Remarks in San Antonio at the Signing of the Medicare Extension Bill
Congressman Gonzalez, Your Excellency Archbishop Lucey, Mr. Mayor, Judge, other public Officials, ladies and gentlemen:
First, I want to explain that the reason Henry took so much time was because I asked him to. Henry said that he had a little statement of about 2 1/2 minutes, and I told Henry this was my day off, this was Good Friday, that I had come to San Antonio at my own invitation. Nobody had asked me to come here. I came because I wanted to. I wanted to because I get a great deal of pleasure out of returning to the scenes of my childhood--as you can observe by my frequent visits back to the Pedernales.
And then there are other reasons, too. I wanted to see Archbishop Lucey, and I wanted to be with him today as he has been with me for almost 30 years now.
I remember what my father said to me about public service when I was a little boy walking around, following him barefooted and standing there in the hot sand of Blanco County, and squeezing the dirt up between my toes. He used to say to me, "Son, if you are to speak for people, you must know them, and if you are to represent people, you must love them."
Now sometimes among our more sophisticated, self-styled intellectuals--I say self-styled advisedly; the real intellectual I am not sure would ever feel this way--some of them are more concerned with appearance than they are with achievement. They are more concerned with style than they are with mortar, brick, and concrete. They are more concerned with the trivia and the superficial than they are with the things that have really built America.
I received a good deal of my political philosophy right here in San Antonio. Before I was born, my father was writing the bill--my grandfather wrote it because my father asked him to, as he wasn't a lawyer-my father was introducing a bill and speaking for the bill that saved the Alamo. It was being torn down and a hotel would have replaced the Alamo. And he got a good lady to put up enough money long enough to hold the structure until the legislature could pass a bill to preserve the Alamo. That was in 1905. I was born in 1908, I believe.
Thirty-five years ago I took my first train trip out of Texas and it originated here in San Antonio. I went to Washington from San Antonio as an employee of the people of San Antonio, in this district--the first time I had ever crossed the boundary of this State in a train.
It took me 3 days to get there, and I had a chance to do some heavy thinking en route. Hitler was on the march. We were in the depths of the depression. We knew nothing about old age assistance or Medicare or social security. People were starving. Farms were being foreclosed. The hungry and the unemployed lined our streets. And most of our political leaders seemed to be oblivious to what was happening.
I remember the first slum clearance housing bill that President Roosevelt signed. I was one of two Congressmen at that signing ceremony. I guess that is the reason I have always liked these signing ceremonies since.
I remember the first project under that bill came to Texas, where people could have public housing, cheap housing, clean housing, decent housing, for their children to sleep in.
We had a three-bedroom home with a living room-dining room combination, a kitchen, and a bath, for $14 a month. It was the cheapest constructed project in the United States and the cheapest rent.
Today I have great pride in it. And that is why I am working so hard to get some more housing under our supplemental rent subsidy.
I remember Archbishop Lucey, and he wasn't nearly as respectable then as he is now--he was kind of a Bolshevik in the minds of a lot of people when he came down here--but I remember his writing me and quarreling and fussing and just doing everything that he could do to try to help do something for these women that were picking pecans in San Antonio for 8 cents an hour, poor women working all day for 60 cents--picking pecans for 8 cents an hour.
That is why I was one of three Congressmen from Texas that signed the petition back in the thirties to force a vote to discharge a committee, to bring the wage and hour bill out--a bill that would guarantee not 8 cents an hour but the magnificent sum of 25 cents an hour! And there were only three Texans signed that petition and two of them got defeated at the next election. I just point that up, that was a 25-cent minimum wage bill, to show you how far we have come.
I have a recommendation before the Congress now for $1.60.
But Maury Maverick voted for that 25 cents and W. D. McFarlane voted for it, and both of them got beaten in the next election.
I remember the Social Security Act that we are talking about today. When they called the roll on it, I believe it was in 1935, I remember a good friend of mine was worrying about whether he should vote for it or not. He said, "It is socialism. They are going to destroy our system of government."
