Jimmy Carter photo

News Conference in Plains, Georgia

August 16, 1976

Governor Carter. This press conference will be devoted to the subject of our briefing this afternoon in order to save time and let these experts on different subjects stay on their schedule. We had a 4 1/2 hour discussion of subjects generally related to social or human resource issues. They related to income security—Social Security, federal employee retirement, unemployment compensation, aid for families with dependent children, SSI, foodstamps, child nutrition, housing, Medicaid, Medicare. We also discussed subjects concerning education, manpower training, and social services.

We did several things today that might be of interest to you. First of all, I think there was general agreement that the best way to approach this broad subject is to consider it as an entity and to lay down during the campaign this fall as best we can for the American people to consider, long-range purposes or goals: what we can hope to achieve at the end of a 4 year or 5 year period and which aspects of that achievement we hope to accomplish at the end of each succeeding year; what will be the net cost to the people of this country as we give better services.

There was also, I think, an almost unanimous agreement that any improvement in the quality of services or level of services had to be combined with the reorganization of the structure of government; that the present bureaucratic mess almost was an insuperable obstacle to the achievement of those better service delivery systems. So reorganization of the structure of government must be done as rapidly as possible.

Another thing that we discussed was that we would try to maintain my own goal of a balanced budget by the end of the first 4 years, assuming i am elected President, and at the same time hold down the percentage of our gross national product that's spent by the federal government to its present level—roughly 20 to 21 percent—and to use those as parameters for the future. There is also a general agreement that we ought to think about those federal programs in human terms. One example given, of course, was the impact of federal programs on the family structure which I have already pursued in one speech and I've emphasized again and again. A second concern was the impact 6f federal programs on the quality and the maintenance of the standards within communities—particularly the urban communities that have been damaged already and are threatened with further damage in the future.

The last point I want to make is this. No matter whether we're talking about young people or aid for families with dependent children or any other aspect of our societal life, there was a general feeling that people are better off if they have fruitful employment for themselves—work. As was the case with the discussion on inflation and employment, everyone agreed that we ought to emphasize the right of people to have a job. It's a good investment for the future, it cuts down on all the ancillary costs of government—welfare, unemployment insurance, and other aspects that are very costly at this time. And we agreed that the first effort should be within the present limits of our federal budget, to make that expenditure much more efficient as a first priority. Between now and the election itself, we will try to present these programs to the people, and if I am elected President, we should be ready with some concrete proposals early in November, so that we can move aggressively on Inauguration Day if I am elected. There are some broad principles. I think I might ask now for some specific questions on these subjects and let those who have given me information this afternoon and who are experts in their fields help me in answering these questions. So if you have a question on these subjects, I'll be glad to take them now.

Q. Governor, did you discuss busing at all?

Governor Carter. Yes, we did, as a matter of fact. We had quite a spirited debate, coincidentally between two of our black representatives here. Most of the white participants just stayed out of it. We didn't resolve the issues raised and they say they're going to finish their debate on the bus going back to Atlanta. We're going to have to put some people between them.

There was a general feeling that our society ought not to back off from our commitment to the integration of our educational system, that this is a very beneficial thing for the students, both black and white and those that represent other minority groups. The laws needs to be applied uniformly throughout the country. The next administration needs to spell out a strong position on the issue of busing and on the issue of transporting students. The first priority ought to be insuring a quality education for every child, and that arbitrary rules or formulas perhaps are an improper way to approach the subject. But we did discuss busing, and education. Commissioner Riles from California has had some special experiences with that subject and I would be glad to have you address specific questions to him on this if you'd like.

Q. Governor, what specific proposals do you have now on welfare reform?

Governor Carter. I would have to limit my specific proposals on welfare reform to what I have already discussed. One is to remove those people who are able to work from the welfare system all together and to provide them with employment assistance rather than the dole. These persons need to be given manpower opportunities, educational opportunities, training opportunities, matched with a job, offered a job, and be treated outside the so-called welfare system itself.

Second, we need to deal with the working poor—those who presently work full-time but whose incomes fall far below the poverty level should also be outside the welfare system itself, and helped perhaps through the tax structure.

