John F. Kennedy photo

Question and Answer Period Following Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Democratic Fund-Raising Dinner, Hotel Syracuse, Syracuse, NY

September 29, 1960

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, you mentioned in your debate Hoffa. Could you tell America that you are for the laboring people and not against all union labor?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I don't consider Mr. Hoffa a labor leader. I consider him a special case. [Applause.] I have served on the labor committees of the Congress for 14 years. I am chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor. I have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO nationally. I believe in the objectives of sound, responsible, and honest union movements. I also believe that the continued presence of Mr. Hoffa is most unfortunate for the labor movement and the country. I find it extremely interesting that he is now traveling around the United States asking for my defeat. I would like to know what the question is now going to be before the American people. I think that Mr. Hoffa should go. The Teamsters Union is the largest in the United States [applause] - the Teamsters Union is the largest in the United States and it has a good many men and women - men in it that I know extremely well in my own State and around the country. I think they are just as desirous of having an honest union as any other union group in the United States. I think a change of leadership is what is needed. But I would not use the name of Hoffa to tar the reputation of other union leaders and members who are trying to represent their members and do the best they can for their members in the country. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, my name is Tom McSpeden. I come from Yonkers. I am a salesman for Coty Bros. I have an entirely different question to ask tonight, and I think an awful lot of people in this room are interested. That is this: Are you hoping it is a boy? [Laughter.]

Senator KENNEDY. Well, as a matter of fact, I am flying home tonight to try to find an answer to that question. [Laughter.] But actually, I have a daughter, and I know it sounds terrible and treasonous, but I don't really mind having another daughter again if that is the way it goes. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, I am Mrs. Emmett DuKatt, from Plattsburgh, N.Y. After your debate the other night, I had a strong discussion with a Republican and he said that you quoted that your proposals for the medical - he said your proposals for the medical care for the aged does not quite give the people a choice, and that Nixon does. How should I answer him?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, here is the choice that is given to them. The choice is really to get no assistance, in my opinion. The Governor of this State rejected the program which Mr. Nixon himself advocated as well as the bill which passed the Congress. In the bill that passed the Congress, if you want to get medical care and you are over 65, and you have saved $800, and your husband gets sick and needs attention, you first have to spend the $800, your life savings, and then take what amounts to a pauper's oath that you are an indigent case, and then you can get some assistance. That means that if you then recover and live longer your savings are gone and you live on public assistance.

Now, our proposal is based on the social security system which has served the people for many years. Every one would contribute through social security so that when they do retire, 65 for men and 62 for women, that they shall then receive assistance in paying their medical compensation. I think that this is the soundest system. The same arguments that are used against our proposal were used against the Social Security Act in 1935, and I think the people of the United States are going to make a judgment in November that this proposal is fiscally sound, that it is morally sound, that it is responsible, that it meets a great need. There are 9 million Americans who live on less than $1,000 a year, and who live in inadequate housing. Their diets in many cases are inadequate, and if they get ill, they have to turn to charity or to public assistance for relief. I think they want to contribute during their working years and pay their own way and I think our system is the best. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, my name is Walter Butler, and I am a labor representative. A good many of our membership are very much concerned about the growth of unemployment throughout this State and throughout the Nation. I wonder if you might in a few words explain what your program will be when you become the President of the United States concerning this problem.

Senator KENNEDY. I traveled through some areas of New York today which have been hard hit by technological changes and by industries leaving, Amsterdam and Troy and two or three other areas, and I think it is a problem in many sections of the United States, parts of my own State, West Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania, parts of southern Illinois, parts of Kentucky. The problem is twofold. First, there is the slowdown which is now taking place in our economy generally, which causes only 50 percent steel capacity to be used. The Soviet Union produced as much as we did last week because we are only using 50 percent of the capacity we have, and over 100,000 steelworkers are out of work and others are part time. So it is generally due to the fact that there has been a slowdown in our economy, partly brought on certainly by a fiscal and monetary policy which has featured high interest rates, which helped contribute to the severity of the recession in 1954 and the one we had in 1958, and I think it has helped slow down business in 1960. So I would say first as to the general national slowdown in our economy, which has brought 4 1/2 million people out of work and about 3 million working part time, and the second is the so-called distressed areas, where unemployment is 6 percent, for a year or 2 years. Even if the economy picks up, they are still faced with serious problems, and I think the best thing for them is the area redevelopment bill, which has passed the Congress twice and has been vetoed twice. I was the floor manager the first time it passed. You cannot expect these communities, the industries of which have left, to possibly rebuild themselves unless they can get some capital at low rates of interest, unless they can get some pure water so that the industry can he attracted, vocational retraining so that workers can be trained for additional work, reestablishment of Defense Manpower Policy No. 4 - I think all those programs are in the public interest and I hope we can pass it again in January and I hope we have a President who will sign it. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, I am Joseph C. Mann, College of Education, Brooklyn, N.Y. Will you explain why Federal support for teachers' salaries would not lead to Federal control?

