Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

February 04, 1983


The President. Good morning.

Today, millions of Americans can take heart. Unemployment has finally started down. This dip in unemployment, coming just after the word of higher retail sales, higher auto sales, is one more sign that America is on the mend. Confidence is returning and with reason. And while we may see some ups and downs on the way to recovery, we're on the move now, and that's our best hope for more productive, lasting jobs.

According to our own, very cautious forecasts, economic recovery will create more than 4 1/2 million new jobs by the end of 1984. If the Congress cooperates, if it holds the line on spending, we can enjoy strong, sustained growth without triggering a return to the double-digit inflation and soaring interest rates that caused unemployment to rise and nearly destroyed our economy.

Chris [Chris Wallace, NBC News]?

January Unemployment Figures

Q. Mr. President, Labor Department officials point out that there was a big seasonal adjustment in January and also, of course, the military was included in the employment figures for the first time in January. Don't both of those factors exaggerate the improvement in the January unemployment?

The President. No, because, Chris, first of all, the figures that they give are the seasonally adjusted. And most of the time—I've always questioned and said, you know, "Explain that to me," because most of the time the unadjusted figures show more people employed. But they've used this. But with regard to the military, they gave two sets of figures. They have just started to include the military as employed—those serving in the United States only. This is only simple justice, because every time someone left the service and didn't have a job, they automatically counted them as unemployed. But they are using two sets of figures. If you include the military, that set of figures is unemployment was only 10.7 and it went down to 10.2 instead of 10.4. So, they're relatively the same.

Government Construction Projects

Q. If I may follow up, sir, given the good news about unemployment in January, will you still consider the acceleration of government construction projects or some kind of jobs program?

The President. Well, we're looking at that and have been looking at that. Those are things that are in the budget, in which various agencies and departments and the Veterans Administration have got things that need doing. And what we're looking at is to see if we can accelerate the start of those and move them up. But it wouldn't make any budget change.

Q. Mr. President, would you look with favor on accelerating some of those construction projects even if it meant increasing the budget—perhaps by okaying construction projects that were scheduled to take place in later years?

The President. Well, we might look at them, but we would look at them always with the idea that our greatest goal must be to hold this line on deficits in order to reassure the money markets out there that we do intend to hold the line and that they can look forward to continued recovery.

Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News]?


Q. Mr. President, one thing concerned me. You said unemployment has finally started down. Does that mean that you think that over, say, the next 2 years unemployment won't come back up, touching the 11 percent mark? Do you think this is a trend downward or just a dip?

The President. I think it is a trend. I do think this: If you look at past recessions, you'll see that there's been a volatility to the unemployment figures. Now, that doesn't mean that they come up higher than the highest point. But, for example, there may be a month where it might level off or come up, say, a little above the 10.4 [percent]. I don't think that you will see it come up above the high mark of 10.8.

Now, you, and then I'll get you.

Tax Cut and Indexing

Q. Mr. President, earlier this week in St. Louis, you said quite emphatically that there would be no give on the third year of the tax cut and on indexation the following year. Yet, your spokesmen, including the Treasury Secretary, have been hinting in public otherwise, that there might be some give. Which is it going to be?

The President. I think the worst thing in the world we could do—and particularly with recovery started now—is to do anything that would smack of a tax increase-as those would—and to take away those two parts of the economic program. And I just feel very determined about that.

Q. If I could follow up, sir, why have your spokesmen been hinting otherwise?

The President. I haven't heard exactly the remarks, and since I've come back, we haven't had a chance for any conversations about that. Maybe they're trying to indicate what I did in the State of the Union address, that there is a certain flexibility with regard to wanting to have a bipartisan program here to go forward together as we did on the social security program.

Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News]?

Humanitarian Aid for the Unemployed

Q. Mr. President, with the consensus now on both sides of the aisle up on Capitol Hill, will you commit to some kind of jobs program and will you commit to one that contains what your own people are calling humanitarian aid for the unemployed?

The President. Well, let me point something out they seem to be ignoring. First of all, the basic employment and training program, the act of 1983, is providing $5 billion in job training and so forth for about 3 million Americans. That's in the fiscal '83 year. But there is already $93 billion in the '84 budget for that very fact, for the unemployed, the needy, and so forth. So, we've got quite a big budgeted amount in this and programs and ideas aimed at job training to meet this structural problem, because there are many unemployed people who will not be going back to the same jobs they had. Those jobs will no longer exist. And we're prepared to do something about that.

Q. Sir, if I may follow up, there's a great deal of pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to do something visible and to do it soon beyond what's already in your budget proposal. Will you?

The President. Well, they were talking about that before they'd seen what was in the budget proposal.

Q. And they're still talking about it.

The President. I had an argument the other day with someone who was talking about the very thing that I was finally able—when I got a word in—to say it's in the budget already. And we're certainly going to listen to what is suggested in relation to what is already proposed. And, as I say, we want to go forward in a bipartisan manner.

Q. Mr. President, on humanitarian aid, do you intend to provide any help at all to those people who have no food, or not enough of it, and those people who have no homes?

The President. We certainly are doing everything that we can in that regard. And there are programs that have been in place over the years for that very problem. Those people are automatically eligible for the programs that are in place. And we intend to continue that.

Q. But nothing new at all?

The President. No.

Situation in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, could you give us your own reaction to the half dozen incidents that have occurred between our marines and the Israelis in Lebanon? And could you also respond to this growing feeling that the marines are in there for a longer stay that we initially thought? Some people are now talking about the possibility that the marines may be there for another year.

The President. I can't set any time limit on it. We're trying to expedite the departure from Lebanon of all the foreign forces in there.

These incidents are the type of thing that can happen, and the best answer to them is for the Israelis, the Syrians, and what remnants of the PLO there are to go back beyond their own borders.

The multinational forces were put in there at the request of the Lebanese Government, while they tried to establish stability in their own country. And this is evidence of it, the fact that where the multinational forces are carrying out their purpose, these repeated efforts to go through their lines and do what has been agreed that they will not do. And I think our forces are behaving very well.

Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News]?

Q. Sir, I'd like to follow up on that. Did the marine captain do the right thing? Were the Israelis trying to penetrate a place where they should not have? And, I guess more importantly, do we now have assurances from Israel that it won't happen again?

The President. We do have such assurances. And I must say that, yes, the same unit and the same commander had tried three times at this same point. And in my view, the marine officer did the only thing that he could do.

Truckers Strike

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us, with the trucking strike having increased violence, whether you agree with Senator McClure who now wants to repeal the user fees that would go into effect in '84 and '85 and that have upset the independent truckers? Would you support that, or would you let Congress repeal those user fees?

The President. I have to say that to allow a very tiny percentage of the truckers—the trucking union is opposed to what they're doing. About 80 percent of the independent truckers are not observing this strike. Some of them have been intimidated and frightened off the road, and you can understand that with the violence that's taken place. But to let a small percentage of any group of people in our country, by the use of murder and violence of the kind that they've used, change the laws of this country would be the worst precedent that we could set. How could there be any law and order from then on?

No. I have authorized the Justice Department to have the FBI cooperate with local authorities in trying to put an end to this violence. But we have always had a policy with regard to the user fee concept, which governs most of our transportation, gasoline taxes, and so forth, that there has been a proportionately higher tax for the trucks, commercial trucks, based on the very fact that they not only make a greater use, and a commercial use, than does the passenger automobile, they also represent a greater wear and tear on the highways.

Now, the taxes originally proposed were sizably reduced before the bill was passed. And these taxes, over and above the fuel tax, are being phased in, as you pointed out, over the next couple of years. And actually, I think that it is proportionately fair that those taxes be paid. And like any other business tax, they have the opportunity to pass them on to the customer, which is what happens with business taxes. A business can't pay taxes, it's a cost of production.

But the worst thing in the world, as I say, that we could do, would be to let any group of citizens say that they could change the laws of this country by committing murder.

Spending Freeze

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of a spending freeze in your State of the Union message. Now that Congress has had a chance to go over the budget, the Democrats are saying it isn't so much a freeze. Defense spending goes up, social spending comes down, and some services such as legal services would be abolished altogether.

The President. I said, and made it plain, the overall, total budget number was freed [frozen]. Within that, yes, there are some things that are increased, given higher priorities. There are some things given lower priorities. But I believe that we have preserved the safety net as we've always said we would. And I think that it is about time—since there have been, in spite of all the talk and the term "budget cuts," there have been no budget cuts. Each year, spending has gone up. And what we have cut are the projected budgets that were left for the next 5 years by the previous administration.

And incidentally, with regard to defense going up, it might be well to point out that the increase in defense spending—we have more than cut in half the increase over the projected Carter defense budget. More than half has been cut, and the increase since we've been here has only been about $3 billion a year over what he, himself, had proposed then. And he was down in his spending. He was down to 5 percent of the gross national product for defense spending.

In the 1960's, defense spending was 10 percent of the gross national product. It was 8 percent in the 1970's. And by 1979, he had brought it down to 5 percent, and we are holding it to 7 percent.

[At this point, Mrs. Reagan entered with the President's birthday cake.]

Q. It's a losing proposition, Mr. President. [Laughter]

The President. [Speaking to Mrs. Reagan and referring to the laughter from the press when they saw her enter and surprise him.] You were getting laughs.

[At this point, the press sang "Happy Birthday" to the President.]

Q. [Singing] How old are you? [Laughter]

The President. [Singing] And 2 days early. [Laughter]

The First Lady. Happy birthday.

