Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Annual Conference of the Consumer Federation of America

February 07, 1980

Someone told me earlier that you were going to have roses, so I feel at home. [Laughter]

Distinguished consumer leaders of our great country, once again, I am pleased to meet with you. This federation has a proud history, as a voice for consumers and also as an incubator of great ideas. As a matter of fact, the concept for a coop bank originated right here with you, and now as you know, the co-op bank is about ready to open for business. That's just the most recent of many examples of what you have achieved in practical terms. From the very beginning, you have fought for the common good of the American people. And within our system of government, that's also the responsibility of the President, who alone has as his constituency all the people of our country, and also, who alone must assess the complex issues and the conflicts that exist in the resolution of differences, both on the national scene and in the international world.

I take that responsibility very seriously, and especially now. Mutual trust among Americans based on fairness and equity is never more needed than in a time of crisis when national solidarity is so important. As you know, we are faced now with extremely difficult and complex problems both here and around the world. Our domestic and our foreign concerns are more closely interrelated now, perhaps than ever before in history. And the hard truth is that there are no easy or simple answers to any of these problems or any of these questions. But as you well know, there are answers.

The Soviet military aggression in Afghanistan is a serious threat to peace and has drawn the condemnation of the entire world. We must be sure that the Soviet Union understands the depth of universal concern and universal outrage.

In my State of the Union speech, I described the consequences of a threat to our own vital interests in the Persian Gulf region. As long as Soviet invading forces are in Afghanistan, we will continue our own forceful actions. Normal commerce has been interrupted. There will be no high-technology equipment sold to the Soviet Union. I will not issue permits for Soviet fishermen in U.S. waters. And neither the American people nor I will support the sending of our athletes to the Olympic games in Moscow as long as the invading forces stay in Afghanistan. Americans want peace. And when we act calmly, firmly, and with strength, and when we describe clearly the advantages of peace and the absence of aggression, then we reduce the risk of war.

The holding of our hostages has shocked and outraged every American, and now we are doing everything through private diplomacy, through every avenue, to protect America's interest, to uphold the principles of our Nation, and to secure the safety and the release of our people with the opportunity of bringing them home, where they are loved and where they are not forgotten.

In Iran, in Asia and elsewhere throughout the world, the United States is meeting its international challenges with restraint and with resolve, and Americans have exhibited a remarkable degree of national unity and common purpose.

As President, I need your help, and I need your understanding, and I need your support. We must defend our interests at home as well as abroad. Above all, that means cutting out our excessive dependence on foreign oil, which makes our Nation so vulnerable now and in the future. There are only two things that we can do. One is to conserve energy, and the other one is to produce more American energy. These two are also closely interrelated, one with another.

We must face facts. We have no choice but to make a painful adjustment to rapidly increasing worldwide energy prices. We cannot afford to mislead ourselves. Subsidizing oil prices to keep them artificially low can only harm both the efforts that I just described: conservation—because people are inclined to use too much oil when the price is held below what it ought to be, and it obstructs the production of American energy if artificially cheap oil is available in preference to solar energy or other competitive energies which give us opportunities for the future.

After 3 years of some of the toughest legislative battles ever seen on Capitol Hill, we are on the verge of enacting a comprehensive energy policy for our country that will improve the way we conserve energy and preserve and improve the way that we produce energy. Congressional leaders have acted responsibly under very difficult circumstances in getting this program through the House and through the Senate. But the conference committees, particularly those on the energy security corporation and energy mobilization board, are another story. We expected them to act last year. Now it's February, and the conferees are still bogged down in bickering and delay. Apparently they do not share the sense of urgency that is felt by the American people on this crucial question of an energy policy.

Our national security, the quality of our lives, national unity, common understanding, fairness and equity depend upon the rapid completion of this energy policy without further delay in the Congress. And then we'll have an energy program that will help us to cut down waste, produce American coal, crude oil, natural gas, synthetics, will help us to shift to solar and other replenishable forms of energy, and will also help us at the same time to protect the quality of our environment.

We must never forget that conservation is the cheapest and the cleanest source of energy. When we insulate a home, when we ride in an efficient vehicle, when we share a ride with a fellow worker, we not only spend less for fuel, we also breathe cleaner air, and we do something concrete for the future of our country. It does require some sacrifice, but it is actually a better way to live.

Throughout the world these days, there are, and must be in the future, sacrifices. But in our country we—you and I—must see that sacrifices are shared again with equity and with fairness. That's why we have fought to get more than $10 billion set aside in the next 5 years to help low income consumers pay the inevitably increasing prices of energy and to weatherize their homes and to have a chance to benefit from the improved ways of addressing the energy problem. That's why I will be fighting for the passage of a standby gasoline rationing plan to be imposed in our country if we should have a severe energy shortage. And that's why I fought so hard for a strong windfall profits tax, so that oil companies can share their portion of these burdens. Yesterday, the windfall profits tax conference committee made good progress, after a long delay, and I'm convinced that very soon now the Congress will act favorably upon this major proposal.