Third, those who cannot work full-time ought to be treated with respect, with compassion, with understanding, given encouragement to work parttime if they are able. Any program to help these people should always insure that it is never more attractive for someone who can work to stay on the welfare rolls instead of working either part-time or full-time.

One last point that I have made often, and I haven't changed my mind at all, is to try to place an emphasis on strengthening the family structure— not to ever make it advantageous or mandatory that a father leave the home in order for his own family to have an adequate income for sustaining life.

We agree, too, that the welfare laws which are now multitudinous and sometimes overlapping and wasteful and very confusing ought to be greatly simplified. There ought to be one basic payment to meet the necessities of life, varying in amount only enough to accommodate cost of living changes from one community to another. Over a period of time there ought to be a shifting of responsibilities for financing welfare away from the local governments to the federal government. Later on a shifting away from state governments toward the federal government. Those are some of the principles of welfare reform that I think there is a general agreement on but I'm not sure that we're unanimous.

Q. Isn't it awfully difficult to take people off the welfare rolls when unemployment is at 7 or 8 percent?

Governor Carter. I think it's interesting to point out that in manpower training, in placement, counseling and other employment assistance, CETA, and in other social services that now fall within the framework of education that we spend $13.6 billion right now to put people to work. Under the subject of AFDC and SSI, we have $4 billion less spent, so we already have a combination of major expenditures to put people to work on the one hand, and to support them on the welfare rolls on the other. I think we need to combine these two thrusts. We need to take those who can work out of the welfare system. Then we need to give them job training, job placement, education, if they need it, using the services of public and private job placement agencies, match them with a job, offer them a job. But sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the number of people in the so-called welfare categories is relatively small compared to the number of people in other categories. But that's where a lot of the dissatisfaction falls. I believe the emphasis on work opportunities, as contrasted with full-time dependence on the welfare system for those who are able to work, either part-time or full-time, is one of the roots of our problem.

Q. The statement that you made, Governor, that you want to hold the percentage of gross product spent on these kinds of programs to the present level—is that a commitment on your part or a statement of desire?

Governor Carter. It's a statement of a goal. There is some difference of opinion on this. The goal that we have set for ourselves is roughly 20 percent I think the present level is about 21 percent. That's all programs put together in the whole federal government. That's total federal expenditures as a percentage of the gross national product. I would like to keep that same level intact. Now there is one possible major program that might cause a deviation from that. If we take large amounts of presently private expenditure that goes into the health system and administer the health program through federal expenditures, that might cause an increase of maybe 1 or 2 percentage points.

But that would be the only exception and we are still looking into that question. I think this is one element of increased federal spending that would be completely acceptable to the American people. This is derived from polls by Pat Caddell and many other polls that have been conducted. The American people are willing to see more money spent through the federal government to have a comprehensive health care system. I might point out that the total amount of money that might be spent on a comprehensive health care system would increase very slightly but there might be a shift away from private financing to the federal government that might increase the figure above the 20 percent or 21 percent level. That would be the only exception that I might be willing to accommodate and I still would like to hold down by the end of my term the percentage of the GNP that goes through the federal government to the 20 or 21 percent level.

Q. Governor, if there were an increase, such as the one you are speaking of, how would it be financed? Where would the money come from?

Governor Carter. There are several ways it could be paid for: employer-employee contributions, for example, or an increase in the general tax level. Of course, the question that still has to be addressed is how much of the program would still be financed or administered by the private insurance sector. These questions will have to be answered later on. But that is the way it would be financed if we made that decision.

Q. [Almost inaudible. Concerning where the money for expansion of federal health insurance programs and other efforts can be obtained.]

