Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session During an Administration Briefing in Chicago, Illinois, for Editors From the Midwestern Region
The President. Well, how do you do? I know that you've had a session of briefing already, and I don't know whether any of the others who've been here briefing you-Secretary Block or Jim Baker or the others—told you what this is all about.
But not too long ago, I met with a group of your colleagues from all over the country, and they brought up the subject that when I go out and, accompanied by the national press corps, that very often it's only the national press corps, the White House press corps accompanying us, that gets to ask any questions. And why didn't we do something with regard to the regional press? And it sounded like a very good idea, and so that's what we're doing and why we're here.
I know, as I say, that you've been briefed so I'm going to keep any remarks of mine down to very brief remarks, because I don't want to plough any already ploughed ground.
There have been a number of new initiatives, things that we have suggested—a prayer-in-school amendment that I announced last week that I believe its time has come. As a matter of fact, I don't think there ever should have been a need for it.
Tuition tax credits, which we think are aimed at helping the middle and the lower income workers in this country who are sending their children to parochial schools, schools of that type—some have tried to portray this as an effort to help the upper crust who are sending their children to the very expensive finishing schools and prep school academies in the country. There aren't too many of those, and that's not really who we're trying to help, because we have a ceiling on income as to who would be eligible for this tuition tax credit. Fifty four percent of the families whose children are going to private or independent schools are with incomes of less than $25,000.
Those particular schools—particularly parochial schools—have been failing by the thousands under the inflation that we've been having in recent years. And it seems to us that since these families are actually paying to support two school systems—the ones that they choose and prefer to send their children to and at the same time paying the full load that everyone else pays for public education—that there is some justice in making allowance for this.
I know that the constitutional amendment for a balanced budget is causing some debate also. I think that it can be defended on every practical, commonsense ground there is. And the budget that we have worked out with the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee will cut the projected deficits for the next 3 years by $416 billion and set us on a course that should within a year or two of that—if those projections are correct, and I have never placed much faith in economic projections of that kind out that far ahead; I'm just not sure that anyone can do it. But it will put us on the road then to, in a very short time, a balanced budget.
We've used the term—as I said in my radio 5 minutes last week—"budget cuts" so much; and it is incorrect to say that, because a budget cut suggests that you have reduced the budget that you presently have for the coming year and that your budgets are growing smaller. That isn't true. Our budgets have been growing bigger. '82's budget is bigger than '81; '83's budget will be bigger than '82, even with the so-called cuts that—these so-called cuts are cuts in the anticipated rate of increase based on past performance—the idea that there is a line going up in which, from this budget, it must go up that far the next year and so on. That line was increasing at a rate of 17 percent when we took office. There's no way that our economy can continue to support a government that increases in cost by 17 percent a year.
So, what we've been doing is reducing that rate of increase. And the idea is to bring it down to the point that the budget doesn't increase any faster than the normal revenue from tax increases. And that will keep us with a balanced budget.
I can sum up our approach to the defense spending in a cartoon that I saw, and I just love it. It was Brezhnev talking to a Russian general, and he said, "I liked the arms race better when we were the only ones in it." So, with that, with the things that have been said about the budget, let's fire away at questions.
Governor James R. Thompson of Illinois
Q. Mr. President, Governor Thompson's been drawing fire for his acceptance of many expensive gifts, including cash. In one case, he was handed an envelope from a Teamster's official, and inside was $500 in cash. What is your opinion of such conduct?
The President. Well, it depends on what was done with the money and whether it was accepted as a personal gift or used it for campaign funds or something of that kind. I have always been confident of the integrity of your Governor, and I would be very surprised if there was anything that he did that could be called malfeasance or improper conduct in that regard.
Q. Did he make a mistake in accepting it rather than giving it back?
The President. Well, when did he open the envelope?
Q. At the time.
The President. At the time. Well, and what did he do with the money?
Q. He kept it as a gift. A personal gift.
The President. As a personal gift. Well, how long's he known the man? Have they ever exchanged gifts before and so forth? All of those things are things, I think, that have to be taken into account.