You also know that the skyrocketing prices of energy, everywhere on Earth, is the biggest cause of inflation. And inflation continues to be the number one threat to consumers.

As President, I must tell the truth about inflation. The inflation we face now took 15 years to build up. It's a worldwide problem. In the nations, some of whom are our close allies, the inflation rate is now above 100 percent per year. The battle to reduce inflation will be long and hard, and there will be no easy victories. Inflation cannot be vanquished without effort and sacrifice. It cannot be abolished by decree or by law or by creating a gigantic new Federal bureaucracy. There are no simple solutions, no magic wands that we can wave and expect inflation to go away.

In the short term, our most urgent task is to prevent the OPEC price increases from being embedded permanently in the wage-price structure of our Nation's economy. We also share a deep moral obligation and commitment to see that the burdens of inflation do not fall disproportionately on the poor and the weak and the inarticulate. Beyond that, we must face the fundamental causes of inflation. This means more saving, more investments, more basic research. more competition, more technological innovation to give us a more productive America. It also means budget restraint, always with a sensitivity to human needs. It means that we cannot do everything we would like to do. It means hard choices, and those of us who are leaders must be ready and able and have the courage to make those hard choices.

If we are to control inflation, we simply cannot afford the wanton waste of the taxpayers' money. The water projects bill which just passed the House is shot through with textbook examples of that wanton waste of American taxpayers' money.

I'd like to quote for you from what a great American once said: "The days of pork barrel legislation are over. Every dollar of our expenditures for port facilities, for inland waterways, for flood control, for the reclamation of swamp and arid lands, for highways, for public buildings, shall be expended only by trained men in accordance with a continuing plan."

The author of that statement was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was made in 1920, when he made an acceptance of the nomination as a Democratic candidate for Vice President. I'm sure he was bitterly disappointed when he got to the White House and began to deal with the American Congress— [laughter] —because here we are 60 years later, and the pork barrel express is still rolling along. Unless we derail it, it will roll right over our budget and it will flatten our anti-inflation efforts.

I've been fighting this battle with the help of many of you for 3 years. I have vetoed a similar bill already. I believe in a sound water projects program, and I've submitted such a program to Congress. It would spend precious tax dollars, in FDR's words, "in accordance with a continuing plan," but the House bill is part of no rational plan. Some $2.5 billion, more than [half] 1 the total amount authorized by this bill, would be almost pure waste—projects that are still being studied, projects that have never been studied, projects that have been thoroughly studied and found to be unsound. In addition, this bill would commit us to new Federal spending programs that would amount to tens of billions of dollars in the years ahead. Waste creates inflation.

The water resources bill, as passed by the House, is a bad bill. It's a wasteful bill. It's an inflationary bill. And with your help and support, I do not intend to allow that bill to become law.

You and I share the responsibility also of making the government work, competently and compassionately, for consumers, for workers, for a competitive free enterprise system, for the environment, even in a time of economic and political adversity, which we face right now. Part of our success has been a direct result of the people that we have been able to bring into government.

You in the consumer movement have lent me some of your best advocates to serve American consumers in the top positions in government. I'm particularly proud of people like Joan Claybrook, Susan King, and Mike Pertschuk, and Father Geno Baroni, and Sam Brown, Graciela Olivarez, and of course, your own former executive secretary, Carol Foreman.

There are many others, but I want to say a special word about one of them, Esther Peterson, my Special Assistant. She's my Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs. I love her. I guess we all do. But she is more than lovable; she is also very effective. She has more courage and understanding and experience in fighting for consumers than anyone I know, and I'm very proud to be her friend and her coworker. Sometimes I don't know who gives the orders, but I know I always carry out what she decides.

As she points out to me, a key to making government work is direct citizen participation. I recently signed a consumers' protection Executive order, drafted by Esther Peterson, to ensure that consumer voices will be heard in a loud and clear form in every major agency of the Federal Government. Government agencies will seek new ways to involve citizens in their decisions. My regulatory reform bill will extend public participation fundings throughout the entire Federal Government. Together, sometimes over tremendous difficulty, we are opening the doors, and it's up to you to enter and to bring other Americans through those doors.

I promised to reform government regulation everywhere I could. My goals for regulatory reform are very clear. Where regulation is unnecessary, where it stifles competition, regulation should be eliminated.

Often traditional regulation of industries such as airlines and trucking just protects cartels, little OPEC's, that keep prices high by keeping competition out. Airline deregulation revolutionized air transportation and produced $2.5 billion in savings for consumers. Trucking deregulation will save billions of dollars more. This is a goal that was pursued by a hero of yours and mine, Senator Phil Hart. And our commitment to these kinds of goals and ideals are a tribute to him and to his ideals. And I would like to pay particular tribute, again, to another Senator, Senator Ted Kennedy—who will be speaking later on today to you—a good consumer advocate, one who's worked as a partner with me in the evolution and now the passage of the trucking deregulation legislation.

Where regulation is necessary, we should make sure it works efficiently. When OSHA eliminates 1,000 nitpicking regulations which turns the public against the agency, and turns its attention to serious health problems in the workplace, every American is a gainer.

