Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Citizens in Port Washington, Wisconsin

July 27, 1987

The President. Thank you, Governor Thompson, Senator Kasten, Lieutenant Governor McCallum, Congressman Sensenbrenner, Congressman Petri, Mayor Lampert, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen. I can't tell you how terrific it feels to get out of Washington and to be here with you. I grew up in a town with people like you, just across the border in Illinois.

And being here along the lake reminds me of the story—when you're my age, everything reminds you of a story— [laughter] —about a young man who was selling fish to the local restaurant, a fellow named Elmer. Well, no one could figure out how Elmer was able to catch so many fish. And they asked the sheriff if he would investigate. Well, he asked Elmer if he could go fishing with him. And early the next morning they rowed out to the middle of the lake. When they got there, Elmer reached into the tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, lit it, threw it into the water. Of course, there was an explosion, and the fish all came floating to the surface. And the sheriff looked at the young fellow and said, "Elmer, do you know you just committed a felony?" Elmer reached into the tackle box, pulled out another stick of dynamite, lit it, handed it to the sheriff, and said, "Did you come here to talk or fish?" [Laughter]

Well, when it comes to fishing, it's clear that Port Washington is where the action is. But unfortunately, I came to talk. One of the genuine pleasures of this job you've given me is being able to meet and talk with people like you all across this great land of ours. And you may not see it on the evening news, but let me tell you, today in America there is a spirit of confidence and enterprise, of can-do and let's go, as I have not seen in many years.

It's evident in these workers I met this morning up in Hartford and in the service club members I had lunch with in West Bend. From now on, if anyone tries to sell America short or tells me that Americans don't have the will to compete or the stamina to keep out in front, I'm going to tell them to come and see you, the people of Wisconsin.

Audience. Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

The President. America is number one, and we're going to stay that way. Let me add that nowhere is the energy and vitality I am talking about more evident today than among our young people. And God bless them, they're the best darn bunch of kids this country's ever had. I know we must have a few of them here from Port Washington High, from Homestead High, from Cedarburgh High, from Grafton High, and from Ozaukee High. [Applause] . I hope I didn't miss any. But what we've been doing in these last 6 1/2 years has been for them. It wasn't that long ago they were being told to lower their expectations. We were all being told that America's best days were behind her, that our problems were unsolvable.

It's no mere coincidence that this blanket of gloom and doom, this smothering pessimism, followed a great expansion of the Federal Government's power and authority. Our system of limited government, free enterprise, and individual freedom was bent out of shape. Federal spending and taxing were the order of the day. Our pockets were picked, and the coffers of State and local governments drained, as more and more of the country's Financial resources were funneled for the bureaucracy in Washington. As a matter of fact, not too many years ago, before all this government buildup began in Washington, two-thirds of the total tax dollar in this country went to local and State governments, and less than a third to the Federal.

In recent years, it's been two-thirds to the Federal Government and only one-third to local and State government, where the services that you need so much are provided. Our pockets were picked, and the coffers of State and local governments, as I say, drained, and more of the country's financial resources funneled to the bureaucracy in Washington. Unfortunately, not only did the country's problems not magically disappear, as we were promised, but we ended up with empty pockets, near runaway double-digit inflation, economic stagnation, and as the Governor told you, interest rates that were the highest that we've had since the Civil War.

Now, there are those who think you really don't care about these kinds of economic statistics. So, before I go any further, I'd like to know how you feel about a few things. Now, perhaps after each question, you can just shout back yes or no. Clear your throats, though, and let's let them hear you all the way to Washington.

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 lower taxes and balance the budget once and for all?

Audience. Yes! Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

The President. In other words, do you want America to keep on the path of more growth, jobs, and opportunity?

Audience. Yes!

The President. Well, you know, there's a lot left to do. And to borrow a phrase I heard recently, I reject a potted-plant Presidency. Together, in these last 6 1/2 years, we turned decline, inflation, and malaise into growth, stability, and pride. It wasn't government that did it; it was you, the people. And instead of putting more power and authority into the hands of bureaucrats and Federal officials in Washington, we chipped away at Federal regulations, eliminated much useless paperwork, and cut red tape. Our deregulation drive bolstered the efficiency and competitiveness of American industry and reduced the paperwork burden of government—Federal, State, and local-by—get this—we reduced the time spent on government-required paperwork by 600 million hours a year. Mayors Lampert, Miller, and Kirley can testify that the last thing America's towns and cities need is more Federal forms to fill out. Our philosophy since getting to Washington has been that the most effective thing the Government can do is get out of the way and let you, the most productive people in the world, do what you do best.

When I talk about productive people, I'm referring to individuals like John Stollenwerk and those of you who work with him. Just 11 weeks ago in a White House ceremony, I named John the number 2 Small Businessman of the Year. I'm also talking about the folks I met today at the plant in Hartford and all of you who work hard and take care of your families and love your country. You know how to run your lives and spend what you earn. You are citizens of the freest country in the world.

Audience. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

The President. Yes. And my theory has always been you should be telling the Government what to do, and not the other way around. You know, a President some years ago was talking about government and its power, and he said: "If the people don't know enough to run their own lives, where do we find a little select elite that cannot only run their lives themselves but the people's lives for them? And that's government?" Well, you can't find them.

That's not the way the advocates of big government, as I say, look at it. Far too often your property, your take-home pay, your profit from large or small investments, even the assets of your pension funds are spoken of in the corridors of power as if they are government resources, as if government officials are being generous by letting you keep as much as you do keep of what you earn. Well, they're wrong. In America, government is the servant, not the master, and we intend to keep it that way.