I pled with him not for minutes but for hours in the Speaker's office, trying to convince him that it was a constructive and far-reaching measure.
I remember up here by the Maverick Cafeteria, in the building in downtown San Antonio, standing out there in 1935 and seeing little Mexican children go up to the garbage can outside that cafeteria and take the grapefruit hulls out of that garbage can, and try to get enough food in their body to sustain them by hulling the hulls. I saw that with my own eyes and I have not forgotten it.
I came back here again today to see how the people of San Antonio live, because I can't forget that you can't speak for them if you don't know them, and you can't represent them if you don't love them.
So I told Henry I wanted him to take whatever time he needed. If any of you want to leave you can leave. If any of you are in a hurry you can go on. I stay in a hurry all the time. I am back home now and I am not going to hurry. I am going to do what I like to do.
This great city has meant a lot to me, not only in my political philosophy, but a good deal of other philosophy. Here is where I was married, and here is where I have been elected. I would never have been in the United States Senate except for the people of San Antonio. In the first primary I lost this county by 12,000 votes, and that is before they really realized how tough the election was on the West Side. In the second primary I carried it by 99, instead of losing it by 12,000. That gave me the great victory of 87 in the entire State of Texas. I remember that. And I see a lot of the veterans of that campaign here.
I am so proud of San Antonio because of your interest in human beings, in humanity, and in good, constructive causes that advance the best interest of the people--p-e-e-p-u-l--the poor people of this country.
There is not one single Congressman in the House of Representatives of 435, including the Speaker, the Leader, and the Whip, that has a better record than Henry Gonzalez, and I am so proud of him. I am proud that I had enough courage to come here before he was a Congressman, when he was a defeated candidate a time or two, and speak for him after President Eisenhower had come in ahead of me to speak on the other side, and to do what little I could to express my faith in Henry. He has justified it every moment since.
For your own personal information, I will say he is one Congressman that has never had his arm twisted even the slightest. I have never called him on the telephone and asked for his vote or told him how I would like for him to vote, and I have never allowed anybody else to do it, because it is a pure waste of time. Henry was born and grew up and learned how to vote before he ever came to Washington. And when you get men like that, you don't have to counsel them.
So we come here now to sign this bill today, and I come with both a pledge and a plea. My plea is to 1 1/3 million Americans that are over 65 years of age and that are not yet covered by Medicare. The pledge is to those citizens who missed the March 31st deadline, just past, and did not enroll in Medicare, and now, under this legislation, they will have until May 31st to sign up because of what Henry, Senator Yarborough, and Members of the House and Senate did in passing this bill we will sign this morning.
I want to ask each of you to make it your personal job not to come to me or to Henry a few years from now and say they just forgot to sign up, or they didn't hear about it, but for you to go out and get them to sign up now while they have the time and while they can qualify.
The plea is that these citizens contact their local Social Security offices and consider signing up for the valuable protection that the Medicare law will give them.
So I plead with every American to go and talk to your neighbors, because there are 1,300,000 of them that are going to miss the boat; there are 1,300,000 of them who should get their rights under the law now. And in order to do that, they must sign up. So each good American should accept this personal challenge to ask every person they know over 65, "Have you registered? If not, register at once."
There was a wise old Frenchman one time who said that growing older is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form. So this morning I urge every American to exercise his right and to acquire this protection.
My friends here in this beautiful Victoria Plaza, you are a model for the rest of the citizens of this Nation. I think that those guests this morning should know that every single man and woman who lives here is already registered for Medicare.
Since I signed the Medicare and Social Security Amendments last July in Independence, Missouri, in the presence of that great Democratic President, and his wife, Harry S. Truman--you will remember that President Truman was the first President who actively urged this particular program-since that time, almost 17 million Americans, almost 9 out of every 10 of our older citizens, have already enrolled for medical insurance coverage.
Getting 17 million to do something from July to now is a man-sized job, itself. But we still have 1,300,000 to go. And I am not going to let you forget it until we get every one of them signed up.
