Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Members of the American Business Conference

March 24, 1987

The President. As Henry VIII said to each of his six wives, "I won't keep you long." [Laughter] But it's wonderful to be here with such successful people, and I know that success in business doesn't come easy. You know the story: A tourist in New York went up to Louis Armstrong and said, "I can't wait to hear your performance tonight. I'm on my way to get tickets right now." And then he said, "By the way, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" And Louis said, "Just practice, baby!" [Laughter]

But it is an honor to speak to the American Business Conference, an organization made up of America's most dynamic leaders, on our nation's path to economic growth. And I want to take a moment right here at the outset to acknowledge all that you've done to give our administration encouragement and support. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, in particular, your support of our campaign to help prepare America for the 21st century, including your strong antiprotectionist stand. You've joined us in saying that in the century ahead America's growth, America's jobs, and the standard of living for every American family will depend on having a strong American economy in the strong and—well, that's just good, plain common sense, I think, and that's why I'm so glad you're here. Since I came to Washington, I've found loads of people who have all the answers, but not too many who remember the questions. [Laughter] That's part of common sense, and a lot of people seem to check theirs at the District line. So, as I say, I'm glad you're here.

Now, in preparing for the 21st century, nothing is more important than getting our house in order. And I'm delighted to be able to report to you that, despite the momentum built up by the 50-year-old spending juggernaut, we've made dramatic headway toward getting government spending under control. For the first time in more than a decade, the Federal Government is actually projected to spend less this fiscal year in real terms than the year before. And I think you'll agree that's no small accomplishment. On getting control of spending, we still have a long way to go though; but in so many areas, we've come a long way, too. In the last 6 years, we've wrestled inflation to the ground, cut the prime interest rate in half, and created more than 13 million new jobs since November of 1982.

But this morning I signed something: a report that I have to sign every year to go up to the Congress. And I think that I really should have thrown this away and brought the report over here—read it to you—because it was the report on what we, over these 6 years, have been doing with regard to improved management. And just a couple of the figures in that report, I think, would show what it contains. We've eliminated 30,000 pages of Federal regulations, and we have reduced the estimated time that all of you out in the public there would have to spend on government paperwork by 600 million man-hours a year. It goes on that way all the way through, and with literally billions of dollars that have been reduced simply by putting into practice at the government level the things that you do every day in business. We found we were still paying people with cardboard checks, and we changed that. A lot of many more important things are being done, and we're still at it.

We've known a revolution of hope and opportunity that some of our European allies have come to call the American Miracle. In fact, they've said it to my face in some of the economic summits. But continuation of these achievements and this progress is imperiled at this very moment by some in the Congress. One threat is the danger of so-called protectionist legislation. I say "so-called" because in reality it's destructionist. Today the importance of free trade is all but universally accepted as a fundamental of economic thought. So, too, it is all but universally understood that our own nation earns billions of dollars in foreign markets and has millions of jobs tied to exports.

We believe that America must not hide from the future but meet it as we always have met our challenges: with pride and strength. We want to make America number one in the world economy in the next century, and that isn't an easy or simple job. It'll touch many facets of our society. It involves the education of our children, the training of our workers, the management of our businesses, the investment in research and development by our industries, and the economic policies of our government. The steps we've proposed in these areas will guarantee that America will still be number one in the year 2000. We're eager to work with those in Congress who share our goal of preparing America for the century ahead, and we've found a new receptiveness by certain Members of Congress for our approach.

About a month ago, I said it was time for all of us to join together in looking to the new world marketplace, not as a source of fear and uncertainty but in the way that Americans have always looked at challenges: as a great opportunity, another frontier for the American spirit, as America's next great adventure. Well, I plan, beginning this week, to travel around the country meeting America in all walks of life. And we'll be working to find commonsense answers to the challenge. Every once in a while, it's good for Washington not to always be talking about the answers but going out to the people and asking the questions.

To America's business, the challenge will be to make products more efficiently; to embrace new ideas, better methods of management, and new technologies; and to make the proudest, most desirable label on more and more products and services around the world "Made in America." Just think how happy that'll make Bob Hope. [Laughter] To America's workers, the challenge is to be prepared for the new jobs and new skills of the future and to prove in the quality of their work that the pride is, indeed, back. And to us all, the challenge is to show the same spirit of enterprise and adventure, the same can-do spirit that built our country and made it great.

You know, I've always heard the story about us brash Americans back when we started to become tourists again. And some of the Americans would go back to their source in Europe, and on tours. And the story of the elderly couple there that were at Mount Vesuvius, and the guide was telling them of the amount of heat that was expelled from the volcano and how much it was doing and all of this. And the old boy turned to his wife and said, "Hell, we got a volunteer fire department at home put that thing out in 15 minutes." [Laughter]

You may have seen the TV commercials, supposedly set a few years hence, that show a ragged-looking man in an empty room. He talks about how America lost its prosperity because of foreign competition. The message is that we need to build trade walls, but of course, the truth is just the opposite. In 1930, we tried that other way: major new tariffs, and 3 years later the unemployment rate stood at 25 percent. America's periods of greatest prosperity, of course, have always been periods of growing trade, and that's why there is developing a great bipartisan consensus that the answer to our trade problems is more trade. House Speaker Jim Wright said recently: "The solution lies in opening markets for American goods, not in closing our markets to foreign goods."

