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Remarks on the Education Summit and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

September 27, 1989

The President. Let me just say at the beginning -- make a couple of comments on the summit, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. We've designed the format of the summit to encourage a candid and very free-flowing discussion. There's a lot of ideas that need to be exchanged, not only the Governors to the White House but vice versa, and between the Governors. So we've set it in a way that we will have a lot of interchange.

I think we're going to establish the fact that we need measurable national goals. And this, I am told, most of the Governors agree on. They think they need time to finalize what these goals are, but this will be a rather significant step if there's agreement on that -- we think we're going to get agreement on it. It will result in continued activities after the summit, consulting with the educators and business community, parents, all those elements in our society which have a significant stake in our educational system. And I think it's going to -- I think the process -- what we hope is that it produces a strong consensus for achieving these national goals.

I expect that we're going to find much agreement on the need both for greater flexibility in the use of Federal funds -- I remember at the last Governors' meeting, "Please do not mandate what we do." And at the same time, greater accountability -- I think there's a strong recognition amongst the Governors that we need accountability for achieving results relating to the goals.

I'm hopeful that we're going to come out of the summit with a commitment to restructure and to make those fundamental changes that are needed if we're going to improve educational performance. And as I said before, doing more of the same is unlikely to accomplish what we need. And so, the more we've talked to the Governors -- that I have and Roger Porter [Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy] and others on the staff have -- the more convinced I am that they support this view.

So, these are the broad objectives. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's the third time that a summit has been convened with Governors. I told a group the other day that I learned back a year or 2 years ago the importance of having the Governors involved because they, indeed, are the ones that -- responsible for the State budgets and come up with so many of the new ideas. So I'm looking forward to this one.

Arms Control and Nuclear Testing

Q. Mr. President, speaking of summits, [Soviet Foreign Minister] Shevardnadze has said that a START treaty is very possible by the time of your summit with Gorbachev in spring or early summer. Do you agree with that assessment?

The President. Yes, I do. And I think the setting of a summit perhaps will serve as a catalyst for moving forward, but it's not a given, it's not absolutely certain that that's what's going to happen. But I would agree that we have a good likelihood that might happen.

Q. How about the -- --

The President. I don't want to set it up so that if we don't have every "t" crossed and "i" dotted, that the summit next spring or summer is considered a failure. But, yes, I'd have to agree with him.

Q. And how about a moratorium on nuclear testing? Would you go for that?

The President. Well, as long as we are dependent for a deterrence based on nuclear weapons, I would have difficulty eliminating all testing. We've made some progress on PNET, on Threshold Test Ban Treaty, but it's important that these weapons be safe, it's important they be sound. And so, we're perfectly prepared to discuss that, but I think we do have some differences on it if that is Mr. Gorbachev's position.

Head Start Program

Q. Mr. President, a question on the education summit. You've said repeatedly that more money is not the answer to America's school problems. But what about Head Start? Currently, there's only enough space for one out of five eligible poor children. Will you make a commitment to expand that program so that all disadvantaged children can participate in Head Start in the 1990's?

The President. We increased funding for Head Start, but we'll be talking about that at the summit. And I'm anxious to hear what the -- get from the Governors, not some statistic floating around up here but from the Governors -- what they say.

We had a group of businessmen in here yesterday and then educators a few days ago, and there was, Terry [Terry Hunt, Associated Press], there was a feeling that those early, early days in a kid's life, those formative days, are very, very important, and that does mean pre-regular-school schooling of some sort. We're openminded on the question. We're living within constrained resources. But this is a question I'm going to be asking the Governors what they think. What are they doing in the States in this pre-K, pre-kindergarten level? And how do we work with them? So, I'm not -- don't have a closed mind, but I'm not going in there accepting some figure by an organization here in Washington that commits me to a budget number.

Q. Well, those groups you mentioned, educators and the businessmen -- they both are advocating a big expansion in Head Start so that all the children -- --

The President. Oddly enough, they didn't there -- well, they advocated an expansion and more people attending. I was interested that they felt this is something that ought to be discussed at the summit and the determination of how it's resolved be done there. And we'll try, we'll try. I'm not going down there saying we're going to, you know, quintuple spending when they've got these big fights going on right now that -- for me to live within the law of this land in terms of the budget.

