Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Fund-raising Dinner for Senator Charles H. Percy in Chicago, Illinois

January 19, 1983

I thank you all very much, and, Chuck, thank you for your very kind words. And reverend clergy, Governor Thompson and the Senators who are here, our Representative, you ladies and gentlemen, I see a lot of old friends around this hall tonight and, well, some new ones also. I thank you for proving once again that Thomas Wolfe was wrong, at least about this State. It is good to come home again, especially when home is Illinois.

I'm a little hard pressed here with some of the things that have already been said. I thought that I might be reduced to taking a cue from Ted Stevens when he told us the temperature in Fairbanks and I might just have to recite, "When out of the night, which was 50 below, and into the din and the glare there stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks"— [laughter] —"all dirty and loaded for bear." [Laughter]

But we're here tonight to honor another Illinois native in Washington, the chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee—if you haven't guessed that already—a proven leader for Illinois and our country, Charles Percy.

It's quite a testimony that so many people have come from so many places around the State and, I know from seeing some of you before dinner, from around the country to be here. I appreciate the support that Chuck Percy has given me, anti, of course, Chuck, there are so many other famous names here, you must feel a little like Tony Eason at the Shrine Bowl. [Laughter] It's an all-star performance.

And Governor Thompson is here. And I was going to inject a note of lightness at this moment and say, "Is it really true that they're referring to you as Landslide Jim?" But—well, I can't use that anymore. That's— [laughter] . But, seriously, the steady leadership of your Governor has meant solid progress and sure management for Illinois. And his reelection has ensured that record of achievement will continue.

And you all know how much I rely on Jack Block, your former State director of agriculture. I borrowed him so he could do the same fine job for the rest of the country that he did for Illinois. Things are not so good down on the farm these days, but Jack is in the forefront of our battle to bring back decent prices and lasting prosperity for the American farmer. And, thanks to him, we're making real progress.

I've also relied heavily on the leadership and counsel of your congressional delegation, on that of the Senate leadership. You know that many of them are here. And suffice it to say that when things are really tough, I try to imagine what it would be like if we didn't have a majority in the Senate. Then I break into a cold sweat. [Laughter] But working together with them and with a bipartisan coalition in both Houses, we're taking bold steps to turn America to a new path, guiding our government away from the excesses of yesterday, and helping our people find the hope and opportunity that awaits us tomorrow.

And Chuck Percy is essential to that effort. He brings a strong business background to the Senate and has fought throughout his years as a public servant to make the government more efficient and business-like. The combination of his background and his leadership position has produced a Senator who is at once a major American statesman and, as you've been told already tonight, an outstanding salesman for Illinois.

For example, Chuck has met with European Community Ambassadors about the upcoming U.S. trade negotiations, and he's waged his own campaign to increase European imports of Illinois farm products. He's met with Middle East leaders about the U.S. peace initiatives, and he promotes additional sales of Illinois-made products whenever he travels abroad. And you know he played a key role in winning international approval for the Chicago World's Fair in 1992. It is no wonder that Illinois is one of the top exporting States in the country.

The challenge to change the direction of America doesn't just confront those of us in public office, however. It's a task for our entire generation. We must restore the principles that made America great and apply them to a new era of growth and opportunity in the United States.

An essential element for growth, of course, is confidence in the future. Now, one of the most exciting moments of my term so far came just the other day when leaders of both parties finally quit kicking the biggest political football in the world around and agreed to a bipartisan, compromise solution to save our social security system. Maintenance of that system is a duty we must never shirk, though some politicians ignored it for too long. I actually, out on the mash-potato circuit and before I ever though I'd be doing anything like this, almost 30 years ago, was calling attention to the fact that even then social security was in an actuarial imbalance and beginning to amass a liability, an unfunded liability.

Now the warnings, I think, that so many have been sounding for so many years have finally been heeded. And if the Congress adopts legislation along the lines of the compromise that was proposed, I believe all Americans can rest assured that the pensions of our elderly, both now and in the future, will be secure.

It's a workable proposal. Yes, it involves necessary compromise. But above all, it's fair. We must now seek similar answers to other problems weighing on our economy and on our people.

A high priority must be to get a hammerlock on this monster known as the Federal budget. Deficits continue to loom in the future, clouding the confidence we must have for recovery. We must not allow gaping deficits to block the economic growth that alone can bring lasting recovery.

