Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Rotary Club Luncheon in West Bend, Wisconsin

July 27, 1987

Governor Thompson, Senator Kasten, Congressman Sensenbrenner, Mayor Miller, today feels like a homecoming to me. Traveling through the towns and the farmland here in Wisconsin reminds me of the town where I grew up, just across the border, down in Illinois. It reminds me of when I was a young man graduating from college. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and the Depression was on, but I was lucky enough to find opportunities—more than I ever dreamed of. And one of the things I'm most dedicated to doing as President is to ensure that for every young man and woman getting out of high school or college, starting a family, finding a job, America remains what it has always been: a land of unlimited opportunity.

You know, when I get to talking about opportunity, that reminds me of a story. But I'm a collector of stories that I can verify the Soviet people are telling among themselves, and it gives me an idea of how they regard their situation. And many of those stories have to do with the state of their economy and their dismay at the fruits of communism. Like, what are the four things wrong with Soviet agriculture? Spring, summer, winter, and fall. [Laughter] But the story I'm thinking of concerns a star Soviet athlete, a hammer thrower. He'd gone to the West and seen what it was like and then returned home. And in the first meet after he got back, he set a new world record. A journalist from a Soviet newspaper rushed up to him and asked, "Comrade, how did you manage to throw your hammer that far?" And he replied, "Give me a sickle, and I'll throw it even farther." [Laughter]

Earlier today in Hartford, and here in West Bend, and later, I'm sure, in Port Washington, I'm seeing what has made America a land of opportunity. It was in the faces of the workers I met a couple of hours ago at the Broan plant. It was in the faces of the people who lined the streets here in town as we drove through. It's here among you who give so much in service to your community—and I congratulate you on this effort that your president just spoke of. It's the pride and strength of a great and proud and free people; plain and simple, it's the American spirit.

Seven years ago, when I ran for this office, inflation was running wild, as you've been told, and interest rates, too. The economy was slowing to a crawl; paychecks were shrinking fast. And our leaders told us the roots of the problem: we Americans and something they called malaise. You remember that? Well, I didn't buy that, and neither did the American people. The problem was never the people; it was too much Federal regulation. Taxes that were too high, too much Federal spending—in short, too much big government and not enough freedom from it. That, and not our spirit, was the source of our troubles.

Changing that is why, today, inflation has slowed way down. And it's why families can buy more with their paychecks. And it's why, in communities like West Bend or like the city I was in 2 weeks ago, New Britain, Connecticut, and all around America, job opportunities are growing. Unemployment has fallen to the lowest unemployment that it's been in this decade. We've created more jobs in the last 4 years than Europe and Japan combined. And there have been more people at work this year than ever before in the history of the United States. Now, you could say, well, that's because the population totally keeps growing up. But wait a minute, I didn't know until a short time ago that the potential employment pool in the United States was considered to be everybody, male and female, from 16 years up, all the way. The highest percentage of that potential pool is employed today than has ever been employed in the history of the United States.

But, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here in the Midwest today because all that we've accomplished together, all we've done to lower tax rates and lift the suffocating blanket of excessive government off of the American dream—and you know the outstanding contributions of Senator Kasten and Congressman Sensenbrenner in doing what we've done, and you know what your Governor has set out as a program to do-well, all of this is under attack in Washington. I'm here to ask your help and the help of people all over the Midwest. I'm here because, in years to come, I would like it to be said that one of the legacies of my administration was opportunity for young Americans, not just this year or next year but into the next decade and into the next century.

If we're to do that, we've got to get control of the Federal budget. Now, you've heard leaders of Congress say that spending has been cut to the bone, that the only way to lower the deficit now is to raise taxes. They insist that everything in the budget now is essential. Well, let me tell you about some of the spending that they say is so essential. In one major city there's a mass transit system that the Federal Government is now paying to extend. So few people ride that system, or are likely to ride it after the extension is finished, that it would be cheaper for us to buy every rider a new car every 5 years for the next 50 years. I'd say it's the taxpayers who are really being taken for a ride on that one.

Another example: For national security reasons, the Government subsidizes through loan guarantees the cost of building ships for our merchant marine. But over the years, the meaning of the word "ship" has been stretched. And the meaning of that is last year the Government poured out $400 million in order to make good on defaulted offshore oil rigs constructed with Federal guarantees. This is what they call essential spending.