Assistance for Poland

Q. Mr. President, in your speech to the IMF today, you said that the United States and its allies must do more to encourage reforms in Poland. Were you signaling by that additional unilateral U.S. assistance to Poland?

The President. Well, we've stepped up on Poland, as you know, but I think the key thing now is the Poles themselves are working on a reform package. And we've had people over there -- Bob Mosbacher was there, we've had some OPIC people there, there's been some private missions there -- [former Reagan Chief of Staff] Howard Baker and [former Vice President] Mondale went over there. And I want to work with them in every way we can, but I think it's important that we see what their plan is of economic reform.

Q. Well, their Finance Minister has talked about the need for an immediate $1 billion loan. Is that possible?

The President. Well, the EC is working on their side. We've been helpful on ours. And so we'll see what final figures are arrived at. But we had a long meeting with the Polish Foreign Minister, and I'm not saying he wouldn't welcome more money, but he made this point to me very clearly -- a very interesting, very bright man -- about the need for reform. So, let's move apace, let's see what it is that is required in terms of reform, and then we'll try to do everything we can. We are committed to the success of democracy in Poland and certainly in Hungary.

Capital Gains and Tax Reform

Q. Mr. President, are you at all concerned, sir, that if you prevail or even if the Democratic alternative prevails on capital gains, that it will open the floodgates to a familiar situation, which is the annual drilling of new loopholes in the Tax Code by Congress, sometimes with the aid of the administration and sometimes not? What are you going to do to preserve what remains of the integrity of the tax reform law that was passed just a couple of years ago if this initiative of yours succeeds?

The President. I supported the tax reform law, but in last year's campaign there were one or two areas where I felt that we needed to use the tax system to achieve various ends. It became very clear that capital gains was, in my view, a job-creating -- capital gains differential was a job-creating mechanism. That issue has been distorted by those who try to maintain that it's a tax for the rich. They are wrong about that. It will help create jobs. It will help in savings. And I'll tell you another thing: A vote against our capital gains position tomorrow will be a vote for a tax increase. And I have great difficulty with that, and I have not changed my thinking on that.

Q. What about the prospect, though, sir, that if this does pass, or even if the alternative passes, that the door has now been opened on a Tax Code that had been -- from which these preferences had been removed, to more of them?

The President. I have confidence that [House Ways and Means Committee] Chairman Rostenkowski, with the help of the administration, would be able to resist an all-out assault on the tax reform bill.

Arms Control

Q. Mr. President, you talked about a new attitude at the United Nations in your relations with the Soviet Union. How does that play out, sir, in connection with arms control negotiations and a resolution of regional conflicts?

The President. Well, in some arms control negotiations, obviously, we're in a multilateral forum. The Vienna talks is one good example. In terms of the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, there is today, as there has been in the last 40 years, keen interest in the United Nations on this question. But the way it will play out is at the U.N. itself -- I think there is far less hostile rhetoric, far fewer polemical speeches at the U.N. where people have been made to choose sides. And so, it's a much more productive environment in which to discuss their role in arms control -- and I think of the U.N. Conference and things that go on -- but also to discuss a lot of other issues.

But I don't see a new role for the United Nations in hammering out a START treaty, helping hammer out a START treaty between the United States and the Soviets, or having a role in the -- as we try to go forward in chemical weapons with the Soviets in terms of what I called for on the Soviet side and the U.S. side. But there will be a role, could well be a role in trying to get other countries that possess chemical weapons, for example, to get rid of them, or certainly to stop proliferation. The U.N. has a vital role.

Did I get your question?

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. No, sir. I meant how the new attitude would help or whatever in the arms control talks themselves between the United States and the Soviet Union. And also whether they would help in resolving some of the regional conflicts that separate us, like Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Is there more trust --

The President. The U.N. might help on that?

