Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With High School Students From the Close Up Foundation

May 21, 1986

The President. Thank you very much, and welcome. And I think, for those who will probably be seeing and hearing this by electronic means, I should make it plain to them that you and I are seeing each other for the first time. There has been no rehearsing or anything of this kind. And I'm going to take your questions, and I don't know what those questions are going to be.

But I want to welcome you here. You're quite a cross section—all the way from Maine—let's see, it's about 11 communities, about 10 States, all the way from Maine out to Arizona and Washington on the west coast and in the desert area there. I think your interest in citizenship and public service and all is evidenced by the fact that you chose to do this and that you are here. You know, I know you're going to be a few days in Washington, and f you have to leave and you haven't completely learned everything about the Government in Washington, why, don't feel left out. I've been here 5 1/2 years and I've still got some questions left about it. [Laughter]

But I'm not going to talk anymore, I'm going to get down to this—other than to thank our host here for this program, the foundation that has made this possible, Close Up Foundation, and for C-SPAN making it available for so many other people to see and hear. But now let's get down to the questions.

Financing College Attendance

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, your administration seems to favor a view towards education which is one of self-motivation and not governmental support. I agree that to achieve, one must have this self-motivation—important to maintaining our economic growth and—[inaudible]—independent of our generation being able—is dependent upon our generation being able to go on to higher education. Your scholarship dollars are not available, and costs of college education continue to grow. What can we do?

The President. Well, I think there's some misunderstanding. The question basically is getting at the great importance of education and at the college level and so forth and then the cost of going to college. There's been some misunderstanding about what we are or are not doing in that regard. First of all, we know that for education up through secondary, through high school, is basically the responsibility of the States and local communities, although there is some Federal aid in that, too. But then when we get to college, I have to tell you that, for example, next year more loans will be available for college students than ever in our history. It'll be around $9 billion-is available for loans. There are other programs also, and the Federal Government is spending at a higher level in that kind of support than ever before. So, it isn't true that with all of our need to find economies that we have shut down education.

But while I've got you here, can I make a plug for something else? It is true that there are scholarships, and there well should be. And States have scholarships. I know my own State of California, when I was Governor, we increased the amount there to 11 times what it had been—the State scholarship program. These are earned, as you know, by your qualifications and ability in school and all. But there's something else. There's nothing wrong, also, with working at jobs at the same time that you're going to school. Now, I say this because I worked my way through college, and there weren't Federal programs at that time. There were loan programs from private funds and endowments that you could apply. And finally, by my senior year, I got around to getting one of those loans. But lately, because of these other things that are available, you'd be surprised how many colleges have jobs on the campus for students and are literally advertising with no takers.

And let me just tell you, it isn't all bad if you have an opportunity to work to help defray your expenses, if you need to. Our programs are aimed at the neediest of students. Where we've made any cutback, it is not trying to help students that come from families where the income is at a level that they should be able to provide for their own education. But I have to tell you that I have never regretted—in fact, the job I had most of the time in college was one of the best jobs I've ever had. I washed dishes in the girls' dormitory. [Laughter]

But another question now.

Funding for Toxic Waste Disposal

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Congress created Superfund—clean up waste sites of future toxic chemical disasters. Now that the funds allocated in this program have run out, what are the possibilities for getting more funding?

The President. Well, there will be more, and right now it's a case of how much and that, because as you know, and as I said before, we have some financial restraints, what with our big deficit. But one of the problems is how fast can that be used. You can lay out some money and then find that there's a restriction just through the very doing of the work in cleaning up these various pollution sources, that the money lies there and you just can't use it that fast. So, we're trying to arrive at what would be the sensible amount for us to appropriate, that is.

Q. There will be more funding?

The President. There will be, yes.

South Africa

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Could you please give justification for your constructive engagement policies toward South Africa?

The President. Yes, I can. We're working with South Africa. There is a large element in South Africa that finds apartheid as repugnant as we do and is trying to do something about it. And the government has made progress. But like something here in our own country, when you have a Congress that has to be incorporated, sometimes he can't get as much as he's asking for. We are trying to be of help in this and in the progress that they're making. And the ultimate goal is one, and hopefully without violence—and we have been advocating quietly some approaches that we think might be helpful to them in what they're trying to accomplish. But our goal is, without any doubt, to see the end of apartheid in South Africa.