You know, in Washington, they now have a system whereby, not only myself as an officeholder but even staff members have to report and make public even the Christmas gifts that they get from people they've—close friends they've been exchanging gifts with for years. And it's kind of embarrassing, because you're supposed to also put down an estimated cost. Now, how do you call someone that's given you a present for Christmas and say, "How much did that sweater cost? I have to put it down and make it public." It's a little embarrassing.
Q. As a matter of fact, he revealed this particular gift.
The President. He what?
Q. He is the source of the revelation that
The President. Well then, I would say that that indicates that he has nothing to hide.
Q. Mr. President, you are making a strong pitch today for voluntarism, and, at the same time, the Council of Foundations is saying that, in their opinion, voluntarism isn't working. The foundations can't come close to making up the $140 billion they claim have been trimmed from the social programs. And now there seems to be a new survey out which indicates that only a handful of 200 corporations are willing to increase any kind of volunteer effort or contributions. The theory is—one quote is, sir, that "the foundations and corporations should not be doing the kinds of things that government does not think is worth doing."
The President. Well, I don't know who the individual was that made that statement. First of all, I think it's exaggerating very much where we have reduced in programs of that kind. HHS, Health and Human Services, which is in charge of most of the human programs in government, has a budget that is bigger—the one we proposed for '83—is bigger than every national budget in the world except for two countries, the Soviet Union and the United States. It is $58 billion bigger than the budget for our own national defense, and it is 20-some billion dollars bigger than it was last year.
Now, we're not asking foundations to replace programs that are the responsibility of government. We are suggesting that over the years, as government has done more and more and invaded more fields that belong both to local or State government or to the private sector, that people have tended to go their way and just assume that government is taking care of all these things. And what our private sector initiative program, what our task force is finding —they are canvassing and finding out how are various communities meeting certain problems in their communities and spreading this word to others, so that others can find out how to handle them, the programs that properly—well, let me give you an example.
Would we say that the Boy Scouts should be turned over to government, that that should be a government program? The total cost of the Boy Scout movement is about $187 million a year. Well, we've worked out what it would cost if government tried to run the Boy Scouts. It would cost $7.7 billion a year.
Now, the thing is it's not just money contributions; it is the service that people can render, the people, the executives who give of their time to be on hospital boards, on college or school boards, and so forth, the people who volunteer and help run the United Fund. Isn't it funny that in this time of recession, last year the United Fund broke all records for contributions?
It is just that we find churches, for example, only a few years ago, before we began with this big government drive, religion was the principle dispenser of charity in the United States. Today, it has fallen down to where it's only responsible for about 3 percent. And many churches, without us doing anything, have been disturbed about this and are finding things that they not only can do—and not just in the contribution line but in their own people helping to serve, just human volunteers that are doing jobs—that if government did it would call for a whole bureaucracy.
And so, we're not asking them to replace, but we think there is a vast field. And the funny thing is we are running into just waves of enthusiasm and volunteers. In fact, I just have a slip of paper in my pocket that was handed me a few years ago—few years!—a few minutes ago outside here from a young lady who wants to know and wants to be put in touch with where she can volunteer her services.
School Prayer Amendment
Q. Mr. President, why is a constitutional prayer amendment necessary when the Supreme Court only outlawed officially sponsored prayers, not silent prayers or meditation periods?
The President. Well, because that Supreme Court decision has been taken and interpreted by many who fear running counter to the law in such a way that we're finding it impossible to have Christmas ceremonies in schools anymore.
At first, the decision in most schools was, "Well, as long as you stick to Santa Claus and a Christmas tree, yes, you can have a Christmas party or ceremony." But if you do anything with the creche or observe whose birthday it is, then that is against their taking of the Constitution. And then more recently, we have found in some of our larger cities that the school boards have decided that Santa Claus is so associated with the holy holiday that, therefore, we can't have Santa Claus anymore as part of the school services.
