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Remarks to the National Legislative Conference of the Independent Insurance Agents of America

March 14, 1989

Thank you all very, very much. Larry understands -- [laughter] -- but if I look a little frantic, our dog is expecting. [Laughter] And if you think I look frantic, you ought to see the Silver Fox! [Laughter] That's Barbara. No, but I'm delighted to be here; appreciate that warm welcome, complete with a few scattered Texas flags in the audience. And it is an honor to be before this group.

In this city, the currency of status is measured in titles, honorifics: Senator, Ambassador, Secretary. But in my book, this group holds one of the most impressive titles of all: entrepreneur. And I know that the hunger that you feel to own a firm of your own, start from scratch, build it, watch it grow. And I know the satisfaction of matching resources to needs and meeting deadlines and meeting payrolls.

A few years after World War II, when I got out of college, I moved out to west Texas; and a couple of years after that, the early fifties, started my own business. And it was a very small firm -- not too small to teach me the facts of economic life. But we got started by risk-taking -- got the business education by helping others make that company grow. And our company was a high-risk venture. There was new technology that was unproven, full of half-starts and failures in that -- it was all called the off-shore drilling business. And we took a gamble, and we invested in new technology. And then we eventually succeeded in pioneering a new way to find America's energy.

And it wasn't always easy, even in the years that the company did reasonably well. And I recall our despair one time, and some of you in your business know what I'm talking about when you think of insurance. When one of those hurricanes swept through the Gulf of Mexico and one-third of our company's assets were invested in a brand-new drilling rig, with brand-new technology -- a hurricane swept through the Gulf. And I went out with our drilling engineer and rented a little Piper, maybe it was a twin-engine plane, but anyway -- in the aftermath of the hurricane and looked and looked and looked. And the rig had totally vanished. People had been taken off before the storm, but the rig was gone. One-third of the investment of our company totally disappeared. But from that and other such similar events, I learned some very important lessons. When that rig went down and people lost their jobs -- when we rebuilt, there was the satisfaction of seeing people go back to work. And I saw the strain on the faces of the family breadwinners, but I also saw the joy.

So, Washington may not always appreciate the role of small business in creating jobs, but I do. And I think -- you know, I used to get needled about the resume to bring to be President of the United States. But like you, I think one of the most important things is the private sector: taking risks, competing, starting small businesses. And I hope I never forget the lessons that I learned as a small businessman.

I also appreciate this industry's role in society. Without insurance, the loss of spouse could mean the loss of a home. Without insurance, the loss of a parent could keep a child from attending college. We cannot offer protection against fate, but we can prevent the compounding of a tragedy so that a death or an illness doesn't leave a bitter legacy of poverty or despair for a whole family. You prevent that kind of double tragedy, and you add a little bit of comfort to the grieving and predictability for those who are victims of the unpredictable.

So, this is your service to society. It's as crucial a service as that of any social welfare agency. And you cannot continue to perform it if your industry is hamstrung by excessive regulation. And that's why we have worked to remove excessive regulations -- the job's not done -- to free the creative energies of small firms by ordering a review of more than 100 government regulations. The task force on regulatory relief, which I chaired as Vice President, saved the private sector more than 600 million man-hours of paperwork and billions of dollars in government compliance costs. And I want to work now to continue to work to free small businesses of the remaining excesses of regulation. My philosophy is this: that when it comes to necessary regulation of business, I'm committed to letting the States take the lead, not the Federal Government.

Reducing the regulatory burden is important, but we've got to take action on other fronts, as well, if we're going to do our part in keeping American small business strong. And that's why I've also proposed a cut in the capital gains tax rate. Most of our major trading partners do not tax long-term capital gains. They understand that a high capital gains tax unnecessarily hurts our competitive position by drying up the formation of capital, business, and jobs.

In 1978, when the Congress cut the maximum tax rate on capital gains, the result was an explosion of new companies and new revenues. The critics were still out there, back in '78, saying: "If you do this, you're going to lose revenues. If you do this, it's an advantage for the rich." Didn't work out that way. The Treasury estimates that the new cut that I am proposing will add $4.8 billion to the revenue side in fiscal year 1990 alone. So, let the critics carp. I am going to push for this idea that will stimulate jobs, risktaking, capital formation. And it's good for the economy, and it is not a special tax break for the rich.