All right. I've got to start getting to the back of the room.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Do you think that Sullivan principle is a call of conduct mandating equal employment practices for black South Africans working for America's business corporations? And if so, why?

The President. Do I believe in what? A program for black Africans who are working in American corporations?

Q. Yes. And the call that they have about equal employment practices and everything?

The President. Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, some of your contemporaries who are demonstrating a little and think that we should withdraw and our industries get out of South Africa would be hurting the very people we want to help. Because American industry in South Africa, and this also applies to industries of some of our allied countries also—here, in our country, have adopted what was called the Sullivan code. And Sullivan is a black clergyman. And this is one in which for the first time in South Africa, in our plants, the rules that we go by in this country of fairness to all and with no discrimination apply. And it has set a mark that in competition for labor force has made many of the locally owned South African firms have to change some of their ways because the practices in the American-owned companies are the very thing we're trying to achieve.

All right.

Defense Spending

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. It seems to me that there will be no end in the arms race. If both the U.S. and Russia have created enough weapons to destroy each other in entirety, why are we still spending outrageous amounts of money building up our defense? And what would be accomplished by these other weapons?

The President. Actually, the United States—we think of weapons as a deterrent to war. In other words, that the possible adversary—and we have to believe that the Soviet Union is expansionist. They have a belief that their purpose must be to bring about world revolution to one-world Communist State. Karl Marx said that that was the only way it would really succeed, is when the whole world was that way. So, they are expansionist. We believe the means to maintain peace is to be strong enough to ensure that anyone taking a look and having a thought about an assault on us would recognize that the result and damage to themselves would not make it worthwhile.

Now, all of this talk about how much we have and what we're doing—in the last 5 years the Soviet Union has outbuilt us in fighter planes, in bombers—50 times as many as we and the NATO nations together-in artillery pieces, in tanks, and in ballistic missiles. You've got to remember that big as the military budget sounds—and some people have tried to make it sound very big indeed—that about two-thirds of that budget is to pay for the people that are in uniform and the rest is for spare parts and fuel and ammunition and new weapon systems and so forth. But, also, let me tell you that our military spending, as a percentage of the budget and as a percentage of gross national product, is smaller than it has been, heretofore, in the past.

At one time it was believed that the military-because national defense is the prime responsibility of the Federal Government, to be able to protect our citizenry, and so we're spending a smaller percentage than has been spent in the past, than was spent in 1960. And we are playing catchup. We are trying to maintain a deterrent force so that no possible adversary is going to take a look and think that we're an easy target.

And may I just give you one little bit of history. Back when the world was in flames in the war in Europe that became World War II—we were not yet in it. Pearl Harbor hadn't happened. And the President of the United States then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat with a Democratic Congress, tried to get an increase in weapons because of the threat worldwide. And we held some maneuvers in Louisiana—the largest war games that we had ever held, to practice. And many of our troops were carrying wooden guns, and we used cardboard tanks to simulate armored warfare because we didn't have enough guns, and we didn't have enough tanks. When the war was over and our officers could talk to their counterparts among the enemy—and some of them asked the Japanese officers, they said, "Why Pearl Harbor?" Why, out of a clear blue sky, that attack that caused us to go to war? And they said, "Why not Pearl Harbor?" And they called attention to this thing at the Louisiana maneuvers—they said, "Your soldiers carried wooden guns, you were using cardboard tanks. We didn't think you'd fight."

Now, a possible adversary has to know that you would and you can. We have done a great deal to rectify a situation that when we took office, on any given day, half the airplanes in our service couldn't fly for lack of spare parts; half the ships in our navy, which had been reduced from a thousand ships to just a few hundred, couldn't leave port at any time because of lack of spare parts or not enough crew.

So, we're not just building weapons to build weapons. The answer to holding down defense spending must come when the Soviet Union will legitimately meet with us for a reduction in weapons. And we are ready to sit down with them, and have been any time in the last 5 years, to totally eliminate nuclear weapons. That is our goal and what we dream of.

Mr. Janger. Mr. President, I'm Steve Janger, President of the Close Up Foundation. And we have additional Close Up students on a telephone line in schools outside of Washington. And we're ready for that first call, which is from Colorado.

The President. All right.


Q. Good morning, Mr. President. On behalf of the students at Overland High School, I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas with us this morning. Mr. President, we know that Congress has increased its aid to the Afghan rebels. Our question is: What is the ultimate objective of the United States financial aid to Afghan rebels, and how do you propose that these goals be accomplished?

