But we want the Soviets to understand that the American people are exceptionally sensitive about Soviet combat troops in this hemisphere, particularly in a country like Cuba, which acts, in effect, as an arm of the Soviets in adventurism and intervention in other countries.

How to deal with this successfully is not an easy task, but we'll do the best we can. And I believe that you will be satisfied when I make my report to the country within the next week.

Q. One departing remark. Thanks a lot. That's the first time I ever spoke to a President. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. This is your last question. [Laughter]

Q. Yes. I just want to say a departing remark. I'm just worried about the principle of the matter, not the threat of invasion. Thanks, President Carter.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.


Q. My name is Lori Kober, and I'm a student at Saint Mathias School, and I'm 11 years old. This is my question. There are four kids in my family, and my parents just bought a house. This house is to use oil heat, and my more says that oil is very expensive. Is there anything you will do to help about these high prices?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. Your first name is Laura?

Q. No. Lori.

THE PRESIDENT. Lori, okay. It's very difficult for me to answer your question, because there's a limit to what I can do.

Throughout the entire world, Lori, the price of oil is going up. It's increased 65 or 70 percent, almost doubled, in the last 8 months. In the last 5 years, the price of oil has gone from $2 a barrel to almost $30 a barrel. It costs 15 times as much as it did in 1973. And as the price of oil goes up, which everybody has to pay, then the price of gasoline and diesel oil and home heating oil and kerosene also go up.

What we are trying to do now is to cut down or reduce the amount of oil that we buy from overseas. We buy about half our oil from foreign countries. This is what we are trying to correct with our new energy policy.

Next year we'll send about 70 billion American dollars overseas to pay for foreign oil. And we import, with the oil, high inflation—which is what bothers your mother—and also unemployment.

We have made some progress. Earlier this year, we thought that there would be a shortage of home heating oil this winter. I think we've now got the oil companies to produce enough oil to take care of the needs of people who live in New York and the States further north.

One thing that you and your family can do is—since the oil companies now have enough oil for the winter—is to cut down on the amount that you use. The less oil people use, the more we save; the less we waste, then the cheaper the price is going to be, because you have a certain amount of oil, and if people don't buy as much as you have in the past, then there will be more competition and people will have to sell their oil at a lower price.

We've also gotten a few of the oil companies-Texaco and seven or eight more—to agree not to raise their prices any more in the next number of weeks, as the winter comes on us. The prices have already gone up too much. We want to make sure they don't go up any more.

And the other thing that we are doing is providing help for poor families, who are the first ones to suffer when the price of energy goes up, particularly oil. We will have the Congress pass this year $400 million worth of aid for families that are poor to help them pay their heating bills. And we've asked, in the windfall profits tax, which I hope the Congress will pass without delay, a tax on the oil companies, another $1.6 billion to take care of tax credits for poor families as well.

So, we're trying to get the oil companies to hold down the price. We're asking people to save oil and not waste it, to hold down the price. And we're going to provide financial help, direct grants, that the Governor will administer, for families that are poor and who cannot afford to pay for oil.

But I don't think there's any need to—I don't want to mislead you, Lori—the price of oil is going to continue to go up in the future no matter what I do or what anybody else does, because all over the world it's getting scarcer and people are demanding more. We're going to move toward solar energy. We're going to move toward a greater use of coal, and we're going to move toward a greater development of our own energy supplies. And I think that will help us a great deal in the future.

But our country waited too long to start acting to get an energy policy. Now we are moving. And as I predicted earlier, by the end of this year we will have a good energy policy passed into law by our Congress, which will help you and your family in the future.

That's a great question and I thank you for it.

I can take one more question, I understand.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Kathleen McGilloway. I'm a housewife, and this is also the first time I've ever spoken to a President.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to talk to you, Kathleen.

Q. But it has generally been acknowledged that our present tax structure is grossly unbalanced, penalizing married working couples and middle-income families. They pay high taxes while many large corporations pay little or none. Do you plan to rectify this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. I could hear you, Kathleen.

That's one of the failures that we've experienced since I've been in office. When I was here in New York in August of 1976 and made my acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, I pointed out then that the tax system in this country is a disgrace to the human race. It still is. It's not fair.

We've made some changes in it, very minor changes, because the pressure groups and the lobbyists in Washington are almost beyond comprehension. And when you start trying to make corrections to the tax laws, quite often the Congress goes in the opposite direction and opens up more loopholes for those who are powerful enough and influential enough to have active lobbyists there.

We have had some reduction in taxes since I've been in office, about $28 billion. We may have to have some more in the future. But I cannot tell you that we have made any substantial progress in that respect. And it's only going to be when an aroused public demands action by individual Members of the House and the U.S. Senate that we will ever have substantive tax reform. I wouldn't say it's hopeless, but it hasn't happened so far.

Two years ago we could not get the public to demand an energy policy. It looked hopeless. And now we see progress. And I think the same thing applies to the Middle East, and the same thing applies to SALT, and so forth. You just have to take one thing at a time until the public is genuinely interested, and then you can make progress.

But I hope and pray that in the future we will change the tax structure to make it fairer to the average citizen and take away the gross loopholes that reward the powerful and the rich, who can pay lobbyists to protect their interests in Washington. I'm with you. I have not been able to do anything yet.

Let me say one other thing in closing. I think your questions have been very good, and I've enjoyed them and enjoyed the chance to answer them. I learn a lot from you, by knowing what is of interest to you and having a chance to explain what I have done and what I have not done, the successes we've achieved and the failures that we've achieved so far.

We're in it together. If I'm successful as a President, then you have a 'better country. When I fail in my duties, because of obstacles that I just cannot overcome, it hurts you as well. But I think we all ought to remember this: No matter what your political affiliation or no matter what your special interest might be, we tend to dwell in this country on the transient inconveniences and disappointments, and we remember very vividly the things that divide us one from another and the intense debates and the times when we've failed to overcome a challenge the first try. But what we forget is the manifold blessings that we have in this country and bow many things bind us together and the principles of freedom in a democracy, which make us able, in the future, to achieve success where we haven't yet done it.

And I would like to remind you in closing that not only is this a nation that believes in free speech, but we are also the greatest nation on Earth. And if you help me, we'll keep it that way.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:35 p.m. in the Charles S. Colden Auditorium at Queens College. In his opening remarks, he referred to Donald R. Manes, president of the Borough of Queens, and Saul Cohen, president of the college.

Jimmy Carter, New York City, New York Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting With Residents of the Borough of Queens. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248430

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