Now, I don't need to tell you good people about what's happening with farm spending. Farm aid is meant to help the family farmer, but the way it is now the Government gives little or nothing to most family farmers. The bulk of the money goes to the big, rich ones. Last year, for example, one cotton farmer got $12 million. Ten rice farms got more than $1 million each. All this is well known, so you'd think everyone would be making certain that whatever money goes to farmers in the future really does go to family farmers. But that's not the way we do things in Washington. Just last week the Senate passed a trade bill. In it was another agricultural subsidy for the rich: $365 million to big sugar interests. And two-thirds of that would go to two big corporations, each of which made millions last year. Yes, essential spending.

Now, anyone who tells you that we can't reduce the deficit without cutting defense and raising taxes is not telling you the truth. Last year we got the special interests out of the tax code; now it's time to get them out of the budget. And that's just what I mean to do. You know, this thing, defense—would it interest you to know that starting in 1981 and through about 1985 the Congress cut $125 billion out of defense spending, but in that same period, it added $250 billion to the budgets that I had submitted.

In a little while in Port Washington, I'll be talking about the economic freedoms that underpin our free enterprise system and about an Economic Bill of Rights, as the Congressman told you, to guarantee them. The Economic Bill of Rights includes something 85 percent of Americans want: a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It also gives the President something that 43 Governors, including your own, have: a line-item veto. You know, to me a line-item veto is just a way of applying to the Federal budget the simple common sense a family uses in the grocery store. When you buy apples in a store, you don't buy a big bag sight unseen. You look at each apple. Right now spending programs are sent to me by the barrelful. My choice is to take it or leave the barrel. A line-item veto would just mean that I could go through the barrel, pull out each bad apple, and ask the American people if they really want to buy that apple. If they do, Congress can override my veto. My guess is that, once the special interest spending is pulled out of the barrel, the American people will send it right into the trash.

The pundits in Washington say the Economic Bill of Rights doesn't stand a chance. They say it's dead on arrival and we can't beat them. But I've got news for them: The special interests don't run our country, the American people do. Looking at the way Washington spends money, you would think that you were watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" on TV. [Laughter] The special interests want to raise the American people's taxes to pay for their high times and holidays. Well, as long as I am President, those holidays are over. And any tax increase that reaches my desk will be headed on a different kind of vacation: a one-way cruise to nowhere on the SS Veto.

I've come to the Midwest today to ask you to join me in the battle against the special interests. I mentioned the trade bill earlier. This is one place where the special interests have had a field day. As it stands now, the trade bill is not just expensive but dangerous. It would put into law the most protectionist provisions since the Smoot-Hawley Act that started or at least deepened the Great Depression of the 1930's. It invites foreign retaliation and a trade war that would threaten every one of the up to 10 million American jobs—hundreds here in West Bend—that are tied to trade. Not only that, but the trade bill includes measures, like government-imposed restrictions on plant closings, that would make American companies less competitive in the world markets. As it stands now, the trade bill is a declaration of war on American jobs. If it gets to my desk without big changes, I'm going to do my duty as an elected official who represents one special interest: all of the American people. I'll have no choice but to veto it.

It's time for the folks back in Washington to fold away the circus tents, pack up the grandstands, and get down to the business of cutting Federal spending. I'm ready to work with Congress to do that, but I'm going to need your help. Two hundred years ago, our Founding Fathers gave us a government of, by, and for the people. They believed that the Constitution they drafted would be a new order for the ages, and they were right. The dream of America has been a shining beacon for all mankind ever since then. It's the light of freedom and the torch of democracy, and it's drawn millions to our shores from all over the world. We, the American people, hold that torch in our hands. We, and not any monarch or despot or special interest, will hand that torch to the next generation. We will determine whether the opportunities that we've known will be for our children, as well. And let's work together to make certain they will.

Now I've come to the end of my remarks, because I'm due, as you know, in another place to make another speech on pretty much the same subject. But I can't leave without telling you how fortunate you are that I'm going to have to cut it short. [Laughter] You know, there's a story of ancient Rome and the Christians there in the Colosseum. And they turned the lions loose on them, and the lions came roaring and charging. And one man stepped out from the little huddled group and spoke some quiet words, and the lions all lay down. Well, the crowd was furious. They couldn't understand what had happened, and Nero sent for this one man and said, "What did you say to them that made them act like that?" He says, "I just told them that after they ate there'd be speeches." [Laughter] Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:54 p.m. in the Old Settlers Room at the Old Washington Restaurant. In his opening remarks, he referred to Gov. Tommy Thompson, Senator Robert W. Kasten, Jr., Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., and Mayor Michael R. Miller. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Port Washington, WI.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Rotary Club Luncheon in West Bend, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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