The President. Well, there are several channels. We're working with the Soviet Union, as in the last summit conference on this subject, to persuade them to withdraw. How we see this coming about, or the settlement of this problem, is when the Soviet Union will withdraw and when, perhaps with international help, we can persuade the government, the then government of Afghanistan, which was established by the Soviet Union—they chose the head man and put him there, even though he is an Afghan—but then, that the people who are now fighting, the freedom fighters in Afghanistan, and the 3 million refugees who have been driven out of their country allowed to come back, that then, with help from the outside world, from countries like our own, to ensure order during the transition, that then the people of Afghanistan decide the kind of government they want and who they want to govern them. And we think that has to be based on a Soviet withdrawal, after 6 years of the bloodshed and the fighting that has been going on there.

Mr. Janger. Mr. President, our second student call is from Ohio.

Foreign and Domestic Aid Programs

Q. Hello, Mr. President. I would like to thank you for this opportunity for letting East High students speak to you today. Mr. President, there is tremendous amount of poverty and hunger in America, even in Washington, DC. Why is our government giving military aid and assistance to foreign nations rather than taking care of people at home?

The President. We are doing both. I know that there's been a lot of talk the other way that we aren't doing this. The aid that we're giving to foreign countries is aid to the lesser developed countries so that they can take their place in the world of nations with an economy in which they can have a living standard that is improved—and no freedom. And some of that aid, also, is, very practically, military aid to them so that they can defend themselves. Which makes a lot more sense than if we, in our own protection, had to send troops there and maintain forces in those countries.

But at the same time, our programs of social aid to our own people are such that where there is hunger, you have to—in our country—you have to determine that that is probably because of a lack of knowledge on the part of the people as to what things are available. Not only is the Government doing much in that line, but there has been about a 3-times increase in private charity and aid in our country. We're unique in all the world. 1984, American people voluntarily gave $74 billion to charitable causes in this country; 1985, they gave $79.8 billion. It continues to go up. Much of that is in providing shelters, in providing programs of food, in school lunch programs and so forth. And between those two sectors, I don't believe that there is anyone that is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them. It is by people not knowing where or how to get this help.

Mr. Janger. Mr. President, that concludes our student calls. We can get back to the students who are here today.

The President. Oh, all right. I've got to move back in the room a little bit. Right on the aisle there, on the right. Yes.

Budget Deficit

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to know your opinion about the Gramm-Rudman bill. And do you think the bill is sufficient?

The President. The Gramm-Rudman bill, I just think this has been long overdue. I know there are some factors in it that the court doesn't agree with and I don't either. But to have a plan—for over 50 years our government has been running deficits. Here and there, maybe a single year back in that 50 when there wasn't a deficit, but there's been deficit spending. Many of us who complained openly about this and said, "We've got to stop this. We've got to spend within our means." We had voices over the 50 years in Washington saying, "Oh, it's perfectly all right. We owe it to ourselves." Well, now we've got a $2 trillion debt hanging over your heads.

And so, Gramm-Rudman came along, and what it is is what we've been asking for—a plan. It's impossible to balance the budget in I year, to erase the deficit spending in 1 year. You would have to really disturb such programs that you'd cause hardship to our people. But we're on a path of 5 years in which if, annually, we start bringing the deficits down, and 5 years out we come to a balanced budget—and then what we need, and have not gotten so far—we need a constitutional amendment that says what Thomas Jefferson asked for clear back at the beginning of the Constitution—then, let us have an amendment that says the Federal Government cannot borrow. It has to spend within its means.

But this 5-year program—it means that now if someone stands up, for example, in the Congress and advocates a spending program, he's not just advocating something for this year and then you find out at the end of the year what happened to the deficit-he's violating a scaled program. He's breaking a discipline that says over 5 years we're going to arrive at this point of a balanced budget. So, I think it's one of the best things that's happened.

Let me—no, in the red.

Education and Weapons Safety

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Pell grants and other educational programs are being cut and instead are being spent on building sophisticated nuclear arms. At the same time, military schools have very low reading scores. Do you think it's wrong for us to have educated people run these weapons that threaten our lives instead of weapon systems?

