Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Meeting with Participants in the American Business Conference

September 28, 1982

It's a pleasure for me to speak to you again. I say "again," because I did last year during your annual meeting. You've achieved a remarkable recognition for an organization established only 18 months ago. Those pessimists who think American business no longer has the energy and the creativity to lead this nation into the 21st century should be here today. And I don't know that I can add anything to what you have just said about this remarkable accomplishment.

Incidentally, just before I came over here, I was told that one of our major banks has just lowered its prime to 13.

You give proof that, with freedom and profit—the profit motive—America can still work miracles. Reflecting your vitality, the American Business Conference earned a reputation for its willingness to take tough stands for the good of America, even when those positions might hurt your enterprises in the short run.

And I'm deeply grateful for all the support that you have been to me and to our administration. In particular, I appreciate the leading role you played in mustering business support for the tax bill, even though I was dragged, kicking and screaming, myself, into supporting it. [Laughter] It was a difficult and, yet, an absolutely necessary fight.

Arthur Levitt and Jack Albertine,1 you both were there when it counted, as all of you have been during our struggle to get spending under control and to put our economy back on the right track. But if we're to find our way out of the economic thicket that we inherited, we have to keep economic progress as our highest priority. Now, I'm afraid we don't see that commitment from some on Capitol Hill. Some of them seem to be more inclined to exploit our problems than to pass the legislation needed to set things right. And by "exploiting," I mean that temptation to say, with an election coming up, it may be better for some if the news stays bad.

1 Mr. Levitt is chairman and founder and Mr. Albertine is president of the American Business Conference.

Well, I can think of nothing that would do more to reassure our people than if the Congress acted this week on several vital pieces of legislation before it recesses for the campaign. They could start with appropriation bills. They did pass the budget resolution, but then very many people in America don't realize that that actually isn't a binding or meaningful thing. That's supposed to be the overall spending, but then the committee starts sending in the appropriation bills for each particular program.

So far, the House and Senate have passed only 2 of 13 appropriations bills for the new fiscal year. And that fiscal year begins in just 3 days.

Secondly, the House leadership might also consider bringing to a vote the constitutional amendment which requires a balanced budget. Passage of that amendment, now bottled up in the House, would do more to convince the American people we mean business when it comes to controlling Federal spending than any other single measure.

The truth is—I've been on the phone-there are 203 signatures on a petition for the committee to discharge that. The polls reveal 80 percent of the people want it. I respect congressional procedures, but I also have to recognize when I think a committee arbitrarily is using those procedures to deny the will of the people and of their own members. It takes 218 names on that discharge petition, and I've been calling congressmen to persuade them to sign. And I have to tell you that some of the opposite party have told me they can't because of the pressure from their own leadership.

In a time of high unemployment, there's also no excuse for the delay in passing the Export Trading Company Act, which can create up to 640,000 jobs here at home.

And, finally, we owe it to the American people to pass and sign into law this week the job training bill, a measure that'll provide training for up to a million Americans a year.

Now, what is different in this and in some of the things that have been done in the past? Well, I can tell you one thing that's different. The past training bills—only about 20 percent out of the dollar went to actual training. In this particular bill, 70 percent is going to go to actual training.

The other night I heard a critic complaining, well, all we're doing is suggesting training for jobs that don't exist, this because of the unemployment. But how about every Sunday—I don't know whether you'd do this—in any city that you want to name-I've done it in Los Angeles, I've done it in New York, I've done it in Washington, other cities in the past when I've been out there—the Sunday paper, turn to the help wanted ads and just count the number of pages. I've counted as many as 65 pages of employers looking for people to fill jobs; and they're back the following week trying again.

We're not training for jobs that don't exist. I have spoken of this before and was criticized for doing it, as if it showed no compassion for the unemployed. There's no one in the world who has more compassion for the unemployed than I do. I was looking for a job in 1932; I'd seen my father lose his on Christmas Eve. What I'm talking about is the percentage of people, particularly young people—and they have the highest rate of unemployment in America—that need to be trained because those jobs that are being advertised for in the paper require certain job experiences or skills.

We could make a dent in that unemployment with that. And this bill, again, as I say, we're waiting for that bill to be passed and sent to me for signature. But we've come, I think, a long way. The economy's poised for recovery, but the country needs leadership and responsible action from the Congress. All of us in Washington must prove that there's been a change in these last 2 years, that we can control spending and taxes, and that the people making decisions are capable of thinking of the next generation as well as the next election.

You know, what we're trying to do, they give it names and they start calling it some kind of a new thought or a new program and, in fact, the first complaints that it had failed began before it had been put into effect. But, actually, what we're talking about is the same common sense that you have to use every day in business; and that's why you're successful.

And the alternatives that are being offered are not new either. What is being offered is a return, a return to those 7 years when we spent $66 billion on job programs. And yet in those same 7 years unemployment continued to grow, and averaged over the 7 years, 7 percent or better. They're going back to flooding the market with money, and that that will be the answer-and it will for a short period of time. And then in about 2 years you will have another recession worse than the one you have just got through fixing with inflation higher and unemployment higher.

Actually, what we're talking about is building a solid base for the economy as the method of providing the jobs the unemployed need, and providing them on a more or less permanent basis instead of just a quick flurry that does no real good but leaves us closer to the brink of disaster than we were before.

I'm confident that with responsible leadership in Washington and men of vision like yourselves in the private sector, we can make America great again. And I won't go on, but I could point to comparisons that I've been drawing up of other democracies, allies, friends of ours like our own, who are continuing down that road of intervention in business—an adversary relationship with their own business community—the temporary stimulating with a money flood, higher taxes; and the comparison that I'm drawing is two sets of figures. Their unemployment is greater than ours, their inflation is greater than ours, and you are absolutely right-it is going to be under 6 percent because for the 8 months right now since last January, inflation in this country is running 5.1 percent. And we think we can even take it down maybe a little lower than that. In 1976 it was 4.8, and then we saw all of those things that the critics are talking about put into effect. And by the time we got here it was 12.4. So, something must be going right.

But again, God bless you for all that you're doing. Stay with it. And I just think that one of the greatest things we can do for the American economy is if we can get the government off your backs so that business can do what business is intended to do and has always done in the past for this country up until these last few decades.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:21 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Meeting with Participants in the American Business Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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