The President. Aren't they coming fast enough without moving it up?

The First Lady. Blow the candle out.

Q. Make a wish.

The First Lady. Make a wish.

Q. Balanced budget? [Laughter]

Q. Don't look at us that way. [Laughter]

The President. You should know what I'm wishing. [Laughter]

Q. It's easy enough to guess, sir. It's easy enough to guess. [Laughter]

[At this point, Mrs. Reagan gave the President a birthday card. ]

Q. And the winner is—

[At this point, a large cake was brought in.]

The President. See, you don't have to share that little one. Look what's there.

Q. It's from Tip O'Neill.

Q. Something's coming out of it.

The President. It's got football bladders in it—blown up. They explode.

The First Lady. [Referring to the birthday card] It does not; it's from me.

The President. No, I said the cake. [Laughter]

Q. Well, read it for us, Mr. President.

The President. Well, it says, "I love you." And it says, "What more can I say? Happy Birthday." And then it says, "Guess who?" But she already just gave it away. [Laughter]

Well, thank you very much.

The First Lady. Oh, that's all right, honey. [Laughter]

Q. What were you saying before about [laughter] .-

Q. Do you want to finish your statement about unemployment? [Laughter]

The President. I think this ends the questions. [Laughter]

The First Lady. Oh, you have to

The President. I have to make the first cut?

The First Lady. And make a wish.

The President. Make a wish? Again? A wish?

Q. Any wish you can tell us, Mr. President?

The President. You can't tell what you wish because then it won't come true.

The First Lady. That's right.

And you have to take the first piece.

The President. I have to take the first piece? I'll spoil my lunch. [Laughter]

The First Lady. You have to take the first piece.

The President. I'd have cut it smaller if I'd have known that.

Q. Mrs. Reagan, have you any resolutions you want him to make on his birthday?—anything you want him to do differently?

The First Lady. I think he's doing just fine.

Q. Well, maybe this would be a good time for you to tell him whether you think he should run again. [Laughter]

The First Lady. Oh, no. [Laughter]

Q. You're not getting too old to run again, are you, sir?

The President. What?

Q. You're not getting too old to run again, are you, sir?

The First Lady. How would you like a piece of cake, Sam? [Laughter]

Q. What can I get you? [Laughter]

Q. Did you bake it yourself?.

The President. As a matter of fact, Sam, since she cut that one smaller, here, take mine and I'll trade.

The First Lady. No, no, no. That's bad luck. [Laughter]

Q. Well, don't give it to me! [Laughter]

Q. You mean Sam, or the cake? [Laughter]

The President. I have learned not to argue with her superstitions.

Q. Do you feel up to 6 more years, Mr. President?

The First Lady. Here, Chris. How about a piece of cake for you?

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. Yes, give Sam and Chris a piece so they'll quit talking and start eating. [Laughter]

Q. Maybe if I ask a question, I can get—

The First Lady. You're right. [Laughter]

Q. But you understand, we won't sell out for a piece of cake. [Laughter] No deals.

The President. Oh, you've sold out for less than that. [Laughter]

Q. Ohhhh.

Q. If I had a comeback, I would not dare, not dare say it. [Laughter]

The President. I assumed that since the cake came in, everything is off the record.

Q. Well, you're still on the air. [Laughter]

Q. You see these microphones, Mr. President?

Q. We won't tell—

Q. As far as we know, they're still on.

The President. I thought you were giving them to me. [Laughter]

Q. Do you have any observations on your birthday, Mr. President? I mean any thoughts about the future?

Q. It's a softball question. [Laughter]

The President. It's just the 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday. And I'm enjoying every one of them. And I think that it's fine when you consider the alternative. [Laughter]

Get everybody served back there.

Q. What would you like for your birthday, Mr. President?

The President. What would I like? [Laughter]

Q. You can tell us. We won't tell anybody. [Laughter]

Q. Would you like to go back to your ranch and enjoy life back there?

The President. That's what I'd like, is a trip to the ranch, really. If that's what you're asking—what would I like.

The First Lady. Now, now.

The President. No, I could like a lot of—I could wish for a lot of things. But I can't tell you what I wish for, because then it won't come true. Nancy told me it wouldn't. You've seen her about the cake.

Q. You want to talk about the Russians any? I mean.-

The President. I've got another speech to make, so you can have that.

Bye. Thank you very much.

The First Lady. What were you talking about up here?

Q. Any special thoughts about the next year, sir?

The President. Yes, I think it's going to be very much better. It's already started. And I have confirmation from Alice Rivlin [Director] over at CBO [Congressional Budget Office] on that this morning.

Q. This isn't bad cake.

The First Lady. Oh, course not.

Q. Thank you. Happy birthday.

The President. Say, it's delicious. Don't leave without it.

Note: The President spoke at 10:48 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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