Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the House of Representatives Republican Conference

March 22, 1988

Our job in the next few months is to keep the leadership on the other side of the aisle from ramming through legislation that would send the longest peacetime economic expansion on record into a tailspin. You know the legislation I mean—plant closing regulations, protectionist trade legislation, a huge hike in the minimum wage which will guarantee unemployment for millions of poor urban teenagers, costly new entitlement programs, and hidden tax increases. Yes, working together, we've kept the rascals in the majority in line. The stakes in our continued success are high. When economist Jude Wanninski was asked not long ago why the stock market crashed on October, he replied—here are his words—"the perception that the Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, which is a party of pessimists, believes we must have protectionist trade legislation, we must have tax increases, we must even have a recession" and the fear that Congress might have seized control of economic policy from the administration. Well, thanks to you, in the last several months we've proven to the world that the party of faith, hope, and opportunity is still in the driver's seat.

In a vote you may east today, you can reassure the world once again. I'm talking about the so-called Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, commonly known as the Grove City bill. Equality before the law is the American standard. We can never allow ourselves to fall short. Discrimination is an evil, pure and simple, and cannot ever be tolerated. Ending discrimination and protecting civil rights are not, however, the issues at stake here. The real issue is that accepting one dollar in Federal aid, direct or indirect, would bring entire organizations under Federal control, from the charitable social service organizations to grocery stores to churches and synagogues.

Over the weekend a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Businesses said that, "There is a lot of confusion out there." The group is telling all small businessmen that it would like to sustain the President's veto so that an alternative can be passed which clarifies who is covered and who isn't. "Confusion" is exactly the right word. As Bob Michel and Trent Lott said so aptly—the House was given almost no opportunity to amend the bill to make its intent clear. Jim Sensenbrenner was given a one-shot amendment which would have been very helpful if it had passed, but the Rules Committee gave the rest of you no opportunity to strengthen the bill on the floor so that the American public could know for sure what the legislation accomplished.

I ask you, therefore, to sustain my veto so that we Republicans can demonstrate our commitment to civil rights and our resolve to overturn the Grove City decision in a responsible manner. With my veto message on the Grove City bill, I transmitted to Congress the Civil Rights Protection Act of 1988, which is designed to ensure equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination, while preserving our basic freedoms. It would strengthen the civil rights coverage of education institutions and accommodate other concerns raised during congressional consideration of the Grove City issue. It would extend the Federal civil rights laws to an entire plant or facility receiving Federal aid, but it would not single out certain sectors of our economy for nationwide coverage, as S. 557 would. If my veto is sustained, this is the bill that Republicans can all help move through the Congress to strengthen the protections afforded the civil rights of our citizens.

Now, let me turn to another area: our national security. If anyone still doubted what you and I've been saying for years-that the road to peace is through the strength of America and its friends—you'd think the INF treaty would have set their doubts to rest. But apparently it hasn't. The same issue is at stake in Central America today, and the same people are making the same old mistakes. Those who led the fight against our package of assistance to the democratic resistance cannot escape responsibility for what happened. Immediately after the House vote against our package of aid to the freedom fighters, Daniel Ortega called for the "complete and total defeat" of the contras. Our critics—the ones who told us that taking pressure off of the Sandinistas would move them in a more democratic direction—these critics dismissed Ortega's words as "idle rhetoric." We know now that physical preparations for the incursion began immediately.

This incursion is no mere political mistake by the Sandinistas. It is part of a broad offensive that is both military and political. It is meant to deliver a knockout blow to the democratic resistance. And rather than pointing the way to more democracy, the cutoff of aid has also been followed by more harassment and oppression in Nicaragua-including attacks with rocks, chains, and pipes by Sandinista-sponsored mobs on political demonstrations; the harassment of opposition journalists; and not-so-veiled threats to the opposition parties. Rarely has a political proposition been tested so fully and conclusively. Opponents of our package of aid to the freedom fighters said that little or no assistance would mean more democracy and less war, but just the opposite has occurred.

The truth about Nicaragua is getting out. Early last week, for example, I spoke to major contributors to the United Jewish Appeal and got a warm response when I talked about Sandinista anti-Semitism and Sandinista ties to drugs, Castro, and terrorism. I mentioned that Sandinista leaders had been trained by the PLO, and the one hijacker who died in a PLO hijacking of an El Al airline was a Sandinista who now has a powerplant named after him in Nicaragua. I mentioned the attacks on Managua's only synagogue. And I mentioned, too, the line from the Commission on Organized Crime report tying members of the Sandinista leadership to international drug trafficking.

This issue is not going away and will be coming back to the Hill again. We're determined to get continued assistance for the resistance. And if we stick together, this time we'll make it. It's issues like these I've mentioned today, issues that will chart the course of America into the next century, that make me determined to leave the next Republican President a more Republican House of Representatives. We've got a lot of work left before this old cowboy climbs up on his horse and rides off into the sunset. But I have a feeling that when the credits roll up on the screen for the hit show "GOP Administration—1981 to 1989 and Beyond," the last credit will read: "Don't miss the exciting sequel: 'A GOP House of Representatives in the nineties.'

Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:16 a.m. in the Caucus Room at the Cannon House Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the House of Representatives Republican Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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