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Radio Address to the Nation on Governmental Reform

April 04, 1992

American democracy was launched from great ideas which grew out of great debate. Our Founding Fathers believed in the fundamentals: faith, family, and freedom. And they were determined to build prosperity. More than 200 years later, by holding firmly to our principles, America has changed the world.

Henry Luce called the 20th century the American Century. If we are to ensure that the next century is also the American century, we must meet five great challenges: education reform, legal reform, health care reform, international competitiveness and market expansion, and Governmental reform.

The latest unemployment figures were released Friday. They held steady at 7.3 percent. But unemployment is still too high. Too many Americans are out of work. To get this economy rolling again, faster and stronger, Congress should have passed our economic action plan. But they reverted to form, tried to raise taxes and increase Government spending. We can no longer afford this kind of business-as-usual. We need to reform Congress. And that is my focus today.

G.K. Chesterton said, "We cannot discuss reform without reference to form." In the face of overwhelming evidence that change is necessary, Congress has kept reform on the back burner. It is up to us to turn up the heat. If we are to improve education, health care, our legal system, if we are to reduce redtape and regulation, if we are to make our country competitive and get this horrendous deficit down, we must reform the congressional process itself.

It is true that one-party rule in Congress is a big part of the problem. But the larger issue is a systemic problem: the 284 congressional committees and subcommittees, the almost 40,000 legislative branch employees and staff, the $2.5 billion of taxpayer financing, overlaid with $117 million reelection war chest and special interest campaign contributions for incumbents. Such a system cannot promote reform and change; instead, it aggressively protects the status quo.

I know that the Federal Government cannot be run just like IBM or the local convenience store. But Government today is a $1.5 trillion enterprise, and programs that have outlived their function have not outlived their funding. We can and we must improve Government's responsiveness. What merely hampered us in the past will gridlock us in the future. Our ability to compete demands that Congress enact the reforms I have proposed. The set of actions I have proposed, when taken together, will help make Government respond to the people; Government for the people, as our founders envisioned.

First, Congress should govern itself by the laws it imposes on everyone else. No more special treatment.

Second, Congress should reform its operations and procedures.

Third, we must make sweeping campaign finance reforms.

Fourth, we need to change how Congress spends the people's money.

Fifth, we must revise and eliminate Government regulations that impede our ability to compete, and we must accelerate regulations that enhance our competitive edge.

Sixth, we must limit congressional terms. The cycle of virtually guaranteed reelection through the built-in advantages of incumbency must be broken.

And finally, the Congress of the future should be a citizen Congress, not a career Congress.

These reforms, taken together, can renew our faith in Government, restore the principles of our founders, and help guarantee for our children a new American century.

The choice is clear: On the one side stand the defenders of the status quo; on the other, the forces of change. And now that we've changed the world, we must make the choice to change America.

Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Note: This address was recorded at 8:04 a.m. on April 3 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast after 9 a.m. on April 4.

George Bush, Radio Address to the Nation on Governmental Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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