George Bush photo

Remarks to the American Legislative Exchange Council

April 28, 1989

Thanks for that welcome, and thank all of you for being here today. And, Representative Halbrook, Mr. Brunelli, and ladies and gentlemen, friends -- Secretary Dole, who is doing an outstanding job for this administration, here she is -- and of course sitting over my left shoulder, Deb Anderson, the former speaker out there in South Dakota -- so, you'll have some kindred spirits here to talk to in the White House. And some of you may recognize Andy Card, who's our Deputy Chief of Staff, from Massachusetts -- and also everybody performing so well.

But I'm delighted to once again meet with this group, one of our nation's largest organizations of State legislators and, in my view, one of the most sensible -- [laughter] -- but I'm entitled to my opinion on that. And congratulations on this marvelous turnout! And I also want to thank all of you for your past support and, really, for kind of keeping us together, everybody across the country -- as best you can -- the matrix, if you will, for traditional values.

Your "conservative in free enterprise agenda" is helping us return power to the people. And on issues like federalism, tax policy, education and, yes, the environment, you're helping keep our country number one. And you know, a politician once reminded me of the saying: "Problems are really opportunities in disguise." But then he added, laughing: "There are times I feel there are more opportunities running around in disguise than I really deserve." [Laughter] It's true. Problems can get the upper hand, and our task is to confront them, as you do daily, and turn them into opportunities that are real. And that means realizing that in terms of problemsolving Washington -- unlike Robert Young -- does not automatically know best.

And I have just come back from a swing that took me to the Texas -- appearing before a joint session of the Texas legislature and then a marvelous, uplifting day in North Dakota and then several other events in California and Illinois and Florida. And it is a very important thing for a President to get outside the White House and move around this country. And some of the friends that were traveling with us didn't seem to understand that. But I can tell you, I learned a lot from it. [Laughter] And it was a good thing to do, and I'm going to keep doing that. But I learned from the legislators who are on the front line.

But cooperation between the public and private sectors, between the executive branch, Congress, and the States is vital. The one line -- I readily confess I'm not the world's greatest orator -- but the line in the Inaugural Address that seemed to evoke an instant response from the American people was that the people didn't send us here to bicker; they sent us here to get things done. And our problems are too severe for bickering. And we are seeing that kind of cooperation with the Hill. It's not going exactly the way I want it, but we've started off with some cooperation from the Congress. That bipartisan budget agreement you've read about is a good agreement. It reduces the deficit. It's going to narrow the deficit to $99.4 billion in the fiscal year. And that's coming down from $163 billion estimated for the current fiscal year. And I've said I like what works; this agreement works. And it's a very important step.

And I looked over my shoulder the other day to read how widespread the confidence was that we could reach this agreement 2 months ago, and I didn't find many voices thinking that this agreement could be achieved. So -- it has been. And all of you know that at times you have to work with those that differ with you on issues to get something done.

And so, I like what works. But let's be clear -- and I know all of you are interested in this -- rough times lie ahead, rough go lies out there. Because though, ahead of schedule -- we did meet the Gramm-Rudman taxes, and I kept that "no new taxes" pledge. But we still have a ways to go because we've got to move dramatically down in the next fiscal year to meet the Gramm-Rudman targets, which I'm determined to do. And that does mean we have to have fiscal restraint in a lot of areas where, very candidly, I wish we could do more. But we have set certain priorities in this budget agreement, and I'm happy with it.

You know, in America, nothing -- I'm one who still believes -- and I get kidded a little bit about it in the press -- but I still am very optimistic about our country. And I believe that nothing is impossible. Craig Nettles, remember the former major leaguer, put it best. He says: "When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I've accomplished both." [Laughter]

Well, deficit reduction can help achieve our goals. It's going to lower interest rates -- I'm confident -- lift savings rates, and help business invest. And so will this second step I'm talking about that we must and can take together -- and I really believe in this one -- that an additional aspect of not just another budget agreement but a key to all of this, an additional step is restoring the capital gains differential. And I've heard, as you have, a lot of people criticizing cutting the capital gains tax, and jumping on everybody as a tax for the rich. It is not a tax for the rich when you separate that differential.

They just are wrong on the facts. Our plan -- and I'm going to keep pushing it -- supports reducing the capital gains differential to 15 percent on long-held assets, a step which, according to the Treasury, the estimators over there, will raise $4.8 billion in new revenue in fiscal year 1990. And lowering the capital gains rate and restoring the differential will encourage the savings and investment needed to create new jobs and reduce this budget deficit. It brings in revenue, and this is something that the critics simply are not willing to recognize. Ours is a struggle for a more prosperous America. We can win it, and I am determined that we will.

There's another struggle, and of course that's the one that I've been spending a fair amount of time on lately, feel strongly about, and that is one that everyone in this room is concerned about; and that's this war on drugs. And I've just returned from this 4-day trip, and in Los Angeles and Miami, particularly, I had experiences there and saw things there that just renewed my commitment to win this battle.

I told them that the scourge of drugs must stop, and it has got to. Two months ago, before a joint session of the Congress, I asked for an increase of $1 billion in budget outlays, bringing it up to nearly $6 billion in 1990. And that would be earmarked for escalating this war on drugs. Some money is going to be used to expand treatment to the poor, to addicted young mothers, and some money is going to be used to cut the waiting time for treatment. About a billion-one of this request is going for education. I still remain firmly convinced that we are going to win this fight on the demand side, on the education side. And because over 23 million Americans used illegal drugs last year, we've got to stop those who produce, buy, and traffic illegal drugs. And so, that means an all-out fight in law enforcement and backing up our local people as best we can in this. And of course, it means a renewed concentration on the interdiction side as well.

