Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Briefing for the American Legislative Exchange Council

April 22, 1988

The President. Thank you all very much, and a special thank you to your chairman, Senator Owen Johnson, to your executive director, Connie Heckman, and there happens to be a fellow, I think, down here that—a longtime old friend who founded this organization, Don Totten. And, well, welcome to the White House complex. The White House complex—they call it that because nothing in Washington is ever simple. [Laughter]

Now, I've been warned recently about starting so many of my talks with a joke or two—sort of along the lines of a story that Lincoln used to tell. It concerned two Quaker ladies who were discussing Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and the progress of the Civil War. And the first lady said, "I think Jefferson will succeed." And the second asked, "Why does thee think so?" She said, "Because," the first one, "Jefferson is a praying man." "And so is Abraham Lincoln a praying man," said the second lady. "Yes," replied the first lady, "but the Lord will think Abe is joking." [Laughter]

Well, I'm not joking when I say that every one of the eight times I've met with you these 8 years I've wished more like you were in our Congress. And yet I'm also glad you're where you are: leading our conservative revolution in the State legislatures of America. Yes, when we talk about federalism here in Washington, we're really talking about putting the States more and more in charge. And that means that if what we conservatives believe in, if the principles that we stand for, are to succeed and prevail, we will need more conservatives like you in our State legislatures.

Already you're leading not only the States but the Federal Government as well in an agenda of hope for the future. In areas like tort reform, drug legislation, AIDS testing and research, welfare reform, privatization, and education reform, you've been way out in front of the pack. In fact, when I look at all you've done—and in areas like welfare reform, for example—I can't help wondering about that old argument for federalism. It used to be said that if we gave the States more power they'd show that they had the maturity to handle as well as Congress handles its power. Talk about faint praise. [Laughter] Well, we'd be lucky if Congress had your maturity, your foresight, and your wisdom.

Nowhere is this more true than in spending. Most of you have to balance your budgets. It's a requirement of your State constitutions. Everyone knows that's not the case here in Washington. It should be. But Congress usually won't act without a little friendly prodding, and you can do that. Thirty-two States have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to draft a balanced budget amendment. As my good friend Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, wrote recently about the prospects of making it 33, in Ed's words: "With 33 States on board, Congress would feel enormous pressure to take control of the situation, lest it be cut out of the process, as a convention would do." Now, I prefer Congress to deal with the issue directly. But if they don't, a good nudge in the right direction will get their attention.

Getting the Federal Government's fiscal house in order is part of the unfinished business of our revolution. And despite the odds, I'm convinced that, one way or another, it'll be done. You see, on this issue, as on so many others, we've changed the terms of national debate. Eight years ago, who would have thought that Democrats would run for President saying they were against deficits. They remind me of a story about Mac West, the movie star. She was on the set one day with another actress who was on edge because she thought Mac West was upstaging her. Finally, this other actress turned to the director and said West's timing was all wrong, and to West she said, "You forget I've been an actress for 40 years." West replied, "Don't worry, dear. I'll keep your secret." [Laughter]

But you'd never know it to hear those fellows on the other side who want to pick up the lease here when mine runs out, but we're in the longest peacetime expansion on record. Inflation is under control. A greater proportion of Americans are at work today than ever before in our history. After a falling roller coaster ride of almost a decade, real family income has risen strongly ever since our recovery began. Our expansion is creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs a month, and taken as a whole, these jobs pay better than the jobs already in the economy. Far from deindustrializing, as those other fellows say our nation is doing, many of our manufacturing industries are running near capacity. Far from losing out in world competition, which they also claim is the case, we're exporting now more than ever before in our history.

But the danger in all the false doomsday talk about our national economy is that it will stampede us to do the wrong things, things that really make things bad. And that's the trouble with the trade bill now working its way toward my desk. I'd like to be able to sign trade legislation this year. I've worked in good faith with Congress to produce an acceptable bill. Such a bill would open markets and improve America's competitiveness. And while the legislation working through Congress does enhance our negotiating authority in the ongoing international trade talks and helps us protect intellectual property rights, both good measures, it contains provisions that are unacceptable.

Put simply, on key provisions in the trade bill, the Democratic leadership in Congress has caved in to pressure from organized labor. The plant-closing restriction in the bill would make American industry less competitive—not the way to go if you want to reverse the trade imbalance and save jobs. In fact, the restriction would cost jobs. One example of how—since our recovery began, most net new jobs in the United States have come from companies that were 5 years old or less, entrepreneurial companies, both very large and very small. Europe, on the other hand, has had little entrepreneurship and almost no new—net new jobs.

Recently one of our leading experts on job creation asked why. And he found some straightforward answers including, as he's written, that "regulations are so much more onerous in Europe than in the United States, eliminating much of the flexibility that is bread and meat for entrepreneurs." And what regulations hurt entrepreneurs and their job-creating powers most? In his words, "Europeans face a host of rules governing their right to close down facilities, fire workers, and relocate operations." So, this is how the supporters of the plant-closing restriction would help America's workers-by copying Europe in ways that have led to Europe actually losing jobs between 1980 and today, the same period in which we have created over 15 million new jobs.

One Washington lobbyist recently said of my veto threats: "I think he's crying wolf." Try me! [Laughter] If this bill is unloaded on my desk, I'll stamp it reject and ship it back to where it was made. By the way, that same lobbyist added that he was sure that, in his words, "the administration doesn't want to go into the next election without a trade bill." Well, if they want a trade bill, it's time they took out those provisions that have nothing to do with improving American trade.

I hope Congress will produce a good trade bill this year. Indeed, I want Congress to produce a good trade bill, and I'll work to secure it. But that depends on the leadership in both Houses. Are they willing to put national interest above special interest? If so, we can all join together to help keep America strong and growing.

Let me close by saying thank you for all you've done and all you will do, and with an appeal to each of you. This is my last meeting with you as President. You're not only today's leaders of our revolution in the States, you are the next generation on the Federal level. So, never forget how much we've done and how fast. Just a few years ago, most of us would have said that it would take decades to make as much progress as we've made in just 8 years. There's still much left to do. But if you persevere, it can be done. America is depending on you. The hopes of our young people are depending on you. And the cause of freedom is depending on you. In a way that few are ever privileged to know, the whole world is in your hands. So, again, I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to all of you, and God bless you.

Senator Johnson. Mr. President, we're very honored that you've met with us again as you have in the past. We're grateful for your Long-standing support which you've rendered to ALEC. We'd like to take this opportunity today to present you with a token of our appreciation, and at this time I'd like to ask Don Totten to step forward-your old friend, and our first chairman. He was going to unveil that picture. He doesn't have to unveil it— [laughter] —but I'll go through the motions as we rehearsed it.

Mr. President, for 8 years we've joined with you in striving for limited government, lower taxes, and more effective judicial and educational institutions. We're deeply appreciative of your achievements and your Long-standing relationship with ALEC from your days as Governor of California to the present time. It's with great admiration and appreciation that we present you with this portrait, which you will receive for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, along with a set of 50 of the State flags in honor of your service to the country and your service to federalism. Thank you, and God bless you.

Mr. Totten. Mr. President, you've been an inspiration to us all, especially ALEC. We look forward to when you, constitutionally, can run again. [Laughter]

The President. I thought that picture looked like somebody familiar that I should know when I came in. [Laughter] Well, I thank you all very much, and thank you for that.

I have to say one more thing. When I used that figure 33 of States that would go for a constitutional convention, maybe I ought to tell you that 33 was my lucky number. [Laughter] It was my number on my jersey when I played football. I was the 33d Governor. And even when we were buying a ranch—and I was on pins and needles as to whether we were going to get it—and friends of ours down in Los Angeles kind of handling the thing called me up on the phone one day, and he said, "I just thought you would like to know that on today, the 3d of December, at 3:33 p.m. this afternoon, escrow closed. The ranch is yours." [Laughter] Tony Dorsett, the great star of the Dallas football team, somehow got wind of this and my feeling about it. So, I now have a Dallas football jersey with the number 33 on it— [laughter] —after they'd won the Super Bowl.

Okay, well, thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:13 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing for the American Legislative Exchange Council Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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