Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Civic and Community Leaders in North Platte, Nebraska

August 13, 1987

The President. Well, thank you, Virginia, and thank you all very much. Governor Orr, Senator Karnes, Representatives Smith and Daub, and Ambassador Yeutter and the Long family—our host here—and ladies and gentlemen, it's great to be in North Platte. And it's great for this old horse cavalryman to be in a place with the smell of hay and horses. [Laughter]

Speaking of horses reminds me of a story. When you're my age, everything reminds you of a story. [Laughter] Seems that this fellow was a great racing fan and was planning to go to the races on the weekend. And then for 3 nights straight, he dreamed of the number five. So, when he got to the track, he took that program, and he went right to the fifth race and looked down to the fifth horse, and there it was, and the horse was named "5 by 5." So, he saved his bundle till that race, and he bet it all on that race. And sure enough, the horse came in Fifth. [Laughter] But that story has a moral: It's that those people who think that the race is over and are counting out this administration better hold onto their bets, because we're going into the home stretch, and they better believe we'll make a fast finish.

There are many items on our agenda, but there are a few that are especially important ones that I'd like to talk to you about today. First, I want to talk to you about how we lock in the gains that we've made these last 6 1/2 years and how we make sure we never return to the days of high taxes and stagflation.

The good news about our economy today is impressive. What the Europeans have called the American miracle—it keeps on keeping on. Well, nearly 13,500,000 jobs have been created since the expansion began, and that averages out to 240,000 new jobs in this country a month. Unemployment is down to 5.9 percent, the lowest since 1979. And I understand Nebraska's doing even better than that. Employment-the percentage of all Americans over the age of 16—is the highest in U.S. history. Perhaps you didn't know—I didn't for a long time—that the employment pool on which they base the statistics is considered to be everyone in the United States, male and female, from the age 16 up. And that's the potential employment pool. Well, today 62 percent of all the Americans in that pool are employed, the highest, as I say, in U.S. history. Poverty's falling, median family income is up, and almost 11 percent that-it's up between 1982 and 1986.

The gross national product numbers for the last 3 years have just been revised upward, showing that our economic expansion has been even stronger than we previously thought. But what about the future? The stock market just this week broke another record, and the leading economic indicators are rising, forecasting growth and good times ahead.

Well, that's good news, certainly. And now for the bad. Unfortunately, there's one economic indicator that couldn't be worse. It's so bad, in fact, it threatens to undo all our economic progress and plunge America back into the malaise days of the 1970's. I'm talking about those in Washington who don't want to discipline themselves. And with present company excepted, Congress wants to spend first and pay later by increasing everyone's taxes.

Now, I have this hunch that most Americans don't agree with all those people who think your taxes are too low; in fact, maybe they think just the opposite. I don't know about you, but I thought all this tax hike business was settled in the election of 1984. The American people sent a message loud and clear, but I guess Washington just doesn't hear. And that's why we have to send another message—one that can't be ignored. And that's why I've promised to spend not just the remainder of my Presidency but the rest of my public life campaigning for an Economic Bill of Rights that will once and for all secure our economic freedoms.

Once and for all, we want a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. And once and for all, we want a line-item veto, just like your Governor, Kay Orr, and most Governors have, so that we can cut the fat off budget appropriations. And once and for all, we want a truth-in-spending provision, so that anyone who proposes a new program or new spending bills tells the American people exactly how it's going to be paid for. If it's coming out of your pockets, you have a right to know. Once and for all, we're going to require more than a mere majority to pass a tax hike. I don't see anything wrong with having to take either a 60 percent or a two-thirds vote in order to raise your taxes. And we're going to make it darn near impossible, if we can, to raise your taxes.