What we're saying is that the first amendment, frankly, I don't believe was properly interpreted. The first amendment is to protect not government from religion, but religion from government tyranny. It says that the government will neither respect nor obstruct—or will neither institute nor obstruct religious practice. And the prayers, I think, would obviously have to be nonsectarian so that you are not showing favor to one particular religion or another. And I know that New York State had proposed a nonsectarian prayer that would meet all of the needs.
I think what most of the people in this country—and the polls show that it is overwhelming, the percentage of people who want prayer restored—is the idea that by doing away with it, it was almost as if there was an antireligious bias. It was as if saying to the children that this is no longer important. And yet we refer to ours as a country under God. It says "In God We Trust" on our coins. They open the Congress sessions with a chaplain. I've never been sure whether he prays for the Congress or for the Nation.
The young lady.
Ms. Small. 1 This'll have to be the last question.
1 Karna Small Stringer, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Media Relations and Planning.
The President. Oh, I've answered them too long, I think. Karna. Can I take one more here after I take the young lady's? All right.
Q. The steel industry around—[inaudible]—in particular trouble, and there have been several suits filed to keep out the foreign imports of steel that's being sold below cost. And there are also steel executives who are calling for quotas similar to the auto quotas that were placed on the Japanese. I'm wondering what your plans are for helping the steel industry, and if you're going to try to expedite these suits that are—[ inaudible].
The President. Well, I believe in free trade. But it is true that in our country we have—well, in every country for that matter, and our trade is probably freer than anyone else's. This is why the Third World sells more of its product in the United States than it does to all the rest of the world put together. But there are areas where we have recognized some things such as quotas.
In sugar, this farm bill, we had tried to rid ourselves of that particular quota-sometime ago did, back in, I think, about 1979. Last year the Congress brought it up, and very frankly it was a price that had to be paid in order to get the budget program. But it is not totally without precedent in our international dealings and in the GATT arrangements with regard to trade with other countries. There are certain quotas that are recognized.
And in our own country our protection with regard to steel has to do not with just that kind of a protection but the fact that steel is being exported into the United States, produced in other countries and sold below the cost of production because of their subsidy of that industry. Well, free trade should be fair trade also. And we think that has to be stopped, and we've-there is a provision whereby we can prevent the influx into this country of subsidized steel. We have some quotas with regard to meat imports from other great cattle-raising countries.
But we've held this down, I think, to a minimum and based it on what we believe is fair to defend our standard of living against those who could exploit their own low standard of living and their own workers to sell here. But basically we're striving constantly for free market, and most of these quotas there are compensating factors.
Q. If the steel problems continue, would you support a quota on foreign steel?
The President. The program is already in place with regard to the import of those subsidized steel products, and it's—actually before we came here, there had been very little done to enforce it. Now, what has been taking place—we have been trying with—because many of these are our allies and are friendly countries—we've been trying at a government level to get them to voluntarily stop it.
The steel industry has recourse under the law that if we can't succeed in that, they then can bring suit internationally and prevent it that way. Well, we're trying to do it in a friendlier way.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Q. Mr. President, there's a thrust on the part of many in this country to have the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declared a national holiday. Have you taken a stand on that?
The President. No, I haven't taken a stand one way or the other. And I certainly can understand why the black community would like to do that. I know that from some of the past—I just have to confess with all that's been going on, I haven't been able to dig as deeply as I want to into it.
But one of the problems from those who have preceded me in this office with regard to that is the discovery of how many—we're quite a mix in this country—how many other people there are with—people who just as sincerely want them also. We could have an awful lot of holidays if we start down that road.
Now, whether there's something that could be worked out that would protect against that, I don't know. But, as I say, I have the deepest sympathy for it. I know what he means and what he has meant to a movement that I think is important to all of us.
Q. Would you be in favor of such holidays?
The President. Well, would you allow me to say here that I want to study more about the ramifications of all those other requests before I give an answer that definitely-because it might be that there's no way that we could afford all of the holidays that we would have with people who are also revered figures in the history of many of the groups that make up our population here in America.