The President. Now, sometimes I have a little difficulty in hearing. Maybe that's why I find myself calling on people down in front more. You're asking about what are we denying in order to have the weapons or—is that what you're—

Q. Mr. President, what I'm saying is that I'm scared that from cutting the Pell grants and other aid to students that we may have people operating very important machinery that can kill us, in essence, because they don't have the—

The President. And they don't have the proper education?

Q. Yes.

The President. I don't think we're in that danger. First of all, as I say, there's been a lot of talk that what we're doing is cutting back on necessary programs and in education-and that isn't true. There will be this year $260 billion spent on education in the United States. And as I said, we're making college loans available at a greater amount than ever before.

And I think you'd be interested to know that with all the years, and even in wartime when we've had to draft people into the military—and we don't now; it's purely volunteer-we have the highest percentage of high school graduates in the uniformed forces than we have ever had in the history of this nation. And there are three intelligence brackets in the military—tests that are given to determine just what assignments these individuals are best fitted for. We have the highest percentage in the top intelligence bracket in the military than we've ever had in our history.

And at the same time, other programs having to do with education—I'm sure many of you must know that we appointed a commission and came back with a report on excellence in education. And that in '85 there was a nine-point increase in the average SAT scores. You know what those are, the scholastic aptitude tests—that's the biggest single-year increase since back around, I think it was 1963. And 35 States in the Union now have already upped their standards; 39 States have had an increase in graduates and so forth. So, education is undergoing, in our country, quite a reformation. Many States have increased the school day. They've increased the requirements for graduation and so forth. I don't think we have any danger of what you've just suggested.

Acid Rain

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. The State of Vermont is deeply concerned with its environment. Since Vermont suffers greatly from acid rain, I'd like to know what further steps your administration intends to take to protect the environment from acid rain.

The President. We're taking them right now. As you know, we and Canada—we appointed two individuals to get together, Drew Lewis on our part and a gentleman from Canada, to review this whole thing and what is being done. And they have come back with some recommendations; many of them include some continued research. And we're doing that. In the last 5 years, we have cleaned our air of pollutants to a greater extent than many years back, until we get back to before there was pollution. And we're continuing all of this and taking action on it because we recognize it has to be solved. It is a complex problem too—acid rain. It isn't just as simple as saying, "Stop putting smoke out of the smokestack." We've got to figure the automobile factor in there, too. But we have made a 10-percent reduction in the last 5 years of one of the major pollutants that is responsible for acid rain. But we're going to continue until we get the job done.

Now, I'll come back down in front.

Health Care Funding

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. My question is—I understand that you've proposed to reduce Federal spending on health care, such as freezing Medicare at the present levels and reducing Federal expenditure contributions on Medicaid. However, if this proposal is to be enacted, what do you plan to do to help those elderly and poor that will lose some of their health benefits?

The President. Actually, here again is one of the things where if there are savings made, we're going to try to make them with having more care as to who is included; in other words, to aim the program at the people of the greatest need—have real need. We have found again that when bureaucracy gets going with a program of this kind, there comes into being a looseness, and you find that people who should be responsible for themselves are benefiting at the cost to their fellow citizens, the taxpayers. So, we're trying to make the program more efficient and more effective. And there is no intention on our part to, in any way, reduce or make impossible for needy people to get health care.

It has been—incidentally, I hope you know that health care in America has known one of the biggest inflations in cost of almost anything, any service or any product that we buy; it has increased in cost faster than almost anything else. And I don't know, maybe part of that is due to the fact that if you go way back to 1952, there was eighty-four-hundredths of a person in a hospital—as a worker in a hospital, nurse or whatever, for each patient. And by 1978 there were over three people employed in the hospital for every patient. And sometimes we think there are some things that can be done that won't hurt the patient but that will benefit the whole program.

Q. Thank you.

Michael K. Deaver

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. What effect does the Michael Deaver affair have on support for acid rain legislation?

The President. Well, it's a little difficult for me to speak to this right now because this is now before the Justice Department and under investigation. I can only tell you that I have known Mike Deaver for 25 years. He was associated with me in the State government in California and all. And I think it is well for us to note that he was the one who asked for an investigation and a special investigator, which I think shows his confidence in his innocence. But as I say, I can't go beyond that because it is now in the hands of the Justice system.

Mr. Janger. Mr. President, we have time for one more question, sir.

The President. Oh, dear. Yes, you. All right.

Economic Growth

Q. I was wondering what your administration is doing to improve economic, health, and educational conditions on Indian reservations. And I was wondering what you, sir, plan—your administration is going to be doing and what future plans future administrations are going to be doing for plans to improve the conditions on Indian reservations?

