Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Bill To Increase the Federal Debt Ceiling

September 29, 1987

The President. Good afternoon. Most bill signing ceremonies are happy occasions; this one is not. This is a bill that I'll sign with great reluctance, and this is a bill that does not do justice to the American people. The bill contains two main provisions.

The first provision extends the Federal Government's authority to borrow funds. This is an action that we just take to prevent the Government from defaulting on its obligations, and I have no objection whatsoever to doing so. In short, this extension of the debt limit is necessary and unavoidable.

But the second provision is one to which it is my duty as President to voice the strongest possible objection. For this second provision involves a so-called fix of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction law—a fix that doesn't fix things in the right way. Putting the country on a reliable track to lower deficits and, eventually a balanced budget—well, that's my goal. Unfortunately, the majority in Congress have already shown the inability to make the tough choices to reach those goals.

This administration's tax cuts fostered economic growth, so that over a 5-year period, Federal revenues have actually gone up more than 25 percent. But during the same period, Federal spending went up 46 percent. From 1982 to 1987, for every dollar cut from the defense budget, Congress added two dollars—and I repeat, two dollars—to domestic spending. Pork-barrel spending, spending for pressure groups, spending with utter irresponsibility—that is the main cause of the Federal deficit. And now Congress sends me this bill, a bill that I must sign to keep the Federal Government from default.

The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings "fix" is different from the original version. This measure says that, if by a certain date Congress and the administration have failed to agree upon a budget that cuts the Federal deficit by $23 billion, then that amount—$23 billion-will automatically be sequestered, a fancy term for an across-the-board budget cut. The catch is this: In this version, even larger portions of the domestic budget will be exempt.

This means that the cuts in the defense budget will be deep—very deep. Our nation's security would be undermined, and my hand in dealing with the Soviets would be weakened at a time when we're engaged with the Soviets in sensitive and significant nuclear arms reduction talks. With this bill, then, Congress is telling me that we must pay for its uncontrolled domestic spending by endangering our national security or by raising your taxes, or both. Under their arrangement, the bill would go directly to the American people, but I will not allow the American people to be blackmailed into higher taxes. There are some in Congress who think that they have me trapped—that this time I'll have no choice but to raise taxes or gut our defenses.

But, well, I'm reminded of a story. It's a true story. It concerns an American commander during the Second World War. In the Battle of the Bulge, the enemy entered the American perimeter with a surrender ultimatum. They demanded this surrender, and the commander sent back a response that consisted of only one word. The word was "nuts." To those who say we must weaken America's defenses: They're nuts. To those who say we must raise the tax burden on the American people: They, too, are nuts.

For there's a third choice, the right choice. It's the choice I campaigned for in '80 and again in '84. It's the choice embodied in the Economic Bill of Rights that I proposed this past Fourth of July weekend. It is to cut the excesses from the domestic budget, to impose upon the domestic budget, once and for all, a sense of responsibility, and the national good. The whole notion of fair treatment that forms such an essential part of our national character—the whole notion of fair treatment that demands that if defense spending is reduced, then a wider range of domestic accounts must be reduced as well.

The responsibility is on the shoulders of the majority in Congress. And I'm directing my Cabinet and my staff to do everything they can to cooperate and to reduce unnecessary spending on domestic programs. America can avoid a fiscal disaster, but Congress will not do it by putting their hand in your pocket or with a get-soft defense program. There are some in Congress who support our goals to reduce the deficit. And let's take a pledge today to stand together with a common goal, a common purpose: to reject those who continue to want to spend more, tax more, and defend less; to protect America's interests, and not the special interests.

Yes, I'll sign this bill. As I do so, from this moment on, the big spenders in Congress will have a fight on their hands.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

Reporter. Are there any big spenders in Congress up there, Mr. President?

The President. What did he say?

Q. Any big spenders up here? [Laughter]

Q. You're not President yet.

Q. He's the President.

The President. No, if you want to show your pleasure with what I said, give them a hand. [Applause] They're on our side.

Note: The President spoke at 3:21 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. H.J. Res. 324, approved September 29, was assigned Public Law No. 100-119.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Bill To Increase the Federal Debt Ceiling Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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