Ms. Small. Thank you, Mr. President. You have to get to your head table reception.
The President. Oh. I'm supposed to be making a speech in here, and they're.
Q. 30 seconds, Mr. President?
Ms. Small. You're 5 minutes late.
The President. 5 minutes late? Can I be 5 1/2 minutes late? [Laughter] He says it's a good one. I'm probably going to kick myself for doing this.
Q. The unemployment rate in Illinois, Mr. President, is 10.4 percent. The last time— [laughter] —the last time the Nation's unemployment rate was that high was at the end of the Depression and the buildup for World War II. At what point did this recession become a depression for States like Illinois with unemployment rates of over 10 percent?
The President. Well, I referred to a number of places when I was campaigning as being in a depression. When I was in towns—you know, this didn't just happen to us. I was in Flint, Michigan, when the unemployment rate was 20 percent in 1980. And they were calling it the 1980 recession. And I said, well, having been through a depression, there are spots where it is depression.
It is true that in this recession the unemployment rates are not uniform as they were pretty much in the Great Depression, when 25 percent of the workers in America were without jobs. But there are certain areas, due to certain industries, that have what could be called near-depression-rate unemployment. And sometimes it isn't even statewide. Sometimes it's a particular part of that State where a certain industry has slowed down.
We want to do something about that, and we think we're trying. The fact that we have brought inflation down to less than zero for the first time in 17 years is an indication that the one thing that we believe is bringing this about, causing this unemployment-the high interest rates—can no longer be justified on the basis of inflation.
High interest rates came about because of the need of a lender to get back the depreciated value of his dollar due to inflation, plus the return that you normally get for lending your money, a return on the money. Well, if you've got inflation down to where it's—for all of last year, was only a little more than half of what it had been-for 6 months or more it has been running at 3.2, and last month, as I say, dropped below zero for the first time in 17 years.
I believe that the only thing that's keeping the interest rates up and preventing a speedier recovery is the lack of confidence on the part of the private sector that government will stay the course. And that's why I said what I did the other day. If the Congress'11 get off the dime and pass this budget proposal, it will be an indication that we're not going to go back to what we've done a dozen times since, in the last 20 or 30 years, and that is have a quick fix and artificially stimulate the market to where we temporarily solve or help to solve the unemployment problem, only to have an inflation 2 years later that is worse and unemployment is deeper and inflation is higher.
So, we're working as hard as we can. And I will be meeting with some leaders in this coming week on this very subject of interest. But this is the answer to the unemployment.
The other thing I might point out, differing from the Great Depression—and I don't mean to minimize at all, because there's no one—I'll challenge that there's no one in the world that has the feeling inside them that I have, having gone through the Great Depression and seen, as I've said, my father get his notice that he didn't have a job, sitting in our parlor on Christmas Eve— opened an envelope that he thought was a Christmas greeting and it was the notice that he was now unemployed. I know the pain of unemployment, but I also know that there are mitigating things today that we have.
We have a built-in system, first of all, with unemployment insurance and our own welfare programs and so forth, but also the dual employment in families that today, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is estimated that only about 30 percent of the families where there is unemployment are without some member of the family employed; 70 percent of the families, there is another member of the family where there is someone employed. Seventy percent of the families have a member of the family employed.
So, we're not back where we were in that Great Depression, where none of these things existed at the time when unemployment was total destitution—and here in this city, there aren't very many around who remember that at one time Franklin Delano Roosevelt had the Illinois State National Guard parade down State Street—not Michigan Boulevard—State Street because of the number of unemployed that were living there, sleeping in doorways under newspapers at night and so forth.
We have taken great steps. And those social reforms are still in place, and this administration isn't going to do anything to eliminate them.
Note: The President spoke at 11:33 a.m. in the Waldorf Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Prior to his appearance at the briefing, he attended a fund-raising reception at the hotel for Illinois State Senator Donald Totten.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session During an Administration Briefing in Chicago, Illinois, for Editors From the Midwestern Region Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245675