The President. Now, improving—

Q. Improving economic, health, and educational conditions on the Indian reservations.

The President. Oh, well, this is the responsibility of the governments; this is what we're aiming at. And we think we'll be far better able to handle them if we get out from under this constant deficit spending for what we think are a number of programs that are not worth the cost and that government shouldn't even be attempting to perform. We're having some problems getting this done through the Congress. But having served 8 years as a Governor and now 5 1/2 years here, I have to tell you that government is not always the answer to some of our problems.

We have a private sector, and we are a government of, by, and for the people. Right now, we've had the longest period of recovery and economic expansion that we have had in the last 50 years. And we have it because, number one, we reduced taxes, rather than raise them, so that the people had more money in their own pockets to do with what they wanted to do. We eliminated thousands of regulations imposed by government on every kind of business and even the private individual. In short, we eliminated—trying to eliminate more government programs that we felt were simply interfering and unnecessary. When I was Governor I discovered, at that end where the programs were being implemented, that some of our welfare programs for the people were costing the Federal Government two dollars for every dollar they could deliver to a needy person. Now, that's too high an overhead. And these are the things we're trying to clean up, and I think we've made great progress.

And I have to tell you, I think that your future, all of you, with regard to the availability of jobs—we have created almost 10 million new jobs in this country over the last 42 months. Our trading partners out in the world cannot point to a new job that has been created in the last 10 years. They have unemployment rates that are several times as great as ours. Today we have the highest percentage of the work potential in our country employed ever in our history. Now, the potential work force is considered to be everybody, male and female, from age 16 to 65. We have 110 million of those employed now. If the tax reform program that we're working on right now goes through, it is estimated that alone in the next decade will create 4 million new jobs.

Voter Participation

The opportunities for you—and a lot of that's going to depend on you remaining the kind of citizens that vote when there's an election. And I don't care whether it's somebody on the school board at the local level or whether it's for President of the United States—vote. The people that are elected to serve you are no better and no worse than the people who send them into government to serve. But they're all better than the people who don't vote at all. And here in this country—and I have—do I have enough of a second to say another thing?

Mr. Janger. Yes, sir.

The President. You know, we're coming to the celebration, the anniversary of the Constitution. I've made it a point to read a lot of other constitutions, including the one of the Soviet Union. And you'd be surprised at how many of those offer the same things ours do—right of assembly, freedom of speech. Of course, in Russia they don't observe it, but it's there in the constitution. All these things. So, what makes ours so different? Well, the difference is so slight that it's overlooked too often. But it is so great, it explains the entire world difference. All those other constitutions are written by the government saying, these are the privileges we permit the people. Ours says, "We the People," permit the Government to do the following things, and the Government cannot do anything that we have not, in the Constitution, told the Government it can do.

So, don't just take it easy and miss an election day. Stay interested. Stay involved. Become public-spirited citizens when you're out, and this country will continue to offer the greatest opportunities of any place in the world.

I'm so grateful to all of you for being here, and I'm so sorry about all those hands that came up that I couldn't reach. I've often thought that he should do the choosing of the questions— [laughter] —and then my conscience would be clear, and I would just answer the questions.

Mr. ]anger. Mr. President, young people everywhere learn from your candor and from your willingness to meet with them. And you're a very special kind of teacher. On behalf of those young people everywhere, and certainly on behalf of those who are here today, I'd like to ask Ms. Tara Jacob, from Topsail High School in North Carolina, to join me in presenting you with this remembrance. Tara, if you could hold that, I'd love to read it, Mr. President. It says: "To President Ronald Reagan. Your extraordinary commitment to young people leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of our democratic system of government. With deep gratitude and respect, the Close Up Foundation. May 21, 1986."

The President. Well, thank you very much. This is a picture of 1983, the last time I did this here—

Mr. Janger. Yes, sir. And we couldn't be more proud.

The President.—and I've been begging for a comeback and to be able to do it again.

Mr. Janger. Thank you, sir, for everything, on behalf of all of us. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. The session was taped for broadcast on the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network. The participants were part of the Close Up Foundation program, a nonpartisan educational foundation providing secondary school students opportunities to study the American political system. Stephen A. ]anger was president of the Close Up Foundation.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With High School Students From the Close Up Foundation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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