Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks in Billings, Montana, at a Celebration 'Marking the Centennial of Billings and Yellowstone County

August 11, 1982

I thank you, Mayor Fox, Governor Schwinden, Congressman Marienee, the chairman of this great occasion, Russ Clark, and you ladies and gentlemen—and my goodness, do I thank you for a warm welcome.

The stage was on time today 1— [laughter] -and I'm very happy to be here in Billings for your centennial celebration. By the way, save the candles on the cake. I might be able to use them shortly. [Laughter] It doesn't take as long in Washington to be ready for that many. [Laughter]

1 The President had entered the arena riding on a stagecoach.

But I'm told that an Indian chief once said of Billings, "The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place: While you're in it, you fare well." I wish the chief had said that about Washington. [Laughter]

But I think I know why Billings has fared better than Washington. The people of Billings, Montana, have remained true to the values of their ancestors. You still admire independence, resourcefulness, and determination. You have the legacy of those ideals, and you have the history so colorful that your sunsets can't match it. Proud Indian peoples, explorers—Lewis and Clark—trappers, traders, miners, ranchers have all contributed to Montana, to Montana's rich past. And later came the homesteaders, who plowed the fields and, according to the Indians, left the sod "wrong side up."

But, of course, you can still feel the openness of the land, the expanse of the sky out here. This is a place, as one man put it, where a fellow has room "to swing his elbows and his mind." You know, this has influenced the Western character. John Steinbeck wrote that it's as if the "calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had gotten into the inhabitants."

I came here today not just to celebrate Billings' hundredth anniversary but to tell the people of Montana that I like what you stand for and, more important, what you won't stand for. You know who you are, and I wish I could bottle some of your confidence and send it to points east, especially a place I know along the Potomac.

In a way you are already sending some of that Montana confidence to Washington. You are sending it in the form of your Congressman, Ron Marienee. Ron has been very helpful to me during the consideration of our agricultural, defense, and economic policies. He's a darn good Congressman.

As I look around here at the flags and the bunting, the red, white, and blue, this is the same spirit that your mountain forefathers possessed—your Montana forefathers, I should say, but, then, "mountain" is all right, too. There was a pioneer named John Owen who always celebrated the Fourth of July with special relish. According to historian Clark Spence, "The Stars and Stripes were run up, a howitzer fired, a round of drinks poured for the hands, and on one occasion a colt was born that day, and was named Independence."

We're committed to preserving that freedom that John Owen loved to celebrate. And that means a strong America, secure and at peace. I don't need to tell the commonsense citizens of Montana about the importance of a prepared military. Just let me say that, with the help of the Congress, we're making solid headway in strengthening America's defenses.

Now, you know, when you do that, there are those that suggest that, somehow, this means you're warlike, that you can't wait to go to war. Well, there have been four wars in my lifetime. That's enough. And I don't know of any of those wars that we got into because we were too strong. Americans seek only to enjoy their freedom in peace, as we're doing here today.

Before I came out to Billings, I read through some of the recent letters that I've received, and, particularly, from citizens of this State, knowing that I was coming. They concern a number of global problems. But let me read to you what one woman who lives a few miles down Route 212 wrote. "Dear Mr. President, I recently had the great, good fortune to be blessed with twin sons. Every day they become so much more precious to me. Your word means so much. Please help make this world safe for my sons. Please, please help stop the bomb. Please work for nuclear disarmament and safety. As a father who loves his children, I know you want them to live, too. Please, Mr. President."

Well, I haven't had the chance to reach this concerned mother, so I won't reveal her name. But I want her to know I will work hard and unceasingly to protect her sons from nuclear war or any kind of war just as surely as I will work to ensure that her sons will grow up in freedom. Peace and freedom are our goals. And, at this very minute, we're proceeding in a number of areas to reduce nuclear risks. And just last week, the House adopted a bipartisan nuclear arms control resolution that strengthens our hand at the bargaining table. That Montana mother has my word we intend to make this world safe for her twins and for all our children.

There are other issues, as well, on the minds of Montanans. You know, in one of Montana's early settlements, there were two fellows who owned a general store. And one of them was a Spaniard, and the other one was a Frenchman. And neither one of them could understand the language of the other. Now, I don't know how they made out, but it, sort of, reminds you of Congress and me, doesn't it? [Laughter] Well, language barrier or no, using some Montana common sense, I'd like to explain to you what's been going on back there in Washington.

First the good news. Inflation, which not long ago was the number one economic concern of most Americans, has run at less than half the 1980 rate for the last 6 months, and we're going to keep it that way or less. What is more, individual Americans have the first comprehensive tax cut they've had in 20 years. And starting in 1985 their taxes will be indexed. And to some of you who might not know what that expression means, it means that they will be indexed to whatever the rate of inflation is so that when you get a cost-of-living pay raise, it doesn't push you up into a higher tax bracket. You stay in the bracket you're in.

Last quarter's rise in the gross national product is an encouraging sign. Our dollar is stronger than it's been in 10 years, and we've already saved $6 billion annually by eliminating unnecessary and useless regulations. And we've saved or avoided, believe it or not, over $11 billion in waste and fraud because of a task force that we have working on that that's found some pretty astonishing things going on with thousands of audits that they've made, hundreds and hundreds of indictments and convictions. They found one shop one place where the government was buying something—a brace—for $132, and they were being sold at the local hardware store for $4.