Small businesses with less than 500 employees employ more than half of the U.S. workers. You understand this, but I don't believe many people in the United States understand it. So, any onerous new burden on small business will also throw workers out of their jobs. And it's for that reason that I oppose this kind of mounting movement towards mandated employee benefits.

In an area of tight budgets, there's always the temptation to drop the burden of social programs on the backs of the employers. But these policies, borne, I would say, of the best of intentions, can have unintended and counterproductive consequences. It's up to business and labor to negotiate their differences. And make no mistake, I support the right of labor to negotiate as an equal, but burdensome mandated benefits serve neither business nor labor. We've seen what happens in other countries, where mandated benefit programs create obstacles to productivity and growth and, thus, to new job creation. We cannot build a better America if we weigh down our own productive sector with mandated new burdens.

And let me address one other area that concerns your business and that, perhaps, you in this room are much more sensitive to than others. And I'm talking about tort reform. Of course, there are many litigants who deserve a jury's sympathy. We can start from that premise, but when local governments cannot install playgrounds, when businesses are bankrupted, when mothers struggle to find an obstetrician, when volunteer organizations -- Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and others -- have to pull back for fear of excessive claims leveled against them, then it is time to consider limiting some of these outrageous settlements. Tort reform is critical to the health of businesses and volunteer organizations alike.

All of our policies are directed toward a single goal: building a better America. And to achieve this goal, my plan has four broad objectives: attention to urgent priorities, an attack on the deficit, hold the line on taxes -- no new taxes -- and an investment in the future. And without a strong private sector, our nation would be mired in the past, doomed to fail.

The entrepreneur is the man or the woman who is not only ready for change but who relishes the thought of it. And this thought leads me to speak to you in more general terms now about my Presidency, the challenges I hope to meet, the accomplishments that I hope we can make for our country.

I'm a man of this century. I fought in the century's greatest war and raised a family and built a business during the mid-century of America's greatness. But I want to be a President who is remembered for preparing our country for the next century. This is my entrepreneurial definition of leadership: to see the shape of things to come and to prepare for that 21st century world only 11 years away. By the year 2000, we will have experienced change as swift and fast as a torrent -- change in the American family, in our work habits, change in technology, and change in the world economy, change in the rate of change itself. The makeup of our remarkable nation has been evolving constantly, but the qualities on which it was founded are timeless and true. And one of those constants is that we are an entrepreneurial people, at our best when we are challenged and when we boldly face the future.

And so, my agenda is this: to confront the emerging problems of the future today. A complacent society is doomed to comfortable decline, and we are not complacent. A dynamic society is one that keeps pace with the times. So, call it that if you will: a dynamic America. But recognize in the restless drive and vision of the American entrepreneur our best qualities as a nation.

A complacent nation would take comfort that America is free in a world at peace. But world events are moving too swiftly for us to relax in set ways and to cling to smug assumptions. The question we must answer is: Will American foreign policy be flexible enough to meet the emerging and potentially dramatic new world developments? And with this question in mind, I've asked all the appropriate agencies -- State Department, Defense, other agencies -- to reassess our foreign policy and defense strategy. And this comprehensive review will set the basis for our future actions and guide America into the next decade and toward the next century.

I see a couple of kids here. I believe they have a chance to grow up in a more peaceful world. I believe we have, with the changes in the Soviet Union, great challenge, but also great opportunity. But the answer is not to rush in. The answer is to take a prudent reevaluation and then move forward with the leadership that only the United States of America can provide the rest of the free world.

On economic policy, I've submitted to the Congress a budget that is fiscally responsible. This budget does four things: It substantially reduces the deficit; it includes no new taxes; it addresses key priorities; and it still provides for important investments which will help make us more competitive in the future. My speech to Congress, incidentally, was accompanied by 193 pages of specific recommendations for the budget. And looking back in the history books, if you will permit a comment about -- it might sound a little bit prideful -- we found that no other President in recent history has presented quite so much information to Congress at such an early date.

And I've also submitted a proposal to solve a festering problem that threatens our future prosperity: a plan to restore the integrity of our nation's savings and loan institutions. It's an enormous problem, and our plan has been well-received on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. I've asked the Congress to take action within 45 days; challenged them, now that we've come up with the proposal, to move forward. This problem requires prompt and prudent action.