Soon I'll be announcing some specific proposals, after I've talked it over with a few of the gentlemen who are here tonight. But tonight, let me reiterate the priorities that we must adopt as a party and as a people—because I know in this room are representatives of both our major parties, and I think that's as it should be in this country of ours. It takes all of us together.

In a nation that's so deeply rooted in morality, so blessed with wealth, our Federal spending must address the human needs of our people. At the same time, we must always remember that the United States remains the principal hope of freedom and the foremost foe of tyranny in all the world. And if we're to continue to exist freely and at peace, we must meet our defense needs. Our budgets must be fair to all our people, and, finally, those budgets must move steadily toward the day when they're balanced. And I should add that I also have a personal dream, and that I will see the day we not only balance the budget but begin to make payments to reduce the national debt.

I've said we must solve our budget problems through bipartisan cooperation, but let me make my perspective crystal clear. I don't believe we ran up this trillion-dollar debt because government failed to tax enough. We have a trillion-dollar debt because government spent too much.

America is now coming through a painful period of adjustment and recovery. We're suffering the structural problems of an industrial society that's being transformed in many ways—one of them into more of a service and information society—as well as paying the price for years and years of big spending, big taxing, and overregulation in Washington.

Now, in the long run, economic growth will put our unemployed back to work, revive idle factories, and open new doors of opportunity. But in the short run, our people continue to hurt. So, we must take action.

Too many of our citizens are able to work, ready to work, and yet can't find jobs. The millions of unemployed now form a sea of unused minds, talents, and energy. We must not turn our backs on their pain, nor waste their mighty resource. We'll need the strength of every back and the power of every will to lift us to recovery, and we're not going to rest until every American who wants a job is able to find one.

In the short term, as you've been told, I have twice extended the unemployment benefits of workers whose insurance had run out. It's also evident that a gap is growing between the skills of the work force and the needs of business and industry. On any Sunday in any city, just turn and count the pages of help wanted ads and then look at the skills those jobs that are being advertised are requiring and realize that with all of our unemployment, there is a scarcity of skills. And if we're to find work for our people, we must ensure that they have the skills required. And that's why last October 1 signed the Job Training Partnership Act, which will train more than 1 million of our citizens every year in skills that local business, civic and municipal and labor leaders determine are the skills needed in their particular communities. I'll soon be announcing still more initiatives in this area.

I'm confident that together, as a united party and a united people, we will face and solve our difficulties, paving the way for a promising future. Just a glance at history reveals our deepest strength: Every challenge Americans met together we've conquered. We've achieved every purpose to which we've applied our collective will. There's been no obstacle too great, no task too demanding when the American people joined their hearts and minds in a united effort.

But let us remember that our quest must be for permanent solutions, not quick fixes. We must not saddle our children with the debts of their parents. We haven't worked and sacrificed so long just to launch another round of inflationary boom and bust. We'll not settle for less than a genuine reform in Washington and a lasting prosperity for all our people. With the continued help of leaders like Chuck Percy and the others who are assembled here tonight, and with the support of you, the American people, we can shape a future of growth and opportunity for ourselves and for our children.

You know, it is—yes, spending must be curtailed, but we have to face that the recession we're in, the eighth that we've known since World War II, and these unemployed-this cannot be solved and these people put back to work just by cutting spending—and certainly not by increasing taxes on an overtaxed people. There is only one way to make this solution, and that is that every decision we make is aimed at restoring the economy and getting the wheels of industry turning again in this country. And those are the only decisions we're going to approve.

We, the members of this pivotal generation , must remember the words of a wise philosopher who once said, "However memory brings back this moment to your minds, let it be able to say to you, 'That was a great moment. It was the beginning of a new era.'"

Let us each be able to say, "I responded to the call however I could. I studied, I loved, I labored unsparingly and hopefully to be worthy of my generation."

Yes, America's been sorely tried; but if we pull together, we can draw on a deep reservoir of courage and strength. We Americans have never been quitters, and we're not about to quit now. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, "We have plowed the furrow and planted the good seed. The hard beginning is over."

It was faith in God and in ourselves that made this country great; the greatest country on Earth, indeed. And together we'll make America great again, all of us together.
God bless you, and thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 8:47 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. He was introduced by Senator Percy.

Prior to his appearance at the dinner, the President attended a fund-raising reception for Senator Percy at the hotel. Following the dinner, he returned to Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Fund-raising Dinner for Senator Charles H. Percy in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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