Now, in those areas I think most Montanans would say, "Not bad." Then we come to the deficits.

You know, the actress Clara Bow once said of that famous Montana movie star, Gary Cooper—she said, "When he puts his arms around me I feel like a horse." [Laughter] Well, for a conservative President like me to have to put his arms around a multibillion-dollar deficit, it's like holding your nose and embracing a pig. [Laughter] And believe me that budget deficit is as slippery as a greased pig.

We're looking into all kinds of ways to get that deficit down. I don't like giving the Federal Government one penny more than necessary, but I have endorsed the Senate tax bill now before the Congress, because it's essential to our economic recovery program. It's essential to saving next July's 10-percent tax cut and the indexing I mentioned of the tax rates that will follow. For all the commotion surrounding the bill, it will have very little if any effect on the majority of individual taxpayers.

Now some of my friends in the press continue to refer to the tax measure I've mentioned the one that's now in the conference committee—as the biggest single tax increase in history. It is nothing of the kind. It totals about $99 billion over the next 3 years—'83 through '85—but $31 billion of that isn't a new or added tax in any way. It is the collection of tax now legitimately owed by some citizens under our present laws and which they have not been paying.

Now, about half the total in the bill is correcting unintended tax advantages which have resulted from sloppiness in some legislation. One example is a technical flaw in a bill passed several years ago which resulted in some corporations getting a 60-percent tax reduction simply because of that technicality which had never been intended in the passing of the bill. It was totally uncalled for that they should continue to get that.

And finally we come to what is new taxes in the bill—less than $1 out of 5 in the 99 billion tax package is a new tax—17 to 18 billion dollars in all. Our tax cuts, with the 10-percent income tax cut that you will get next July, will save you over those same 3 years $406 [$402] 2 billion that will stay in your pockets and not go to Washington.

2 White House correction.

Now, this tax program is part of the entire budget process, and it was essential in getting support for further reductions in spending. In order to get $280 billion in reduced outlays over the next 3 years against those deficits, we had to agree to the added revenues of 99 billion. The ratio of reduced spending outlays to revenues is 3 to 1.

The bottom line is this: Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.

I believe this bill will help bring interest rates down. And interest rates, while still much, much too painful, have dropped already from 21 percent when we got to Washington last year to 15 percent today. Now, certainly, 15 per cent still hurts all kinds of people in all walks of life. But it's evident that interest rates can and are coming down. And if the Congress acts responsibly on the budget cuts, we expect the downtrend to continue.

Now, as you know, unemployment nationwide rose to 9.8 percent last month. And you don't know how much I wish I could stand up here today and say that the pain of the unemployed would be over by Labor Day, the day we honor the American working man and woman. How easy it would be to pour your tax money and money government would have to borrow into temporary make-work projects. But from past experiences, as we know, that's not the answer. That's the kind of quick fix that got us into the trouble we're in. It only makes the economic problems worse.

To the people of our land who are without jobs, let me speak directly. You are not forgotten. I understand your anguish. I saw it at firsthand in my own father's experience in the Great Depression. I know how important a job is to a person's self-confidence and self-image. The citizens who've been laid off from their jobs want results-not platitudes from politicians. And that's what we're working for. We're building the base for an economy that will provide solid, secure jobs and economic growth on which people can plan their lives and their futures.

Last week, on the anniversary of last year's tax-cut vote, there were the predictable partisan cries that the program that we put into effect last year had failed. Well, it's only been in operation 10 months, with a major part of the tax cut starting only last month and the other installment, as I've said, due next year. Now, we warned you in the beginning that there would be no instant miracles. If I could correct 40 years of fiscal irresponsibility in i year, I'd go back to show business as a magician. You know, that might be more fun pulling rabbits out of a hat than jackasses out of the way in Washington.

Economic recovery is long, hard work, t ut surely and slowly, we're going to make this economy great again. The question that I have for our critics is, what's their alternative? They've had a lot to say about our economic recovery program—without mentioning that inflation has been cut in half, real earnings are up for the first time in quite awhile, and the rate of increase in government spending is a little more than half what it was in 1980. So far they haven't said anything about what they would do differently. So, we can only assume they'd go back to the same old tax-and-borrow-and-spend policy that gave us a mjillion-dollar debt and deficits for 19 of the last 20 years, plus double-digit inflation and the highest interest rates in a hundred years. This country didn't become great by simply repeating our mistakes, but by recognizing and correcting them and moving ahead like the pioneers of Billings.

I began these remarks by speaking of the ideals that you hold dear. Well, let me close on that same theme. What we're trying to do in Washington is reawaken the government to the very values that you here in Billings represent—determination, responsibility, confidence, and common sense—the kind of common sense that says if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We are reintroducing the idea that progress is still an American word and that optimism is still an American trait. I believe if we cling to our hopes and dreams, I believe the future will flower just as it did for the founders of Billings, Montana.

I'm told that Montana was known to the Indians as the Land of Shining Mountains. Well, let us keep the mountains of Montana shining in hope and optimism. Let us keep the mountains of California and Tennessee and New Hampshire shining with the same confidence in the future, for if we can make the values of our people shine again, their glow will light America's path for generation after generation to come. And we can be, as one of those pilgrims said before landing on the Massachusetts shore all those hundreds of years ago, that what we could have here is a shining city on a hill.

Thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:49 a.m. inside the Metra Arena.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks in Billings, Montana, at a Celebration 'Marking the Centennial of Billings and Yellowstone County Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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