Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Citizens in New Britain, Connecticut

July 08, 1987

The President. Thank you. Thank you all. And a special thanks for that great music to the 102d Army National Guard band. You know, seeing the band, I can't help saying that one of the great things about being President is visiting our young men and women in uniform around the world. They're keeping the peace, protecting freedom, and in the last few years they've even freed one small nation, Grenada, from Communist oppression. They're the best, and we're darn proud of them. And let me also say thanks to your Mayor, William McNamara, to Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, and to one of Congress' best—you're lucky to have her—Nancy Johnson.

Now, in times past, I've had a few words to say about some of the folks in Congress-just a few of them. But let me say at the start, I'm not talking about people like Nancy Johnson. There's a story about the kind of lawmaker I'm talking about—just the opposite of Nancy. As you may have heard, I love to tell stories. This Congressman's wife was sitting outside his office one day when someone from home went in, wanted the Congressman to vote for a certain bill and gave his reasons. The Congressman sat back, listened, and when the fellow was done, he said to him, "You're right. You're right. You're absolutely right." And the fellow left happy. A few minutes later, someone else from back home went in to talk about the same bill, but wanted to vote against it. And again, the Congressman listened, and then when the fellow was done, he leaned back and said, "You're right. You're right. You're absolutely right." So when the fellow left, the Congressman's wife went in, and she said, "That first man wanted you to vote for the bill, and you said he was right. And the second wanted you to vote against it, and you said he was right." The Congressman leaned back and said, "You're right. You're right. You're absolutely right." [Laughter]

Well, Nancy's not like that. You know where she stands. And not long ago I said I was going to go around the country talking about an economic bill of rights, because we in America have come to a time for choosing what kind of a future we'll have. Somebody asked why, of all the cities in the country, I'm starting here in New Britain. Well, it's just that New Britain is the place to be. And when it comes to hard work, to a spirit of enterprise, and to patriotism and love of freedom, to the strength that comes from faith and family, when it comes to the depth of character that builds a family, a community, and our nation, you can't be in any better place than right here in New Britain.

For the last 7 years, New Britain's story has been America's story. You remember 7 years ago. Inflation was sprinting so fast that just about every time you shopped for groceries or stopped for gas, prices had gone up. And whenever the family made a little extra to keep up with the rising cost of living, Washington took extra in taxes, and you ended up with less. Mortgage rates had climbed so high that young couples had to forget the American dream of owning their own homes. Between high taxes and high interest rates, it was becoming harder to pursue that other dream so many Americans have—the dream of starting your own business. Jobs here were becoming more and more scarce, and what with inflation and a stagnating economy, it was hard to think of anyone who could keep up.

Well, we, the American people, made a choice back in 1980. We decided not to continue the policies of government growing bigger and bigger without end. We decided that high taxes and government that had gotten too big were the source of our economic mess. We decided to teach Washington a simple lesson: that government must work for America and not the other way around. So, joining together, we cut tax rates—twice. We cut job-strangling regulations. We cut the growth of government spending. And we said the secret to restoring America's greatness was where that greatness had come from in the first place: in the churches and synagogues, in the neighborhoods, in the homes, and in the dreams of every American. It's not government, it's the American people who have made America great.

By the way, one of the things I like about New Britain is that you've gone ahead with things Washington still hasn't got the hang of—like enterprise zones. When Congress blocked our enterprise zones proposal, Connecticut and New Britain got started on their own. And we're standing in the enterprise zone right now. Today, between 5 and 10 percent of all the jobs in New Britain are here thanks in part to the enterprise zone. I think Congress could learn a thing or two from New Britain.

But you know the results of what we have been able to do. Inflation and interest rates are down; growth is up. Families can buy more with what they earn. Across America and here in New Britain, entrepreneurs are starting new businesses and creating new jobs in record numbers, while major, established companies like Stanley Works now beat foreign competition at home and are expanding exports as well. New homes are springing up like daisies. By Thanksgiving, our economic expansion in American history—well, it'll be the longest economic peacetime expansion in that American history. Because of it, the unemployment figures out last week were the best in this decade. You can walk through neighborhoods all over America and find that more people have held jobs this year than ever before in our history.

Yes, a bigger proportion of Americans have been at work this year than ever before in the history of the United States of America, and I'm determined to keep it that way. I had to learn—I don't know whether you know that the potential employment pool of America is considered to be everybody, male and female, above the age of 16. And today over 61 percent of that total group have jobs.

Now before I go any further, I'd like to ask you a few questions. I'd like to know how you feel about this, so after each question, why, you just shout back yes or no, and make it so loud they can hear you all the way to Washington. [Laughter] Do you want to go back to the days of inflation and stagnation?

Audience. No!

The President. Do you want to go back to the old formula of more taxing and more spending?

Audience. No!

The President. Or do you want to keep taxes low and balance the budget once and for all?

Audience. Yes!

The President. In other words, do you want to go on to a future of more growth, more jobs, and more opportunity?

Audience. Yes!

The President. You know, I sort of thought those might be your answers. Well, that's why I'm here today. In my TV address 3 weeks ago, I told you we've come to breakpoint, a time for choosing. And that's why last week I proposed an Economic Bill of Rights to protect economic growth and opportunity for you, your family, and all the American people.

Now this choice is not about ideology, not about left or right, but about backward or forward—back to the nightmare of inflation, stagnation, higher taxes, and unrestrained government spending, or forward on the road that has brought so much bright hope and opportunity to America these last 41/2 years.

Like the first Bill of Rights almost 200 years ago, the Economic Bill of Rights is built on our belief that America means freedom. Our political freedoms—press, speech, worship—are all guaranteed in our first Bill of Rights, which also protects some, though not all, economic freedoms. As people in Communist countries around the world have found, political freedom and economic freedom go hand in hand. Lose economic freedom, and soon we'll lose political freedom, too. And when economic freedoms fade, so do opportunity, prosperity, and hope.