Q. No, sir -- how the new attitude -- --

The President. Oh, excuse me -- --

Q. -- -- the Soviet relations -- --

The President. I got the U.N. question mixed into your question. Look, I think that the spirit that prevailed in Wyoming is just one more manifestation that we don't have a disconnect with Mr. Gorbachev on Soviet-U.S. relations. And that spirit obviously makes it much easier to discuss contentious regional issues or arms control issues.

There have been times, and I think everybody -- you all know -- when it was very difficult even to bring subjects up without getting a rhetorical diatribe on the question. And now you can talk about any subject very openly. And I think that is a very constructive development, and I would thank the Soviet leaders who are dialoguing with us in that manner. That isn't to say we don't have a few contentious subjects in which we have differences and will probably have strong differences for a long time. That's why I want to have a prudent defense policy. I don't want to do something naive or silly in defense just because we are working more closely with the Soviets today.

We're not building our foreign policy on the success of any one individual or the failure of any one individual. We're building it on what is the best for the free world and the United States, and then we're striving mightily to make the Soviets understand that and to bring them along in constructive negotiation. And I am pleased. I was criticized -- it wasn't so many days ago -- for timidity. I think the team I have here knows what it's doing, and I'm very proud of them all. And they work together, and we don't have to necessarily advertise every step that we're taking. And I think now the American people see that -- well, I hope they do.

Q. Well, you speak with two voices here, though. Cheney [Secretary of Defense] talks about it being dangerous and fallacious to play ball with the Soviets, and you are saying we want to see us succeed. You know, there is a dichotomy there.

The President. We speak with one voice. Cheney's voice is loud and clear. And he's saying: Don't do something dumb. Don't make the mistake of unilaterally disarming -- knocking out significant strategic modernization programs at the very minute that the Soviet Union is going forward on the modernization front. And that's good advice for the President of the United States, and believe me, it is needed and good advice for the Congress of the United States.

So, I take that into consideration. And we're trying to have a strong defense program that is prudent and realistic and not based on some euphoric hope that there are no differences between these countries.

But back to the question. When you have a civil climate you can discuss things much more easily with the Soviets today.

Chemical Weapons

Q. Mr. President, are you willing to do away with chemical weapons if the Soviet Union goes along with that, just like they proposed yesterday, even as you negotiate an international treaty?

The President. No, absolutely not.

Q. Why do we need -- --

The President. I said what we're willing to do. We need a certain sense of deterrence, and we need to have some leverage to get a lot of other proliferating countries to do what I think the world cries out for -- enter into an agreement to ban them all. It was like the argument on the INF. Do you remember a few years ago -- on INF weapons? People were saying: Don't deploy; that will disrupt all negotiations. We went forward, we deployed, and then we got an agreement to eliminate them all. It's the same theory involved there.

Q. But, surely, there are other weapons that would act as a deterrent other than chemical weapons to those countries.

The President. Well, let's sell that idea to these other countries, and I think you're onto something. But I'm not going to do something unilaterally on that. I've already said what we're going to do, and we're prepared to sit down and talk to the Soviets about it. But I think in the final analysis that -- we're pretty close to agreement on the principles that I enunciated the other day. And the fact that they come back -- I view that as very positive. I don't view that as one-upmanship of some sort in arms control. I think it's a very positive manifestation of what I'm talking about, about a more civil climate here.

Capital Gains Taxes

Q. Mr. President, on the capital gains, if I could return for a minute, you've repeatedly cited John Kennedy's support for a cut in the capital gains tax. But another thing that he wanted to do was to close the loophole which allowed gains at death to go untaxed. Do you feel that as this has come up as an issue that it's fair to have that continue?

The President. I haven't even thought about that, I'll be honest with you.

Q. It would raise $5 billion a year.

The President. I hadn't thought about it. And we're talking here about not dismantling tax reform or going into an opening of every tax provision. Maybe my sense of history isn't as acute as it should be, but I just don't remember that as far as the Kennedy program. I'm not questioning it, I just don't know.