Our work is not going to be completed until we are sure that everyone who can use the protection of this program has joined it. Every older American must have the opportunity to live out his life in security without the fear that serious illness will be accompanied by a financial ruin.
That is what Medicare is all about. What to do? How to live? Who will pay the doctor? Who will pay the hospital? Who will pay for the medicine? Who will pay the rent? Well, these are questions. that older Americans that I have known all of my life have dreaded to answer. Now Medicare is changing a lot of that.
There is hope because we respect the dignity of the individual. I thought that some of our sophisticated folks might say this morning that Henry was introducing too many people. That is why I told him to take all the time he wanted. But that just shows how he feels about human beings. He didn't want one single person to be neglected. He wanted to recognize the dignity of every person here, because they might be pretty unimportant to a stranger but they are not unimportant to Henry or to me. They lead our people and they provide for them.
So I think that we must have hope and we must recognize that there is in the place of charity now dignity, and where the children, the kinfolks, and the public agencies were the sole reliance just a few months ago, you now can have self-respect and realize that the machinery of government and the methods that we have evolved, the contributions of the individuals and the Government altogether--you can now have self-respect and still provide for your medical bills and your medicine, your nursing care, and things of that kind.
We have taken the bitter years that I talked about in the early thirties and I think we have made them better years. In the doing, we have reclaimed, I think, a lot of lost pride and we have given a lot of new meaning to tomorrow.
As I sign this bill today, I am determined to do more. I don't think that we must ever be satisfied in this growing, adventuresome country of America with the status quo. We must be determined to do more, because there is always going to be more that needs to be done.
Since I became President a little over 2 years ago, I have already signed and approved laws increasing social security benefits by more than $1 l/2 billion--increases of more than $1 1/2 billion, an increase of in the neighborhood of 7 percent. Yet too many of our older citizens are still trying to get along on income that is too small now to meet their needs, even though we have increased it 7 percent in 2 years.
So social security benefits which are the main source of their income still need to be increased, and they will be increased in the years ahead. Only by recognizing the facts of life can we really make it better for people that are over 65.
Social security protection must be improved for our disabled workers and for their families. Several weeks ago I asked the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Mr. John W. Gardner, to complete his study as soon as possible on improving the benefits and the financial structure of the social security program.
I asked Secretary Gardner to develop sound and workable plans for these changes at as early a date as possible. Because--I will let you in on a secret--I intend to make these recommendations to the next session of Congress, and I expect you folks to have Henry back up there to help me get them passed.
Now I can't tell you about all the recommendations because we are now studying them. I want you to study them and let us hear from you. But this is what I would like to do: I would like to increase insurance benefits across the board for 21 million beneficiaries--the aged, the disabled, the widows, and the orphans, including an increase in the monthly minimum, the monthly maximum, and the total family benefits. That is what I would like to do.
We don't have a dictatorship, so no man can mash a button and get it done, but that is what I would like to do, what I hope to do, what I want to do, and with your help and with God's help, that is what we will do.
I would like to improve insurance protection for the widows and the orphans. I would like to keep our social security and public welfare programs up to date in relation to increased earnings.
I would like for our individuals now on welfare rolls to be provided additional incentives for them to find work.
And Medicare need not just be for people over 65. That is where we started.
Archbishop, you know, I have been wondering for some time now why we shouldn't bring our compassion and our concern to bear not just on people over 65 but upon our young children under 6.
The President of an African country told me the other day--I had lunch with a bunch of their Ambassadors yesterday and we discussed it again--in their country that one out of three babies born died with measles, and the United States of America had come in with one of our most modern 20th century machines and had vaccinated 750,000 little children.
The President of this African country said to me, "We men may not always like some of the things you in America do, but our women would never let us criticize them because since you vaccinated those 750,000 children we have not lost one from measles."
The satisfaction that I get from believing that we in America saved the lives of 250,000 little children is a satisfaction that never comes from a paycheck or a greenback.
And I want to let you in on another secret: That is one of the reasons I asked John Gardner, because of my concern for these young folks--the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare--to create new plans for a new program that you haven't ever had before, to assist in financing dental services for children.