It's very simple: While keeping our own market open, we will not sit idly by when others close theirs to our products, subsidize their exports, or fail to trade fairly. And in these last 6 years I'm proud to say that we've taken the strongest actions in American history against unfair trade practices abroad, and we're going to keep on until we've got a completely fair and level trading area. Recently we've asked Congress to strengthen the guarantees that we give patents, copyrights, and trade secrets, so America's intellectual property will be clearly staked out with a sign that reads "No Trespassing." And I have also asked Congress for authority to negotiate a new round of trade agreements to bring down the barriers to world trade all around the world. We must help those whom a changing economy has displaced, but we must also never forget that what's at stake here is America's future—for ourselves, our children, their children—on into the next century.

And this brings me to the second great danger Congress is posing, a danger that has to do with the Federal budget. The budget deficit is a major threat to our national competitiveness. Yet last week Congress passed a budget-busting highway bill. And it is really a lemon, with a sticker price of $88 billion, loaded with every option in the book. And it has just sputtered down Pennsylvania Avenue while you were sitting in here and is parked over at the White House. And before the day is over, I think I will have it towed back and dropped at Congress' door with a note on it that says, "Stop the spending spree! Get to work!" And the message can't get there too soon.

Even before Congress has drawn up their budget, some there are saying that they want to back away from our commitment to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. Some are even saying they want to raise taxes again on the American people. Well, I'm sorry, we're not going to let that happen. The American people worked long and hard to cut tax rates and win tax reform, and they put their trust in their elected representatives and were promised by those representatives that they would be given the long-overdue tax relief they so truly deserve. Well, we're not going to break faith with the American people. Tax reform will go ahead as scheduled. As I've been saying all along, my pledge to veto any tax rate increase remains rock-solid. There will be no tax rate increase in the 100th Congress. It's time Congress cut the Federal budget and left the family budget alone.

What I've been saying today all adds up to this: The best way to protect our economic achievements is to institutionalize the revolution that we launched when we came here 6 years ago. And believe me, I intend to do just that. After all, I've always been sort of partial to a big finish. You should have a good third-act curtain. But I'm going to do something now that isn't in the schedule. I hope everybody will forgive me; I just can't resist with all of you here. I know I've only got just a few minutes and then a Cabinet meeting waiting over there. But just at least for one or two—some of you—there must have been times in these last 6 years when you've said, "Boy, if I had a chance, I'd like to ask him .... "Well, go ahead. Anybody got a question they'd like to ask? Caught you by surprise?



Q. My 92-year-old mother says she supports you 100 percent.

The President. Now, you see, that's a question I like. [Laughter] Thank you. Please give her my regards, and thank her very much.


Line-Item Veto

Q. Mr. President, where do you stand on the line-item veto? How's that going to come out do you think?

The President. I need all the help I can get from people like yourselves and from the people themselves. There are 43 Governors—and I was one of them in this nation that have the line-item veto. Almost all of those States, or maybe all of them, have also in their constitutions a balanced budget amendment. As President—or as Governor, I vetoed, in that manner, 943 times, and the vetoes were never overridden once by the same people who had sent the budget to me, having voted to pass it. Yet the Congress just digs in its heels and seems to think that would be giving a President some kind of power that he shouldn't have, but I claim it's the basic answer to getting control, once and for all, over this built-in deficit spending—and it is built in to our very structure. We've been doing it now for more than a half a century. Well, as I've said so often, it isn't necessary to make the Congress see the light; make them feel the heat. [Laughter] So, get busy.

Excellence in Education

Q. Mr. President, how can we improve the quality of our education, especially the secondary education in the United States? The President. Well, we've been studying that. And at the high school level—well, and at the elementary level there has been great improvement since that Commission of ours, the Commission on Excellence in Education, came out with its report. And our Secretary of Education [William J. Bennett] did a great job of getting this throughout the country. There are 37 States already that have increased the requirements for high school graduation, and many of them have lengthened the school year. There's no question but that we drifted into a relapse in what had been a great educational system here. And I think it's going to be up to all of us—and that doesn't mean the Federal Government, for the 7 percent of education that we fund trying to get 70 percent of control. The control of education belongs right back there in the community with the parents, where they can raise Cain if they don't like what's going on.

As Governor, every year I used to meet with a group of exchange students and foreign students that would come here. And they'd all come to the Governor's office. And I always had one question I'd ask them, and I always got the same answer. I'd say, "By the way, now that you've been going to school almost a year here in our schools, how do our schools compare in work with your own at home?" And there'd be a pause, and then they'd kind of look at each other. And then they'd start giggling, and then there'd be a belly laugh out of all of them. Our education was just that much easier than what they were subjected to in their countries. And we're getting back now and have more work. But I think even up at our college and high school level—when I found out that in one of our great universities some students there—that in their third year at the university—didn't know which side Hitler had been on in World War II, I decided something's lacking in our history education. But this has got to be the end now, I have gone over, but—

Federal Budget

Q. Mr. President, what is the possibility of your inducing Speaker Wright and Senator Byrd to come together with you and work diligently on a good budget bill?

The President. Well, we've sent ours up, and they have proposed a kind of a summit meeting, but without coming up with a budget of their own. And very frankly, I have said to them: "Look, you don't like the budget I've sent up? You make out a budget. Then let's sit down and talk about the two budgets." Well, they've never sent us one. They just want to talk about ours.

Well, I know I've got to quit. And I thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, the President referred to a television commercial in which Bob Hope promoted the purchase of American-made products.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Members of the American Business Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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