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Remarks on Receiving the Report of the National White House Conference on Small Business

December 23, 1986

Thank you all very much. You make me think I ought to do an encore before I start. [Laughter] Well, before getting to the business at hand, I'd like to take a couple of minutes, if I could, and talk with you about Iran. You've probably heard some mention of that, I believe, lately. [Laughter] More than a month ago, when our initiative came to light, I shared with the American people why I'd made the decision to renew contact with Iran. And since we discovered the possible diversion of funds, I've worked to find out all the facts and make them known to the American people. I've met with congressional leaders, appointed a Special Review Board to look into NSC [National Security Council] staff procedures, urged the appointment of an Independent Counsel, asked Congress to have a coordinated inquiry and to grant limited immunity to key witnesses, in an effort to move quickly to learn the whole story. I've taken all of these steps to find out the facts and to fix what went wrong and to determine whether the law has been violated. And I really mean, when all of these indications that maybe I know more than I'm talking about—I'm trying to find out, too, what happened.

Until Admiral Poindexter and Colonel North make public disclosure of the facts, the American people will not know the full story of what happened in the Iran arms sales matter or the alleged diversion of funds to the contras. However, that doesn't mean that substantial portions of the facts as gathered thus far cannot be made known. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been holding hearings for 3 weeks. They've taken testimony under oath and have reviewed documents that were furnished by the National Security Council, the CIA, the Defense Department, and other executive branch departments and agencies. As the committee prepares a report of its findings and conclusions, I urge them to make that report available to me for declassification as promptly as possible. To be sure, that report will not have all the answers, but it will be the most complete statement available. And I call on the committee to release it so the American people can judge for themselves.

Government must go on, and I pledge to the American people that I will continue to do everything possible to get to the bottom of this matter. I also pledge that I'll continue to fight for a safer world, for more jobs, for a growing economy, and for all the other issues important to the American people. We can get to the bottom of the issue on Iran. We can continue to move ahead on the critical issues before us. The Congress can do the same. And in a spirit of cooperation and working together, we can achieve both.

Now with that said, let me just say that I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you again and to personally receive your report, the report of the White House Conference on Small Business. The last time we met in August 1 reminded you of my first small business venture—renting out a canoe for 35 cents an hour on the Rock River back in Dixon, Illinois, where I was lifeguarding. Contrary to what some of my young staffers may have thought when I said that, I want to clear the record now. I was not outfitting the Lewis and Clark expedition. [Laughter] It was, however, many years ago. Growing up in America in those days and watching the changes that have taken place—it's given me a perspective that has served me well these last few years. The changes, however, are perhaps not as significant as the constants—the things that have been part of the American character since long before I was on the scene. From the first days of our Republic, and perhaps before, a spirit of enterprise was apparent in our land. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young Frenchman who toured our young country 150 years ago, wrote about it. "America," he said, "is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement." He wrote, "No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and in his eyes what is not yet done is only what he has yet attempted to do." This daring, unabashed willingness to tackle new challenges, this can-do mentality from which innovation springs, has been at the heart of American progress.

More significant to our natural well-being than our treasure of natural resources or our vast expanses of land, today it is you and the small business men and women you represent who are the champions of enterprise on which our country truly depends. Today 47 percent of the private sector work force is employed by firms with less than 500 employees. In the past 8 years, small business has generated nearly Two-thirds of the net new jobs in our country. And it's in small companies where so much of the job training is done, taking in Two-thirds of the new entrants into the work force. You play and will continue to play a vital, indispensable role in our economy. If the United States is to remain competitive, to remain prosperous, to remain an economic leader among the nations, the ingenuity, efficiency, and creativity of small business and individual enterprise must be maximized. The competition we face in the world marketplace will not go away. The challenge is real, and it's not going to be met by schemes, gimmicks, or shortsighted protectionism. There's only one answer. It's about time we rolled up our sleeves and make up our mind that America, simply put, is going to beat the competition. Now, as I say, that depends so much on you and those others like you in the 15 million nonfarm small businesses throughout our country. Healthy, robust small business and keeping America out front are one and the same goal.

As I told you last August, an active Small Business Administration, a lean and mean SBA, will continue to play a role in our administration even in these times of budget restraint. Today it's my pleasure to announce that I intend to nominate as new Administrator for the Small Business Administration an individual who knows small business and knows the Nation's Capital. He's served in the United States Senate, and through his leadership, hard work, and human concern has earned the respect of everyone who knows him. I'm talking about Senator Jim Abdnor of South Dakota, and it will be an honor to have him aboard. Together, we're going to ensure that small business men and women have a strong voice in the Nation's Capital.

I know your report, which I received today, is aimed at doing just that. I look forward to using your report in working with Congress. I'd been told that high on the list of your concerns is the sad state of liability insurance—a festering problem that's crying out for action. The liability system is broken; it needs to be fixed. And I pledge in the upcoming 100th Congress I'll work with you and the Congress to fix it and remove this cloud that's smothering some of America's most productive and enterprising citizens. I look forward to reviewing your other recommendations and following through where possible. You can certainly count on our administration, for example, to fight and—if we stand together-beat back attempts to shackle and overregulate you, which I understand is also one of the items that you listed. One of the greatest strengths of our economic system lies in your ability to make decisions, your flexibility especially when it comes to contracts and conditions of employment.

No one should miss the meaning of what's happening in Europe—or maybe I should say what's not happening in Europe. There, government has so burdened business with restrictions, guidelines, and obligations that in recent years the job picture has remained stagnant—virtually no growth in the number of jobs in those, our trading partners. In the United States over 12 million jobs have been created just since the current recovery began. This, again, points to the fundamental truth that the best thing government can do for the people and for business is simply get its hands out of your pockets, get out of your way, and let you get on with doing what you do best.

You know, I don't remember whether I told you this in August or not. Sometimes government reminds me of the lady who ran a pretzel stand just outside an office building—and if I've told you this before, just forgive me. You know, life begins at 40, and so does the tendency to tell stories over and over again. [Laughter] Every day a fellow who was in that office building would stop by her stand, and he'd put a quarter in her plate. And he never took a pretzel. And every day, the same thing-he'd put the quarter on the plate, go into the building, and never take the pretzel. And then one day he put a quarter on the plate, and she grabbed him by the arm. He said, "You probably want to know why I've been putting 25 cents on your plate every day for the last year and have never taken a pretzel." And she said, "No, I just wanted to tell you pretzels are 35 cents now." [Laughter]

Seriously, though, keeping our economy growing and the number of jobs increasing continues to be a top priority of our administration. And I want each of you to know that your role in achieving this goal is not taken for granted, not by a long shot. I thank you for the part you're playing in keeping our economy healthy and expanding, and thanks also for your part in preparing this report. I've 2 years left in the job, and your effort will certainly help me set the priorities of what needs to be done. And now I think it's time to get the report.

Note: The President spoke at 11:52 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building to members of the Conference.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Receiving the Report of the National White House Conference on Small Business Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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