I've talked a lot about zero tolerance. Well, zero tolerance, I hope you all realize, is much more than just a catchword. It means, quite simply, if you do crime, you do time. And I think our law enforcement people really are out in front, with that very much in their mind. But they need to be backed up by some changes in the law. They need to be backed up in other areas -- certain sentencing provisions in the law. And certainly, they need to be backed up by increasing the funding for Federal prisons. We want judges who strictly apply the law to the convicted offenders. And I want increased prison sentences for drug-related crimes. And I still am convinced that the death penalty for drug kingpins and those who commit drug-related murders will be an inhibition to future criminals.

My friends, I do believe that these actions will make America a safer place. But again, as in everything, we need your help. The Federal Government cannot do it alone. And that's why this week I've been talking about how the States and the localities can join in the crusade, because I am convinced that we can help America get clean and stay clean when it comes to these deadly narcotics. And I'm talking here really about cooperation, about America as one family and our role as family members.

The kind of a cooperation exists in a lot of areas. Incidentally, nobody -- I think most people now know what I mean by the concept of a Thousand Points of Light. And when you get into this -- they used to say -- the wags around here -- what he really means is a "thousand pints of Lite". But that's not what it is. It's a Thousand Points of Light. And you don't have to explain it anymore, because people understand that we are going to win this fight on drugs through a lot of local programs, a lot of community programs that I've been witnessing in the last few days and local law enforcement and State efforts. And it isn't all going to be done in Washington, DC.

But the kind of cooperation exists, I believe for another area; and that is our administration's new child-care initiative. And again, I salute [Secretary of Labor] Elizabeth Dole not only for this but for the sound position she has taken on many issues, including the minimum wage.

Let me just tell you on that one -- we had a conference. I took her advice. And it was sound advice -- that we do something that most of you all don't do. You fire your best. We fired our best shot and only shot, first. And we made it very clear to the Congress that I had made a commitment to raise the minimum wage, but we selected a prudent level, one that will not have deleterious inflationary effects. On the advice of my Secretary of Labor, we put in a 6-month training wage, which I strongly support -- this minimum wage differential, we used to call it. And it is a good, sound package.

And now you see speculation on the Hill: Well, the President's going to cave in. He can't argue over a dime or 15 cents on this. And they are just as wrong as they can be. And I'm going to do it the way this Secretary told me. Both of us like our jobs and want to stick around. [Laughter] And so, we're going to do what we said we're going to do. And this may be a first: going up there with your best and only shot, first. But it's going to set a tone that I think will be important for the rest of our administration.

So, anyway, that exists -- cooperation -- maybe not on that one, but there does exist in child-care initiative. I feel strongly about that. We had a chance to talk with some of you all in the campaign about that one. Our proposal urges a new tax credit to make child care more affordable, starting for those who need it the most. And it puts money in the hands then of the low-income families. It limits the counterproductive Federal intervention with its long list of federally mandated regulations. And it increases options; it increases choice. And here we say: Let the parents decide. And I know Elizabeth agrees with me on this one, and Deb, too, and Andy and everybody. But the more you're in this area here of responsibility and all the areas that we have of Federal responsibility, the more important you realize is the underpinning of society that comes from the family. And I do not want to see one piece of legislation passed that diminishes the family choice or that weakens the family in any way, whether it's welfare legislation, child-care legislation, or whatever legislation.

The Federal role has got to be -- when legislation is passed -- to look at it to see that not only it doesn't weaken the family but if it can strengthen the family, as our child-care proposal does, by providing for alternate -- groups getting together so a grandmother can maybe take care of one grandkid and then some other kids in the community -- that's good. And we want to find ways to have it strengthen the family unit, and we want to leave the choice with the parent. So, any help you can give us on this concept, we really would appreciate it.

We unveiled an education program, incidentally, which does parallel many of your suggestions that we've gotten in. We want to reward achievement, demand accountability, and spur again flexibility and choice. And we support also alternative certification. This is a concept that really is in your hands more than mine as President of the United States. But somehow, it seems to me a little antiquated, a little out-of-date, that a physicist who wants to take a sabbatical leave and help in some elementary physics class in a public school, would be denied the ability to help out because of some antiquated certification rules. So, I would urge you who are on the cutting edge of local legislation and State legislation to back us as best you can in working towards this alternative certification.

We've also put forward a program to award the best teachers in every State -- and again, the emphasis being the pursuit of excellence is central to America. And the Federal Government's going to help. We're going to lead in terms of setting objectives, but we are a partner in this question of education and in all these other issues. For America's genius -- and I feel this one very strongly at the end of, or maybe it's 99 days, as opposed to 100 -- but America's genius doesn't lie solely, or even mostly, in Washington. It is out across the country.

And so, I wanted to come over here and wish you all well. Thank you for what you do. You know, Will Rodgers once said: "I love a dog. He does nothing for political purposes." [Laughter] Well, let's, too, rise above politics as we go to serve the public and build a better, more decent, more prosperous land. I am very excited about that prospect. I think things are going reasonably well. There are plenty of problems out there, but so what's new? If I start telling you mine, you'll tell me yours, and yours are going to be closer to the people you represent just by the nature of your jobs. So, let's just agree that we live in the greatest country in the world, and we can make things happen.

And thank you all very much for being here today.

Note: The President spoke at 11:28 a.m. during a briefing in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to David Halbrook, chairman of the board of directors of the council; Samuel Brunelli, executive director of the council; Debra R. Anderson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and actor Robert Young.

George Bush, Remarks to the American Legislative Exchange Council Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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