Senator KENNEDY. There was quite a discussion on this Monday night on the television. Mr. Nixon had voted against it, had cast the deciding vote against the Federal aid for teachers' salaries, and I think that vote was a mistake. As I said on Monday night, and as he pointed out at some length, he feels that direct Federal appropriation for teachers' salaries could lead to Government control. The point is, of course, that the bill which came before us in February on which he voted was a bill which would have given the money directly to the States on a per capita basis. The State then could make its judgment as to whether the money would go into Federal aid for school construction or would go into teachers' salaries or go into both. Therefore, it was up to the State. The State sets the salary level or the local school district does, the State decides how the money shall be distributed, the State decides whether it shall go into one program or the other. So there is no more Federal control in that than there has been in the Hill-Burton Act which has built so many of our hospitals. So I would say in answer to your question that I would consider the argument to the bill which came in the Senate to be somewhat of a mirage. I think he is opposed to the Federal aid for teachers' salaries, but I don't think there was Federal control involved, and I think it is unfortunate that the bill was defeated. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, I am Ralph Weber, Madison County Democratic chairman. In the debate Monday evening Vice President Nixon stated it would cost several billion dollars to enact the Democratic program causing higher taxes. Is this true?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, of course, it is untrue. The figure was used that he had personally calculated the Democratic platform and it ranged between $12.3 billion and $15 billion, or some such figure. There is no such basis for that. I stated on the program on Monday night that I supported a balanced budget. In my judgment the only reason to unbalance the budget would be if there was a severe national emergency requiring a crash program for defense, or, secondly, if there was serious unemployment requiring expenditures in order to stimulate employment. It is an interesting fact that the largest peacetime deficit in the history of the United States was not in Franklin Roosevelt's administration and not in Harry Truman's administration. The largest was in 1958, when due to the recession, tax revenues dropped and we had a $12 billion deficit. I believe that the present tax level, except as taxes may be rewritten in order to prevent loop-holes, the present tax level is sufficient to provide the income to maintain our programs and the programs we are now discussing, particularly if we have a normal rate of growth. When we talk about medical care for the aged under social security, we are talking about a program that provides a balanced appropriation for the demand. The program which was passed in the Congress which the President signed would have cost the States and the Government $1.2 billion a year. Secondly, our program for agriculture would require less appropriations by the Government because it hopes to bring supply and demand into balance. And we now have $9 billion of surplus food stored away, most of which has been appropriated for in the last 8 years. The present Secretary of Agriculture has spent more money than all the Secretaries of Agriculture in history, in the last 8 years. Thirdly, I cannot believe that there is not some money that can be saved in the Pentagon. I was chairman of a Subcommittee on Reorganization that passed 30 bills dealing with purchasing. There is not any doubt in my mind at all that you are spending $32 billion and not getting as much of a bang for your buck as you could by control over effective expenditures. [Applause.]

That same argument was used against every program of Franklin Roosevelt and Truman and the country came through, survived, grew, and prospered, and I think that those arguments which are used against the programs which are fiscally sound, which stimulate the economy - and I don't know any President of the United States who does not want to see sound fiscal policy. No President, no Governor of any State, wants to do anything to risk the stability of the dollar in his own State or the United States, and as a Democrat and Republican with the problems that the United States faces, I am just as anxious as Mr. Nixon. But I don't think it is possible to move, and I don't like to see the same old arguments used which attempted to block the minimum wage, social security, housing, the Securities and Exchange Commission and all the rest, programs which now everybody is for, and the same arguments used 25 years ago. I would like to hear some new arguments. [Applause.]

I express my thanks to you, ladies and gentlemen, again. You have been extremely generous, as I said at the beginning of the program. There isn't any doubt that I would not have been nominated for the Presidency and would not now be traveling 28 hours a day if it had not been that you gave me a portion of the needed time. So I am most indebted. I think the best response I can make to you is to campaign as hard as I can on the issues which face us, so that the American people can have a clear choice November 8 between not only Mr. Nixon and myself but between our two parties and the things for which they want. I hope to repay you by doing the best I can, and I think we have a chance to win. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Question and Answer Period Following Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Democratic Fund-Raising Dinner, Hotel Syracuse, Syracuse, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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