Luci spent all the way down here this morning fussing at me because I didn't say eye services for children. Because Luci was almost ready to get married before she found out she couldn't read very well, that she had had something wrong with her eyes since she was a child. When she corrected it, and found it out, why, it was reflected the next month in her grades, and I think in her looks. She not only couldn't see how to read well, but she couldn't see how to look well.
So we are going to have these new plans and we are going to have these new programs. And we are going to someday point out that we started them right here at this scene this morning. We are never going to stop trying to find new ways to make Medicare sensitive to what our people need, and make it sensitive to what we ought to do to lift the quality of life in this land and in this world.
I have 3 minutes to get to church and I want to conclude by saying this, because this is one of the things that the church does, and does so well: I am not interested in building skyscrapers or moving mountains or pouring concrete. Those are all necessary in the modern world of communication and industrialization, and so forth. But since I have become President we have increased our expenditure for educating the mind from a little less than $5 billion to over $10 billion in 2 1/2 years. We have more than doubled it.
We have increased our expenditures on health from a little under $5 billion--we were spending $1 billion when President Kennedy came into office--to a little over $10 billion this year. This is part of it here--more than double. So $10 billion extra this year goes into the mind and the body. Considering our loans, our grants, our aid, and our Public Law 480, and other things, we are spending additional billions on food.
So when everything else is gone and forgotten, I hope the people will remember that in this year of our Lord 1966, on Good Friday, we met here as neighbors and friends, and we concerned ourselves about human beings, and we dedicated whatever time is left for us, we dedicated our efforts and our talents to freeing the ignorant from the chains of ignorance and illiteracy, and teaching them to read and write, and to learn.
Whatever time is allotted us, we have tried to remove disease from the skins and the bodies of our people, and we have tried to find food to give them nourishment and to give them strength.
And if I am ever to be remembered by any of you here, I want to be remembered as one who spent his whole life trying to get more people more to eat and more to wear, to live longer, to have medicine and have attention, nursing, hospital and doctors' care when they need it, and to have their children have a chance to go to school and carry out really what the Declaration of Independence says, "All men are created equal."
But they are not equal if they don't have a chance to read and write, and they don't have a chance for a doctor to take care of their teeth or their eyes when they are little and their parents don't know about it.
So that is the purpose of our being here this morning. Sometime we are going to come back here and take stock, as the country merchant says, and see what progress we have made. There has been a revolution in this country and in this world in the last few years. I hope that the years of 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968 will show that we moved ahead, that we made progress, that we weren't just concerned with what was in our platform, but we were concerned with what we did about it; that we just weren't concerned with style and appearance, we were concerned with achievement; that we weren't just concerned with talking about medical care for 20 years, we wanted to sign it and to put it into effect; that we weren't interested in talking about people that didn't have homes and didn't have roofs over their heads, and all these eloquent phrases that get you elected to office, but what we are concerned about is what did you do about it after you were elected.
Well, here is what we did about it, just one little place; here is what we are doing about it, just another little place.
We are going to continue to do it every day as long as we have the authority and this mission.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. at Victoria Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, at a ceremony marking the signing of the bill (Public Law 89384, 80 Stat. 99). In his opening words he referred to Representative Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas, the Most Reverend Robert E. Lucey, Archbishop of San Antonio, W. W. McAllister, Mayor of San Antonio, and Charles Grace, Judge of Bexar County, Texas.
During his remarks the President referred to F. Maury Maverick, Representative from Texas 1935-1939, William D. McFarlane, Representative from Texas 1933-1939, Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, President Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta in Africa, who visited the United States in 1965 (see 1965 volume, this series, Book I, Items 141, 142, 144), and Luci Baines Johnson, the Presidents daughter.
For the President's remarks with President Truman in Independence at the signing of the Medicare bill and the social security amendments, see 1965 volume, this series, Book II, Item 394.
Secretary Gardner's recommendations on improving social security benefits are included in the Presidents message to Congress of January 23, 1967.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in San Antonio at the Signing of the Medicare Extension Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239400