When I signed our tax reform into law, I said that the past two decades have witnessed an expansion of many of our civil rights but that our economic liberties have been too often neglected, even abused. Well, it's time that abuse stopped. And that's what this Economic Bill of Rights is designed to do—to give our economic rights the same guarantees, the same constitutional protections as our other civil rights. This country was built free and strong not only because individuals were free to speak their minds but also because they were free to prosper. For too long, we forgot that. Let's never let government again take away our freedom to prosper.

Now, I know I read in the paper that there are some advertisements that have started appearing and are going to appear after I leave here and that are going to tell you that who am I to talk about things like this, because I'm responsible for the deficit. Well, could I give you just a little lesson in civics and politics? The President can't spend a nickel; only Congress can appropriate money to be spent. And there are some things I think you should know. The President is required to submit a budget every year. I have never had one of my budgets approved by Congress since I've been there. And if they had passed the budget I first proposed for 1982, the cumulative deficits from there through 1986 would have been $207 billion less than they were.

As a matter of fact, the Congress has been very good about cutting some spending. In our efforts to try and refurbish the military, which was so bad that when I became President, on any given day, 50 percent of our military aircraft could not take off for lack of spare parts or fuel; 50 percent of our Navy couldn't leave port for lack of crew or spare parts—so, we set out to refurbish the military and give ourselves some strength. Well, more about that maybe later. But this is the one place that in the years that I have submitted the military budgets, through 1986 the Congress has cut the budgets that I presented for the military by $125 billion. Now, you'd think that that shows that they really are trying to save some money. They added $250 billion to the cost of the domestic programs that I had asked for. So, it didn't exactly come out as a savings. It's just where they were going to spend the money.

There's another cloud on the economic horizon. It's the protectionists who tell us that the way to bring down the trade deficit is to raise barriers of our own. Well, they now have their hands on versions of the trade bill which so distort the procompetitive legislation which I asked for in the State of the Union Message as to be virtually unrecognizable and dangerous—dangerous because it threatens to tear down all the good work we've done to open foreign markets to U.S. goods and farm produce and will seriously set back progress in the new GATT round of trade negotiations. Believe me, I would like to sign sound trade legislation, but I will not sign bills that close down markets and shut off expanded job opportunities here in our own country.

On the subject of economic good news, let me just say, too, that it's the best news possible, that the picture's beginning to brighten for agriculture here in America's heartland. Land values have stabilized, crop prices are firming, and export markets are expanding. Now, that doesn't mean the road ahead will be easy, but it does mean that we're on the right road, traveling in the right direction.

And while I'm here in Nebraska, I want to thank one person especially. As a member of the National Advisory Council on Rural Development, her advice to both me and Secretary [of Agriculture] Lyng has been absolutely essential. And I'm talking about your great Governor, Kay Orr.

It's clear now that it was right to reject the false solutions offered by some in Congress that would have gotten government even more involved in farm policies, priced our farm commodities out of world markets, and driven thousands of small agriculture suppliers out of business. But we're not stopping here; we're pushing more aggressively than ever to open foreign markets to American farmers. And recently we set forth a bold new initiative that could revolutionize American agriculture and that of the entire free world, the most ambitious proposal for world agricultural reform ever offered. We're calling for a total phaseout of all policies that distort trade in agriculture by the end of the century. Over a 10-year period, we want to see all of our major trading partners opening the borders, tearing down barriers, and ending the export subsidies for agricultural goods. If we're successful, agriculture throughout the Western World will be set free from political controls and interference. I happen to believe that when it comes to farming the decisionmaking shouldn't be in the hands of the politicians, academics, and bureaucrats; it should be in the hands of the farmers.

Now, in the month ahead, I also hope—or in the months ahead—an agreement can be reached with the Soviet Union on reducing nuclear arms. We're making real progress on the global elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons—the land-based intermediate-range, or INF, missiles of both longer and shorter range. We've come this far because you gave me a mandate, as I said earlier, to rebuild our military strength. And today we're seeing the results of that resolve. I'm optimistic that soon we'll witness a first in world history—a U.S.-Soviet agreement bringing about the actual destruction of nuclear weapons. And just think where that could lead.