Governor Carter. You have to remember this. The GNP of our country goes up year by year, either in actual dollars or in inflated dollars. So the total amount of federal government expenditures can rise while government as a percentage of GNP remains the same. Are you with me so far? So, we would have an amount that would be spent between the 1977 budget and the 1981 budget of about $60 billion. This figure takes into account the growth through inflation, the extension of presently existing programs, and the increase in new programs. That's the framework within which we all are making our plans. What I intend to do before the election is over this fall is to spell out a rough allocation of these increasing funds within a four year period so that the American people will know general parameters within which we will work financially. It will also give a good indication of the priorities that I think ought to be established for our country. I think this is important for several reasons: one is to get a national commitment or mandate from the people with a successful campaign so that there will be a unanimity of purpose with everybody having to yield somewhat on special or sometimes selfish aspirations. And second, it would tie me much more closely with congressional candidates and with congressional leaders if we spell out ahead of time what we hope to do. People like Senator Russell Long or Congressman Al Ullman, for instance, to the extent they agree with the purposes that I have expressed can help me work to achieve these common purposes. So I think to the degree that I can understand these programs, and present them to the American people as part of a 4 year program laying out our priorities and the funds that will be allocated to them—to that extent we can achieve these goals with a minimum of disharmony if I am elected.

Q. Governor, I would like to ask one more thing. The matter of attitude surrounding welfare reform and welfare payments, etc., is probably much more serious a grievance problem than the economics of welfare reform?

Governor Carter. Yes, it is.

Q. What is your feeling about the attitudes in the country, the volatility of the attitudes about welfare payments, etc., and how would you deal with these attitudes before the election?

Governor Carter. It is hard for me to express to you all the attitudes that cause me concern. I would say that the most prevalent attitude that hurts the welfare system is the belief on the part of the taxpayers that their money is wasted. A belief among welfare recipients that they are not treated fairly. The complexity of the present systems that have accumulated over a long period of time—one program at a time, and the insensitivity of the programs to those that honestly need help. All these factors cumulatively create a great distrust of the fairness or the compassion of the welfare system itself. And, I think, one of the key points is to remove those from the welfare system who are generally acknowledged to be able to work and to treat them under some other category, either as those who are partially employed or those who are under training looking for a job, or those who are actually given jobs in the private or public sector. So, those are some of the adverse attitudes I think could be changed.

Q. Governor, could you give us any examples of how you might reorganize social programs?

Governor Carter. One of the examples that I have used in a speech that I made on health is to spell out the multiplicity of programs. There are about 72 different agencies, large and small, that deal with physical health care. There are 10 major agencies that deal with health—Medicaid is in one agency, Medicare is in a different agency. Neither one of those agencies deal with health care directly but they serve the same people and I think this fragmentation of responsibility for adequate health care in our country is one of the problems with which I will have to deal. But exactly which one of those agencies will survive, what the exact placement of those agencies might be in the major departments is something that I'm not yet prepared to spell out. But that's an example of the problem, and I would anticipate cutting down those agencies to a very small number, consolidating responsibility for health care within one major agency or maybe two at the most, and having the number of agencies drastically reduced.

I think you all have a list of those who are here and if you have a question that you would like to address to some of the people behind me I would certainly welcome the opportunity to defer to them.

Q. What are the top priorities you see for your administration?

Governor Carter. There are two major projects that will take some time to study. One is the comprehensive reform of the income tax structure to which I'm committed and which I will do. That will take a great deal of study. It's now 40,000 pages and I don't want to make a serious mistake that would have an adverse impact on any major portion of our economy or some components of our society. The other one is the comprehensive government reorganization. Now that can be implemented piecemeal. For example, I could change by Executive order any item in the government organizational structure of the Executive Branch of government in a comprehensive way this. If we pass, say a comprehensive bill that relates to welfare reform, then the multitude of individual little agencies that have been established to administer the different welfare programs might be consolidated in that legislation. Another thing is this. I hope to have very early authorization from the Congress, possibly even before I become President, to reorganize the structure of the Executive Branch of government in a comprehensive way subject only to subsequent veto by the Congress. This is similar to legislation that has been on the books in the past. It has recently been terminated because it expired and this is something that I hope to achieve. So, Fil move as expeditiously as I can.

In the State of Georgia I did our reorganization effort this way and it was successful, in my opinion. It took us about a year to have the comprehensive reform, but we started piecemeal reform long before that by the arbitrary elimination and consolidation of agencies under my control. And, as you possibly know, the reason we waited a full year in Georgia is that the legislature only meets once a year beginning in January for 45 days, so I had to wait until the legislature convened. In the Congress it would be done much more incrementally. But I'll have to have in my own mind a picture to present to the American people of what the comprehensive organizational structure will be before I think I can be successful.