During the last decade, the Federal tax-take nearly tripled. Inflation pushed working people into higher and higher tax brackets, until many working Americans were paying at rates that had been formerly reserved for the more affluent. Well, in these last 6 1/2 years, we've tried to correct that situation.

Say, is there an echo in here? [referring to chanting by audience members]

As the Governor indicated, we've simplified the tax code, made it more equitable, and brought down rates. And we've done our best to keep the Federal Government's grasping hand out of our pockets.

Now I'd like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to two champions in the battle to protect your take-home pay, heroes in the cause of a strong and growing America: Senator Bob Kasten and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. And your Governor is out in front and doing that same thing. Bob's leadership on economic issues and those concerning environmental protection is something for which you can all take pride, and that goes for Jim, too. He's been a voice for fiscal responsibility and economic freedom, and he's also been working his heart out in the battle against drug abuse.

By the way—

Audience. Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!

The President. Well, you beat me to it. Before I left this morning, Nancy wanted me to ask you young people what's the answer to someone who offers you drugs, and you beat me to it.

Audience. No!

The President. Well, with Bob and Jim's solid support, we've protected your paychecks, put in place an economic program that by Thanksgiving will have given this country the longest period of peacetime growth in the postwar era. And this year, more Americans are working and a higher percentage of our work force is employed than ever before in our history. The unemployment rate continues to move in the right direction—down. I know in this area companies are humming with activity, and unemployment is below the national average.

While I am here, I'd like to commend Governor Thompson for his aggressive campaign to get the hard-core unemployed off welfare and into jobs. I happen to believe that, instead of dependency and handouts, we should be offering the less fortunate jobs and opportunity, and that's what they want. At the national level, the best thing we can do for those who want to improve their lot is to make sure that America has a strong, growing economy, and that's exactly what we've been doing.

Our greatest challenge now is to keep America on an upward track and to protect the gains that we've made. And what is needed is fundamental reform that sees to it that our economic freedom is every bit as protected as our political freedom. On July 3d, I unveiled a reform package—we call it the Economic Bill of Rights—aimed at doing just that: protecting our economic freedom against the abuses of excessive and overbearing government.

First, the Economic Bill of Rights would add to the Constitution an amendment that would require the Federal Government to do what every family in America has to do, and that is balance its budget. Now, there are those who say the easy way to bring down deficit spending is by raising your taxes.

Audience. No!

The President. But what they don't tell you is that these new taxes are to pay for more spending, which means that deficit spending might not come down at all. Those who are always calling for tax increases seem to think that you're undertaxed. If I might ask you one more question:

Are your taxes too low?

Audience. No!

The President. I agree, your taxes are not too low. And if Congress raises them, it could well knock the legs out from under our economy and drag us back down to the bad times that we had back in those seventies. Raising taxes should be serious business and should not be done without the support of a broad consensus of Americans. That's why the Economic Bill of Rights requires that more than a just majority vote of the Members of each House of Congress for the passage of any tax increase. The bottom line is tax increases should be as difficult for Congress to pass as they are painful for the people to pay. What's wrong with saying that 60 percent or maybe even two-thirds should be required to increase the taxes?

And as far as deficit spending, we don't have a deficit because you're not taxed enough; we have a deficit because the Federal Government spends too much. And to ensure that wasteful spending isn't maneuvered through the system by attaching it to needed legislation, we propose to give to the President a line-item veto, the tool that will permit him to cut the fat and keep the meat of legislation that comes to his desk. Forty-three Governors, including Governor Thompson, are armed with this taxpayers' protection device. The President of the United States should be no less equipped to protect your paycheck.

The Economic Bill of Rights would also require a truth-in-spending provision for every piece of legislation. If the bill is going to cost you, the taxpayers, it should state clearly how much it is going to cost and who's going to pay for it. Our program is aimed at protecting our heritage as free Americans. It is aimed at protecting what you earn, what you own, what you'll live on when you retire, and what you will pass on to your children.

The Economic Bill of Rights is about freedom, about limited government and unlimited opportunity. It represents all we've fought for and all that we need to continue to fight for. I'm going to work for this, not just for the remainder of this job but for the rest of my public life.

Audience. Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

The President. I was going to say I hope I can count on your support. You've told me I can already. Now, some of you may know that I announced the Economic Bill of Rights on July 3d, standing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. And as I spoke, I could see symbols of our precious freedoms. In the distance was the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. One building that can't be seen from the Jefferson Memorial, however, is the Capitol, where both Houses of Congress meet and do business. And that view is obstructed by government buildings. Well, by working together, and with our Economic Bill of Rights, we're going to make certain that Congress never loses sight of Jefferson, his ideals, and his vision for all Americans. He is the man that just shortly after the Constitution was ratified said it has one glaring omission: It does not have a clause preventing the Federal Government from borrowing. Well, together, we'll keep this the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Audience. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

The President. And I just want you to know that I believe that even more strongly than I always have, after being here with you here today.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. at Lower Lake Park. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Tommy Thompson, Senator Robert W Kasten, Jr., Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum, Representatives F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., and Thomas E. Petri, Mayor George O. Lampert of Port Washington, Mayor Michael R. Miller of West Bend, and Mayor Dean T. Kirley of Hartford. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Citizens in Port Washington, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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