There are a lot of other revenue-raisers people will be proposing. But I think we've got an overall tax reform plan. There are some exceptions that I've proposed, and I would leave that one to the Congress right now. But I'd have to look very carefully before I could say I could support it.

Andean Drug Summit

Q. The meeting with President Barco [Colombia] tomorrow, sir. Are you going to be setting a drug summit?

The President. Oh, I don't know -- Brent [Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] -- whether we've -- where is the General -- or, Bob [Robert Gates, Assistant to the President and Deputy for National Security Affairs] -- whether we've talked about at this meeting setting a drug summit. I've already talked to Barco about a high-level drug meeting with the Presidents of various countries. But whether we'll set it tomorrow there, I just -- I have not discussed it with him personally. And I've had -- talked to him yesterday, or talked to him the day before. But I'll be very interested in his view on it and how that could affect -- the timing of which, how that could help on this fight.

Q. Do you have a view of when and where it should be, and which countries it should include, sir?

The President. No, we don't. And again, I'm anxious to get his views. I expect the subject will come up because we've given -- I believe we've given support to it. I know I feel that it would be a constructive thing. But we're a little -- we haven't really set the exact timing of it.

I'll tell you, in Costa Rica I will be meeting with many of the leaders from South America and the Caribbean. And I think that might be a time when we could get a lot of other views as to timing, who should attend, and -- but it's not set.

President's Security

Q. Mr. President, there's a report in Newsday today that the drug lords are threatening to kidnap one of your children if they're not granted amnesty -- --

The President. If what?

Q. If they're not granted amnesty, if the drug lords aren't granted amnesty. Earlier, you said -- when this question arose, you said you didn't have any information on that -- --

The President. Yes. I hadn't.

Q. Do you have any information about what Newsday says is this threat?

The President. I do not. And I have a feeling that that matter is of enough interest to me that it would have been brought to my attention. And I don't mean to be complacent, but I have confidence in our intelligence community. I have confidence in the international cooperation on intelligence -- sometimes I wish it were more. And I have confidence in the Secret Service and their ability to do their job. So, I don't live in fear of anything like this, but, Terry, I've not heard that, and I feel confident I would have if there had been some -- what I would call hard intelligence. I can't do my job if I get deterred by rumors or -- I think I'd know that if there was something serious -- --

Q. But you have increased security, and your children now all have it, when they had declined it.

The President. Yes. Varying degrees. And I don't discuss it because I think one of the contradictions in an open society is, I can understand everybody's interest in knowing every detail, but I can also understand the security system's desire that every detail not be known. I think security is better in that way. But that, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International] -- to the degree security has been stepped up in accordance with the law and the Bush kids, it is not because of a specific, hard piece of intelligence, hard threat. And I'm confident of that. My problem is, would I tell you if I weren't? But I am confident of that. And I'm confident that I gave you the right answer because I think I would have known that.

Q. You may be the last to know. I'm teasing.

The President. Well, no, but I can see why somebody would want to -- --

Q. Save you from fears.

The President. Well, but we have a close family and people are -- they don't like it when families get -- you know, have some threat. But it's not -- I want to just assure people that there isn't -- we are not living under that kind of a threat.

Thank you all. Any more questions on education? [Laughter]

Chicago Cubs

Q. What about the Cubs, Mr. President? The Chicago Cubs?

The President. Oh, the Cubs?

Q. Yes. Is it their turn?

The President. It's fantastic. The debate over lights at Wrigley Field have given way to euphoria over winning. That's my comment. You heard it right here in the Oval Office first.

Q. So you think the lights did it?

The President. What I'm trying to do is figure out how to get to a game. Either American League or National League playoff or a World Series game.

Q. Are you committed to going to at least one, Mr. President?

The President. Not committed, but trying hard to figure it out.

Q. You have to take [former Reagan Press Secretary] Jim Brady with you.

The President. Oh, to go see a Cubs game.

Q. Who is going to win that American League East race?

The President. Well, I've given up on the Rangers. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 10:35 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

George Bush, Remarks on the Education Summit and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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