Q. Governor, the Republicans are trying, or are beginning to try to paint you as a big spender, saying that your programs such as those you described today would cost $200 billion or more. How do you respond to that?

Governor Carter. It's not true. We have people behind me here who, I would say, in general, might be liberal, moderate, conservative, would take a very aggressive attitude toward providing better services for our people. That's their life's work and they have special knowledge in these fields. But I think there was a general agreement today that we can meet the commitments that I have made to the American people. And there was general agreement that under normal economic circumstances, which I think I can anticipate, we can also meet the parameters that I have described to you earlier. That is we can provide these services while maintaining roughly the same percentage of the GNP being expended by the federal government, and with the prospect of a balanced budget by the end of my term in 1981 fiscal year budget.

Q. This is the first briefing we've had an opportunity to get anything from the people who participated. I wonder, Mr. Riles, whether you or someone else speaking for your group can tell us a little about your impressions of Governor Carter.

Mr. Riles. The Governor, of course, invited us down here to discuss specific issues that he had interest in, and, of course, that we had some expertise in. Mine, of course, being education. I can say that he listened very carefully throughout the discussion of several hours, asked questions, asked for clarification, encouraged debate, differences, and even on some said that they were the kinds of things he would like to implement. It was a very worthwhile session as far as I am concerned and I got the impression that the Governor is sincere in his effort to understand the problems from our viewpoint, and that he will make up his own mind in due time.

Q. Mr. Riles, what recommendations has the group made to the Governor on the role of the federal government in education and any changes that should be in that role?

Mr. Riles. Dr. Friday and Dr. Halperin spoke on that principally. I spoke on elementary and secondary education. I think both of us emphasized that the role of the federal government needs to be clarified, that it has grown up in a slipshod way. There are a multiplicity of categorical programs that needs to be looked at, goals set, and then we need to proceed to deal with them. The whole issue of state versus federal commitments in this area need to be clarified. And it's in that way we discussed the problem. We laid out some of the concerns but we think we ought to leave it up to the Governor to determine what that role should be.

Governor Carter. Let me introduce to you a few other people, and I hesitate to get involved in this because I don't want anybody to be left out. The person on my left is Robert Ball, he is a former Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and now senior scholar in the National Academy of Sciences. Bob, you might want to just make a brief remark. He is, I would say, one of the foremost experts in this country on Social Security for the past, present, and future and how it relates with other social programs.

Robert Ball. The discussion this afternoon was really very impressive to me. I've known the Governor briefly in earlier times, but today his sharp questioning and his ability to get facts and ideas put of us was, I thought, really very remarkable. In my own special field of Social Security, the Governor has taken the position of making a high priority of the restoration of financial integrity to that system which is so important to all the people in the country.

Governor Carter. I would like to introduce now, Marion Wright. Marion, would you step up here. She is the director of the Children's Defense Fund and is a very strong spokesman for the needs of children in the family as it relates to social programs, educational programs, transportation, housing programs, and almost any aspect of life. She is one of those who will be helping me as we tie together all decisions made in the future with the family itself and how the government programs can be sensitive to strengthening and not weakening the family.

Marion Wright. I think it was a good meeting. I am very pleased that somebody has invited us to talk on behalf of families and children and that we now have a voice that is going to be an advocate for families and children who are, in fact, our children—tomorrow's Americans. I think he is sensitive. I think he is committed. And from the conversation today I think that the kinds of themes that he struck in New Hampshire will continue. So, we are delighted to have his attention on this issue.

Governor Carter. Ruth, come over here. Ruth Hanft is an expert on the health care system and this will be one of the major problems in the future. She is also now a professor at Dartmouth College and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the Institute of Medicine. Ruth, the rest of you don't say anything good about me, just say a word about your own program.

Ruth Hanft. We discussed briefly the problems of the class of medical care and some of the methods being used in some of the states to control the costs. We talked about different ways of phasing in a national health program. The role of different parties—the federal government, private insurance—and we plan to do a lot more work on issues papers and concepts for the Governor.

Jimmy Carter, News Conference in Plains, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347628

Simple Search of Our Archives