The Economic Bill of Rights will guarantee four basic economic freedoms. First, the freedom to work: to work in the way you choose and where you choose. Recently a scholar of our country, who happens to speak fluent Russian, was going on a visit to Russia. He was in a cab going to the airport—this is a true story—and the cab driver was quite young. And in a conversation with him that developed, he was still going to school, cab driving on the side, and so the scholar said to him, "Well, what do you want to do when you finish your education?" And the young fellow said, "I haven't decided yet." Well, by coincidence, when he got off the plane in Moscow and got in a cab, he had another young fellow driving. Being able to speak Russian, he asked him what he was going to do, and the young fellow said, "They haven't told me yet." [Laughter] There's the difference in what we're talking about between two systems. As people in Communist countries said, they found that political freedom and economic freedom go hand in hand. Lose one, and you'll lose the other. And when economic freedoms fade, so do opportunity, prosperity, and hope.

The Economic Bill of Rights will guarantee four basic economic freedoms. As I said, the freedom to work where you choose. Second, the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your labor: what Americans make by honest effort, whether profits from a business or the money in a paycheck, government should not take away. And then the freedom to own and control property: to trade or exchange it and not to have it taken through threat or coercion. And finally, the freedom to participate in a free market: to contract freely for goods and services, and to achieve one's full potential without government limits on opportunity, economic independence, and growth.

Just as our political freedoms need protection by and from the Government, our economic freedoms need the same recognition and protection. And this is not a distant or abstract matter. Your right to these freedoms is at the heart of the battles over taxes and government spending that are going on right now in Washington. The big spenders think they're in the driver's seat again in Washington. After our years of progress, they want to shift America into reverse. Well, I believe it's time, once and for all, to show them that, in the United States of America, it's the American people who are really at the wheel, and that's what the Economic Bill of Rights is all about.

The field of battle is the Federal deficit. And let me clear something up. You've heard leaders on Capitol Hill shout and point fingers and say that I'm responsible for the big deficits. They're the same ones who, year after year, have shouted dead on arrival when I've sent up budgets that cut the excessive spending they love. I haven't been given a budget since I came to Washington as President. Then they've said that defense spending is the only place cuts are possible. So in the 3 years before Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, they cut billions from our defense requests and then turned around and added more than three times as much as they had cut from defense to the domestic spending.


[At this point, the President was interrupted by hecklers in the audience.]

Is there an echo in here?

Anyone who tells you that we can't reduce the deficit without raising taxes and cutting defense is not telling you the truth. Last year, with tax reform, we got the special interests out of the tax code. Now it's time to get them out of the budget. And that's just what I mean to do. You know, when I talk like this it gets some up on Capitol Hill hot under the collar. The way they put it—forgive me with the children present, but they say that I'm giving them hell. Well, didn't Harry Truman speak from these steps 35 years ago? And isn't he the one who said, "I didn't give them hell. I just told them the truth, and they thought it was hell."

As part of protecting our economic freedoms, we, the American people, have a right to the truth about Federal spending. The Economic Bill of Rights will guarantee us that right. The Economic Bill of Rights will put into our system of checks and balances a tool for focusing a spotlight on spending that we, the American people, might think is wrong. It gives the President something that 43 Governors have: the ability to veto spending, project by project, to force bad spending out of hiding to where Congress has to vote on it in the open, where you can see what's going on. I'm talking about a line-item veto.

The Economic Bill of Rights will also say that if the Federal Government wants to spend more on new programs, it must find the money to pay for it—not borrow it. And to make sure nobody cheats, it will include a provision that 44 States have in their constitutions and that 85 percent of the American people want. It's long overdue—a balanced budget amendment in our Constitution. And to make sure that Congress doesn't use a balanced budget amendment as an excuse for raising taxes, the Economic Bill of Rights will say that if taxes are raised, more than a bare majority of the Congress will have to do it. It should take more than 50 percent plus one of the Congress to impose an increase in your taxes. What's wrong with saying 60 percent or even twothirds must agree to increase taxes? Raising taxes must never again be the easy way out. In the last 6 years, as I've told you, we've cut tax rates twice. Let's be sure that taxes stay cut. And this is what the Economic Bill of Rights is all about.

Now, some in Washington say the chances of enacting it are zero. But when it comes to amending the Constitution, the States don't have to wait for Congress to act. And if necessary, I'll go to the States and ask their help. The American people want a balanced budget amendment, and the American people deserve a balanced budget amendment. And I am determined that the American people will get a balanced budget amendment.

Now, you may have heard of some people, maybe even some that are present, talk about a certain lameduck and the end of an era. Well, all that lameduck is for the birds. [Laughter] The era we've begun won't end any time soon, because it's not my era, it's yours, the era of the American people. You did this. And in America, when you, the people, put your foot down, you're the boss. You'll make the Economic Bill of Rights part of America's heritage.

For two centuries men and women have escaped oppression, crossed the continents, crossed the oceans to find their way to this land of freedom and opportunity. And many of them settled, at last, in this city. We're all custodians, guardians of the freedoms they found—the freedoms that our nation's Founders passed down to us. This year, in this 200th-year anniversary of our Constitution, let us, like those Founders, make a gift of freedom's guarantee to the generations that will follow us. We'll be guaranteeing America's opportunities and strength, as well. We can do this because we are a free people—because we are Americans. Let us start here and start now. Let us dedicate ourselves to the task ahead, to give our children, ourselves, and the generations to come an Economic Bill of Rights.

Thank you all, and God bless you all. Well, almost all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:13 p.m. at the city hall.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Citizens in New Britain, Connecticut Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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