Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on Vetoing the Labor-HEW-OEO Appropriations Bill

January 26, 1970

Good evening, my fellow Americans:

I would like to share with you tonight a decision that is one of the most difficult decisions I have made since I assumed the Office of the Presidency a year ago.

I have here on my desk a bill, a bill [H.R. 13111] which has been passed by the Congress and sent to me for signature. For the first time, I am exercising tonight the constitutional power of the President to veto a bill and send it back to the Congress for further consideration.

This decision is particularly difficult because this bill provides funds for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Now let us clearly understand the issues. The issue is not whether some of us are for education and health and others are against it.

There are no goals which I consider more important for this Nation than to improve education and to provide better health care for the American people.

The question is: How much can the Federal Government afford to spend on these programs this year?

In April I asked the Congress to appropriate more for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare than it has ever appropriated before. This means that this year the Federal Government will spend 13 percent more on programs for health, education, and welfare than it spent last year. For Federal programs that affect education, we will spend over $10 billion. Now in this bill that I have before me, the Congress has increased the amount that I recommended by $1 billion 260 million. Over $1 billion of this increase is in the field of education.

Now why, in an election year particularly, would a President hesitate for one moment to sign a bill providing for such politically popular causes as this one? The reason is this: The President of the United States has an obligation to consider all the worthy causes that come before him and he is to consider them having in mind only one principle--What is best for all the people of the United States?

I believe that the increase over the amount that I recommended, the increase which is contained in this bill passed by the Congress, is not in the best interests of all the American people, because it is in the wrong amount for the wrong purposes and at the wrong time.

Let me address myself first to the questions of the amount of spending involved.

This Nation faces a crisis which directly affects every family in America--the continuing rise in the cost of living. From 1960 to 1970, the cost of living went up 25 percent in this country. Now, for the average family of four in America that meant an increase of $2,400 a year in the items that go into your cost of living-your grocery bills, your housing, your transportation, your medical costs.

A major reason for this increase in the cost of living is that in that same I o-year period, from 1960 to 1970, the Federal Government spent $57 billion more than it took in in taxes.

I think this was wrong. That is why as your President I intend to do everything that I can to see that the Federal Government spends less in Washington so that you can have more to spend at home. If we are to stop the rise in the cost of living which is putting such a strain on the family budgets of millions of Americans, we have to cut the Federal budget.

That is why I ordered cuts of $7 billion in Federal spending in 1970. That is why, for example, the budget I will submit to Congress for 1971 will call for a smaller percentage of Federal spending for defense than in any year since 1950.

For the first time in 20 years, the budget will provide more funds for human resources than for defense.

Now, if I approved the increased spending contained in this bill, I would win the approval of many fine people who are demanding more spending by the Federal Government for education and health. But I would be surrendering in the battle to stop the rise in the cost of living, a battle we must fight and win for the benefit of every family in this Nation.

A second reason I am vetoing this bill is that I believe that it increases spending for the wrong purposes. The increased spending ordered by Congress for the most part simply provides more dollars for the same old programs without making the urgent new reforms that are needed if we are to improve the quality of education and health care in America.

I believe that when we consider how much we are putting into education in the United States, that we are entitled to get more out in terms of better quality in education. That is why in my education message which I shortly will be submitting to the Congress I will propose a new and searching look at our American school system. In this examination we will look at such basic questions as why millions of our children in school are unable to read adequately; we will put emphasis on improving the quality of education for every child in America.

An example of the unfairness of this bill is the impacted aid program which is supposed to help areas which need assistance because of the presence of Federal installations. The bill provides $6 million for the one-half million people who live in the richest county in the United States, and only $3 million for the three million people that live in the 100 poorest counties in the United States.

President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, President Johnson all criticized this program as being unfair. And yet the Congress in this bill not only perpetuates this unfair program, it adds money to it.

The third reason I am vetoing this bill is because it requires the money to be spent at the wrong time. We are now nearly three-quarters of the way through the school year. This bill forces us to spend the money it appropriates--and we would have to spend it all before June 30.

When money is spent in a hurry, a great deal is wasted. There is no good time to waste the taxpayers' money, but there is no worse time to waste it than today.

The Congress will determine on Wednesday whether it will sustain or override my veto of this legislation. If the veto is sustained, I will immediately seek appropriations which will assure the funds necessary to provide for the needs of the Nation in education and health.

You can be sure that no school will need to be closed. No school child will be denied an education as a result of the action I take tonight. I will work with the Congress in developing a law that will ease the transition to education reform and do so without inflation.

I realize that a number of Congressmen and Senators, as well as many who are members of what is called the education lobby, disagree with the views I have expressed tonight. I respect their different viewpoint. I deeply share the concerns of those who want more funds for education and for health and for other worthy causes in this country.

But it is my duty to act on behalf of the millions of Americans, including teachers and students, as well as patients in our hospitals, who will pay far more in the rise in the cost of living than they will receive from the increased spending provided for in this bill.

We spend more for health and education than any nation in the world. We are able to do this--and I hope we can continue to do so in the future because we have the great good fortune to be the richest nation by far in the whole history of the world.

But we can spend ourselves poor. That is why no matter how popular a spending program is, if I determine that its enactment will have the effect of raising your prices or raising your taxes, I will not approve that program.

Now for these reasons, for the first time, tonight, instead of signing a bill which has been sent to me by the Congress, I am signing this veto message.

[At this point the President signed the veto message. He then resumed speaking.]

My fellow Americans, I believe this action is in the long-range interests of better education and improved health care. But most important, I believe that this action that I have just taken is in the vital interests of all Americans in stopping the rise in the cost of living.

Thank you, and good night.

Note: The President spoke at 9 p.m. in his office at the White House. His remarks were broadcast live on radio and television.

On the same day the White House also released an advance text of the President's remarks.

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Vetoing the Labor-HEW-OEO Appropriations Bill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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