The changing nature of American society to more working parents is putting pressure on our most basic social institution. I'm talking about the family. How will we respond to this change? We simply cannot afford to create some massive new entitlement program, and that's why I am proposing a child-care plan that combines tax credits and private sector resources to offer parents a choice. I want to empower parents, not government, to seek the best and safest environment for their children. And the underpinning of my plan is the family -- strength in the American family.

But many other areas of change. Homelessness affects a small proportion of Americans, but concerns us all. I drove here today -- or when you look out the window of the White House and see the ragged, pathetic figures huddled over the steam grates of the Ellipse, I see an affront to the American dream, a national shame, if you will. And we must seek the root causes of and devise the most practical solutions for the homelessness.

The environment, once the concern of a farsighted few, is now a top priority of my administration at home and abroad. You know, this isn't a conservative or a liberal question -- the question of the environment. I think of Teddy Roosevelt as one of the great conservationists, one of the great environmentalists. The time has come to lay aside partisan approach to these enormous environmental questions. We must devise a global approach to the problem of ozone depletion and global warming. We intend to make rapid progress on acid rain and see that a new clean air bill is produced. And we've already broken ground in joining with other nations to call for the elimination of the CFC's [chlorofluorocarbons] in adopting a tough new policy on the export of hazardous waste.

And there's drugs: The scourge of drug abuse will test our resolve and a mettle as a people. I'll bet you if I could talk to each one of you in a family setting that you'd tell me the things that concern you the most is the question of drugs -- how it's affecting your schools, how it's affecting your own children or your grandchildren. And I'm concerned, as well. And I'm asking the Congress for $6 billion for our antidrug program in 1990 to beef up drug education, rehabilitation, law enforcement and, yes, interdiction.

And I'm also pleased that we have a strong, new drug czar. I'm a little confused as to why, in the United States -- [laughter] -- we want a strong, new leader, we call him a czar. [Laughter] But nevertheless, I'll defer to the Congress on this one. [Laughter] We've got a strong one. Call him a leader, call him a czar -- Bill Bennett. And he's at my side, shoulder-to-shoulder to guide and coordinate this all-out effort against drugs. And it's not easy. When you look at the complexity of the Federal Government and the number of the agencies that are involved in this question of antinarcotics, it is a massive executive, coordinative job. And Bill Bennett will be superb as the first drug czar.

And finally, I want to single out one area which in so many ways is preeminently important to our nation. I am sure it is of particular importance to your family. We have got to protect and strengthen our schools. You and I know that education is our most enduring legacy. And you and I know that education is nothing less than the very heart and soul of our civilization. I want that control to remain with the families and the PTA and the local school boards and the States before the Federal Government when it comes to the control of our educational process, of our curriculum. And I will resist any effort to centralize all the answers for education here in Washington, DC.

But you know, education is this enduring legacy. And as we face a new decade and a new century, we also face a new challenge to revitalize and restore the system that our forebears bequeathed to us to ensure that American education is second to none. And I've made a number of proposals to work towards this goal, work with the States and the local to achieve that goal. Among them is my request to reward those schools whose students show measurable progress in educational achievement while maintaining a safe and drug-free environment. I've also asked for an annual fund of $100 million in new appropriations to help create magnet schools to broaden the educational choice of parents and students. And I've made many other proposals, including programs to strengthen the historically black colleges and universities, to reward our best teachers. And I appeal to you to get active in your schools, to share your knowledge, expertise, and resources where it is most needed.

I've laid out in broad terms, then, this agenda for building a better America. And, yes, it is ambitious; but it is no less ambitious, no less dynamic than the American people themselves. And as the business men and women, you can help me to fulfill this agenda, to meet the challenges that face our country. By working together, we can achieve absolutely anything. And so, the problems seem big at times out there, but believe me, never underestimate the ability of the American people if we together set our sights on achieving certain goals. I need your help.

I'm delighted to be here, and thank you for inviting me.

Note: The President spoke at 10:18 a.m. in the Presidential Ballroom at the Capital Hilton Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Lawrence E. Hite, president of the Independent Insurance Agents of America.

George Bush, Remarks to the National Legislative Conference of the Independent Insurance Agents of America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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