Now, before I go, there's one more issue I'd like to talk to you about today. No other issue could be more pressing. I'm talking about the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. [Applause] Bless you, and thank you. He's a jurist of outstanding intellect and unrivaled qualifications, a brilliant legal scholar, and a premier constitutional authority. For 15 years, he served as a distinguished professor of law at Yale Law School. When I appointed Judge Bork to the second highest court of the land, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the American Bar Association gave him its highest rating: "exceptionally well-qualified." Not a single Senator voted against his nomination; he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Judge Bork's record as an appellate judge could hardly be more impressive. Not a single one of his more than 100 majority opinions has ever been reversed by the Supreme Court. In 94 percent of the cases he's heard, he has been in the majority with his fellow judges of the District of Columbia Circuit. The New York Times has called him "a legal scholar of distinction and principle." I don't think any unbiased observer could disagree with that. Fortunately, most Americans, and virtually all of the Senators who will vote on Judge Bork's confirmation, have made it clear they recognize the need to focus on qualifications and to act quickly to give us once again a nine-member Supreme Court.

You know, when he retired, Justice Powell said that it wasn't fair to the Supreme Court, or to the parties with cases before it, for the Court to operate at less than full strength. Well, since last June, that's just what's happened. The approval process for Judge Bork's nomination is already the longest in 25 years. During this hot Washington summer, law clerks for the remaining eight justices are poring over hundreds of petitions for Supreme Court review. Although their work has increased to near breakpoint, the Court is now operating shorthanded. Of course, the delays and the added burdens that have already occurred can't be undone, but what can be done is completing the confirmation process well before the Supreme Court begins its October term. The American people want to see a full complement of nine judges on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes.

Now, let me say just one final word on this subject. Judge Bork is a fine man, a very fair man, and a model of judicial temperament. He's a credit to the bench and to the bar—and I mean the legal bar. [Laughter] And I know that he will be a credit to his nation in his service on the Supreme Court.

Well, I'll be going soon to the rodeo grounds for the rally, and you can bet I'll have more to say there, and on the same subjects. But in the meantime, I want to thank all of you very much.

And I just can't resist without just passing on a little story again to you. I have a new hobby. I have been accumulating stories that are told by the citizens of the Soviet Union among themselves, which reveal, number one, that they have a great sense of humor, but number two, that they've got a pretty cynical viewpoint of their system. Now, I don't know whether you know this, but in the Soviet Union, a citizen wants to buy an automobile, the waiting time is 10 years. But he has to go and go through all the process and the departments and sign the papers and everything and then put down the money for a car that he's not going to get for 10 years. And the story that they're telling about this is the fellow that went through all of this and finally made the final signature, put down the money, and then the man behind the counter said, "Now, come back in 10 years and get your car." And he said, "Morning or afternoon?" [Laughter] And the man behind the counter said, "Well, what difference does it make 10 years from now? .... Well," he said, "the plumber's coming in the morning." [Laughter]

Well, thank you all very much. God bless you all.

Mr. Long. From myself and the Long family and the State of Nebraska.

The President. Thank you very much.

Mr. Long. This kind of represents our part of the country.

The President. It sure does. And that's the man who performed where I'm going. Oh, thank you. Oh. I had the pleasure of seeing some of Mr. Long's artistic work in the log cabin here just before we came out to lunch, and I can't tell you how honored I am and how very grateful I am to have this magnificent bronze. And I'm on my way to the ranch in California, and there it will be.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. following a luncheon at the Ted Long ranch. In his opening remarks, he referred to Gov. Kay Orr, Senator David K. Karnes, Representatives Virginia Smith and Hal Daub, and United States Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter. Ted Long gave the President a bronze sculpture of Buffalo Bill Cody.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Civic and Community Leaders in North Platte, Nebraska Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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