These are commonsense goals, and we will achieve them. But I will vigorously oppose these special interests which now seek under the guise of regulatory reform, to turn aside protection for the consumer, to turn aside protection in the workplace, to turn aside protection for the environment. Those forces are massive. We will reform regulation, but we will not wreck legislation which protects the kind of regulation that will care for all of us and those for whom we care.

I salute you for the measure that you've taken to help America be a more decent place, and to give our people a more decent society. Every child saved by burn safety rules, every person alive today because automobiles and highways are safer, every person who drinks pure water and who breathes clean air, every worker who's saved from a painful death because of a job-derived disease, every such human being owes you a debt of gratitude. We must work together to protect these gains.

As you know, there are an extraordinary array of special interests who have now put the antitrust and consumer protection efforts of the Federal Trade Commission .at the top of their hit list. Obviously, no agency should be immune from scrutiny and assessment and correction and clarification. But a fine-tuning operation must not be turned into a wrecking crew.

The Federal Trade Commission Act is one of the oldest and most fundamental safeguards we have for the integrity of the American marketplace. It's been there since an early consumer advocate in the White House, Woodrow Wilson, signed this act into law in 1914. It is so basic to the fabric of trust and fairness in the American free economy that we tend to take it for granted. We can' no longer do that. We have to fight for it. And together we will fight for it and we will protect the Federal Trade Commission.

Just look briefly at some of the accusations against the FTC. It is not wrong to tell a bereaved and a vulnerable consumer how much a funeral will cost. It is not bad to allow professionals—doctors, lawyers, and others—to give information to their clients who are consumers. It does no harm to restore competition to over-protected industries and to save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Yet, provisions exactly like these are now being considered by Congress which would stop activities like these dead in their tracks.

One especially harmful idea would allow legislative veto of FTC regulations. This is unconstitutional, this is bad government. It would create a whole new form of redtape. It would turn regulatory enforcement into an endless process of capricious negotiation with special interests. I'm glad that yesterday, with your help, the Senate rejected a one-House veto amendment. And I hope that the Congress, in its wisdom, will reject all such congressional veto amendments in the future.

The Federal Trade Commission is one of the greatest weapons the American public has to guarantee truth and integrity and competition in the marketplace. I will not let it be picked to pieces. And I want to make it clear to Mike and to you and to the Congress by pledging to you now that if the Congress sends me a bill that cripples the ability of the Federal Trade Commission to protect the consumers of America, then I, as President, will veto that bill.

It would be a serious mistake for us to underestimate the seriousness of this issue, not just because of what the FTC does-it's not only important in its own right, greatly important, but it's also symbolic of what can happen in the future. If we should lose this battle—and I'm resolved that we will not—then we would have a much more difficult task of winning similar battles to protect consumers in the Congress in the future.

I'll continue to do everything in my power to defend consumers against those selfish special interests. But I cannot do it alone; no President could. President Harry Truman expressed the problem well when he said: "You know, they have lobbies down there—the power trust, and they have the real estate lobby, and they have the oil lobbies, and they have lobbies for this and that and the other thing. And the only lobby that the people have is the man who sits in the White House. He represents 150 million Americans who cannot afford a lobby."

Of course, now I have you as allies, but the President still represents the people who cannot afford a lobby. President Truman could never have predicted the changes that now make it so hard for a President alone, or even with the Consumer Federation, to balance the scales. Ours is a time when a lobbyist pushing one button on a computer can immediately send 10,000 letters on any subject to the Congressmen on the Hill. But consumers have some things that special interests do not have. We have the power of numbers. And we have right and justice on our side.

But I have to remind you that this power must be effectively marshaled and effectively used. Citizens groups cannot afford the luxury of special or single issue orientation. Citizens groups cannot afford the luxury of divisions among ourselves. Citizens groups cannot afford to attack one another simply because we differ on the nuances of protection of consumers. We must join forces when any one of the goals that we support is threatened. We need the help of each other. And now especially I need your help on a good consumer agenda—a strong windfall profits tax, a national health plan, hospital cost containment, the enhancement of personal privacy, trucking deregulation, helping small savers get a better return on their money, protecting the FTC, and sound class action legislation, many other items. The agenda is broad, the issues are sharply drawn, the threat is great, unity is mandatory.

Congress will not respond to consumers if it does not hear from consumers. And that is quite often the difference between victory or defeat. While we sit complacently by or concentrating on one issue on the agenda, the lobbyists are working day and night with a highly focused, highly competent effort to change one vote and then another and then another, in some obscure paragraph in legislation that might cause catastrophe in the life of many Americans. We must spread the message together, for when special interests fight against consumers, it's an assault on the pocketbooks and the health and the safety of the American people. That's the message that needs to be promulgated.

I'm speaking out as President. You need to spread the message yourselves in your neighborhoods, in your churches, in your union halls, in your co-ops, in the news media, and on Capitol Hill. If together we can let the truth be known, then together we will prevail.

Thank you very much.

1 White House correction.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Annual Conference of the Consumer Federation of America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249913

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives