The President's News Conference
EUGENE C. PATTERSON. Mr. President, we would like to request that you respond to questions of the members of ASNE, and I will recognize John Hughes of the Christian Science Monitor to ask the first question.
MR. HUGHES. Mr. President, whatever the reaction to your economic speech here today, it seems clear that this administration faces a continuing image problem. You, sir, came into office with an image of freshness, with promises of efficiency and reform, and above all, with promises to run an open administration, close to the public. But after 15 months, the polls seem to indicate declining public hope in your administration.
Some of our newspapers criticize you for being indecisive and above all had said that the Presidency, far from being open, is increasingly dependent on a small group of intimate advisers.
Whether these charges are fair or unfair, sir, are you concerned by this dramatic shift in image, and if so, how do you hope to redress the situation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't agree that there is a dramatic shift in image. I think the poll results have been fairly stable for the last 4 or 5 months. And as has been the case with previous Presidents, after the flush of victory is over and the very difficult responsibilities descend on the shoulders of a President, the high expectations of the people that the. problems would be resolved overnight tend to cause a deterioration in public expectancy and sometimes a feeling of discouragement.
We have deliberately addressed some of the more difficult and intransigent, even historic, problems of our country. And we are having, I think, good progress in resolving most of these problems.
In domestic affairs, we've begun to reorganize the Government. Every proposal that I put to the Congress so far has been accepted. We formed a new Department of Energy. The Congress has now been working for 12 months on a comprehensive energy policy.
These are the same matters that were addressed when Harry Truman was President back in 1948—deregulation of natural gas, dealing with excessive energy consumption. They are extremely controversial, very difficult.
We've put forward our proposals on economic stimulus. And I believe that last year we achieved a remarkable degree of success in meeting the goals that we had set for our administration, with unemployment dropping drastically, as I've already pointed out, inflation holding steady, good economic growth.
We've, I think, helped to revitalize the interest not only of our own country but our European allies in the strength of NATO, a recommitment to a longrange military program that will recement that Alliance.
We are dealing with a very difficult Middle East problem. And I think if anyone would take an inventory of what did occur a year ago, what circumstance did prevail, the progress that has been made—although success is still doubtful—is notable.
We are making good, steady progress on the SALT negotiations, a subject that has been a matter of public international debate for decades. I think that we have a good prospect this year of having a success in that respect. For the first time, we are addressing actual reducing the number of atomic weapons held by ourselves and the Soviet Union.
We are making good progress along with the British and the Soviets with a comprehensive test ban, for the first time prohibiting, if we are successful, the testing of any atomic explosions, either military weapons or peaceful devices, an unprecedented attempt at a very difficult subject.
I think it's accurate to say that a year or so ago, almost everyone felt that the nuclear genie was out of the bottle, that many of the nations that don't have atomic explosive capability were on the verge of achieving it through the free sale of reprocessing plants around the world. I think that's now been stopped.
I think our effort to put forward an image of our country that would give us a source of pride in human rights has had a profound impact around the world. I don't think there's a single leader of a nation anywhere that's not now constantly aware of the question of "how my country, how my actions are measuring up against international standards in preserving basic human rights."
So, we've got a lot of things that we haven't yet solved. We are trying to deal with them—energy, inflation, continued government efficiency, welfare reform, tax reform. But I think the Congress has had a notable achievement.
I feel at ease with the job, I've enjoyed it. I roll easily with the punches of criticism, whether I think it's deserved or not deserved. Our poll status is holding steady at this point. And I think with a few successes, which I do predict, maybe the polls would even go up a little.
So, I think in general, I could characterize our administration as dealing with some of the most difficult questions that face our Nation without restraint and without attention being given to the political consequences of possible failure, and I believe that the successes in the future will prove that we were right. I'll keep the other answers briefer.
MR. HUGHES. I think my colleague from Boston, Mr. Winship, might like to take that a little further.
THE PRESIDENT. Tom, good to see you.
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
MR. WINSHIP. I can't resist saying how satisfying it is to all of us to finally see you live, if it were, at an ASNE convention. As you remember, I think we had a couple of encounters, rather shaky telephonic communications, once from the opposite sides of a picket line in Washington and once from Honolulu. And it's nice to see you here.
My question: You've been in office 15 months, roughly. How comfortable do you feel in the job, what is your biggest surprise that you've encountered in this job, and do you definitely plan to run for reelection?
THE PRESIDENT. The answer to your last question is no, I don't definitely plan to run for reelection. I've not addressed that question at all.
Secondly, my biggest surprise—I guess you mean in the nature of a disappointment—I think I have found that it's much easier for me in my own administration to evolve a very complex proposal for resolving a difficult issue than it is for Congress to pass legislation and to make that same decision.
The energy legislation is one example. I never dreamed a year ago in April when I proposed this matter to the Congress that a year later it still would not be resolved. I think I've got a growing understanding of the Congress, its limitations and its capabilities, and also its leadership, which was a new experience for me altogether, never having lived nor served in the Federal Government in Washington.
As far as my attitude toward the job is concerned, I like it. I've got a good staff. We have now evolved, I think, a good means by which we address major issues and let everyone's views be known. We sometimes have, contrary to what Mr. Hughes said, too open an examination of our debate process and decisionmaking process, where the news media quite often takes a preliminary proposal by a Secretary or a matter that we are considering as a final judgment, and I only make one judgment, which is then released to the press. That's been a problem for us. I think I've got an outstanding Cabinet. After this first 15 months, there is none on the Cabinet that I would have preferred to have changed. I'm very satisfied with them. I hope they're also satisfied.
So, I like the job. I feel at ease with it. I'm doing the best I can with difficult problems. All Presidents have shared them. And I think, compared to my predecessors, we've done okay.
WAGE AND PRICE CONTROLS
Q. Mr. President, I'm Abe Rosenthal, the New York Times. In your speech you've taken a position against imposed wage and price controls.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. And yet in your speech, you yourself impose wage controls on the Federal part of the work force. That's not very voluntary. And you also talk about a Federal pricing policy. Do you have any mental tripwire at which point you will say that this country must have an imposed wage and price control policy, that the inflation has gone too high and that voluntarism simply has not worked?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I do not. I think even if inflation should continue to escalate and reach a very high level, that wage and price controls, mandatory wage and price controls, would be ill-advised and also counterproductive. I don't think they would work. The only instance in which I can think wage and price controls might be applied would be a case of national emergency, like an all-out war, some tragedy of that kind, where normal economic processes would not be at work.
I don't think that my dealing with the wages of people that I appoint or whose executive management is my responsibility is under the category of wage and price controls. I think that the normal processes of wages will be observed, and I hope that the Federal Government can break the deadlock that now exists between the private and public sector by setting an example.
I think that what I have proposed in the top executives in my own staff members having no increases this year, and a 5 1/2-percent increase for the white-collar- workers of the Federal Government, is reasonable. But I can't imagine any circumstance under which I would favor mandatory wage and price controls.
WAGE AND PRICE GUIDELINES
Q. Mr. President, Dick Harwood with the Washington Post. To further clarify your remarks on this question of wage and price restraint, are you proposing that the 5 1/2 percent should be a standard for private wage settlements this year? And are you proposing any numerical ceiling or guideline on price increases?
THE PRESIDENT. No, the level that I have set as a target for the private sector and it's a voluntary compliance provision-is to take the increases for the last 2 years and have the 1978 increases be less than that 2-year average. And that would apply to both prices and wages. Once we turn the corner on inflation and start with a slight downward trend instead of a continued upward trend, I think we'd have a very healthy result throughout the country without anyone suffering.
As I pointed out, all of us anticipate continued inflation. We make our plans accordingly and therefore perpetuate the inflation rate. There's an underlying inflation rate that has existed in our country now for a number of years of 6 to 6 1/2 percent. I certainly don't want to see that underlying inflation rate increase. I would like to bring it downward, and we've set that as a goal for ourselves.
Last year we met this goal, both in inflation and also in the unemployment rate, and also in national growth rate. But I think that if everyone would voluntarily comply with the standard that I've described to you, it would be an extremely beneficial thing to our country, and no one would suffer in the process.
TUITION TAX CREDITS
Q. Mr. President, Christy Bulkchoy, Danville, Illinois, Commercial News. You expressed concern about the tuition tax credits that are in Congress.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Do you intend to veto the bill if it reaches you as proposed, or do you see an acceptable level of tuition tax credits?
THE PRESIDENT. My present intention would be to veto any bill that was costly and which was unconstitutional. All of the proposals that I have seen in the Congress so far are both costly and unconstitutional, particularly as they apply to elementary and secondary schools. But until I see legislation actually on my desk, I couldn't give you a firm commitment that I would veto it. But unless those two provisions are corrected, that I've just described as potential defects, then I would veto it.
Q. The second question I asked was, do you see a possible compromise on a level that you would consider acceptable?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't favor tuition tax credits under any circumstance, even if it was at a very slight level, because this would inevitably rapidly grow with each succeeding budget; and the first thing that you know, tuition tax credits would be the major Federal expenditure for all education in the United States. And so, I think that tuition tax credits itself, as a subject, is very detrimental to the future of education in our country.
It gives the credits to those who need them least, and it makes the average parent who is a working class person, particularly who has his children in public schools, pay for high tax benefits for families in a higher tax group who have their children in private schools. So, I think whole concept is fallacious, and I don't like it.
SOCIAL SECURITY FINANCING
Q. Mr. President, Jim Squires with the Orlando Sentinel Star. You did not mention a possible veto of the rollback in Congress of social security taxes. And there is a report that you might accept that rollback if it were tied to a proposal that would levy a crude oil tax and devote the revenue to financing the social security project.
Could you tell me if that report is true and if you would veto the bill if it passes in its present form?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've made it clear to the congressional leadership in the House and the Senate that I do not favor any modification in the social security laws or financing' structure this year.
The Congress, I think last year, very courageously passed social security legislation that would bring order out of chaos and put the social security reserve funds back on a sound basis for 25 or 30 years in the future. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. Also, those who are particularly affected with higher social security payments, beginning next year—not this year, by the way—are those in a higher income group who will have their retirement benefits increased.
The tax reform proposals and the tax reduction proposals submitted to Congress this year will in almost every instance more than compensate for any increase in social security payments.
So, for all those reasons, I do not favor any social security legislation this year. I can't say unequivocally that I would veto any such measure that came to my desk. My guess is that the furor that was originally raised about social security benefits, after more careful examination by the American people and the news media, has now ceased to be a burning issue. And my prediction is that the Congress will not send to me any legislation on social security.
Q. Do you see any possibility of compromise with the energy bill, of a tie between those two?
THE PRESIDENT. Not at this moment, I don't.
MINORITY GROUP OPPORTUNITIES
Q. Mr. President, I'm Bob Haiman from the St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida. Mr. President, this is the tenth anniversary of the report of the Kerner Commission on race problems in America. And those who look at that report and its allegations and what's happened since '68 are inclined to believe that there's been some progress for black Americans, but not much. The Carnegie Corporation, in trying to account for why we still seem to be moving toward two separate and unequal societies in this country, last night issued a report which said—very briefly, one sentence—and I quote, "It's because there seems to be no leader who is capable of evoking the nation's latent sense of conscience and mobilizing it to action."
My question, sir, is, could you be that leader, should you be that leader, are you that leader, and if you are, then how do you plan to lead?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it's incumbent on a President to speak for the Nation and particularly to speak for those citizens of our Nation who are deprived, who are needy, who are poor, who are noninfluential, who are inarticulate, and who suffer because of the past discriminations that have fallen upon black people and other minority groups, and who still have their own families devastated by poverty and unemployment out of all proportion to their percentage of the national population.
We have increased greatly the economic benefits, at least the job opportunities of minority groups since I've been in office, not only in the appointments that I've made to major leaders for positions of executive authority but in other ways.
For instance, we set as a goal for the first year of our administration to have more than $100 million in Federal deposits in black-owned banks, minority-owned banks. We've reached that goal. The Congress passed legislation requiring that in the public works program, a $4 billion program, that 10 percent of this money be spent with businesses owned by minority stockholders as a dominant stockholding group. That goal has been exceeded.
We have now proposed to the Congress-and I predict immediate passage, no delay—a complete reorganization of the equal employment opportunity functions within the Federal Government. We are struggling to bring up the unemployment [employment] rate among minority citizens. And I think that in the housing area, in our urban policy program that we just put forward, all these things have been done.
So, to measure my own effectiveness as a leader in this respect is something that I am not able to do. I don't think we've achieved notable success as yet. But I think I, combining my voice with congressional leaders, those in private business, the minority organization leaders who are very evocative and very effective, the sum total of that, plus, obviously, editorial support from all of you, can make a difference.
My own belief is that minority groups have prospered in this country the last 10 years, compared to their previous circumstances. But they have a long way to, go, and I feel responsible to make sure that they go that long way toward equality of opportunity in our country.
Q. Mr. President, Bud Smyser from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. I would like to ask about your China policy and about Taiwan in particular.
The present Peking Government says that it will not use force in the near term to settle the Taiwan question, but it will not rule out the use of force for the indefinite future. Does this reservation by Peking pose an insurmountable obstacle to our full diplomatic recognition of Peking?
THE PRESIDENT. I would not acknowledge any insurmountable obstacle in reaching the goals expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué, which is binding on us—and which I fully support—and binding on the People's Republic of China leaders. We recognize the concept that is shared in Taiwan and on the Mainland that there's only one China. We recognize that it's for the best interests of our own Nation to have full diplomatic relationships with China. And my hope is that over a period of months-we are not in any big hurry; neither are the People's Republic of China leaders-that we will completely realize the hopes expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué.
Q. Mr. President, Al Fitzpatrick from the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio. you mentioned in your speech that conserving energy and that we all ought to conserve energy. I think many people have done just that. But how does one justify saving energy when those monthly utility bills continue to rise?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the rising monthly utility bills is an additional incentive to save energy, and not a contrary factor. Obviously, when we consume more energy than we produce in our country, it means that there's a pressure on limited supplies and competition for those available supplies, and the prices go up. As the price of coal and oil go up to the consuming homeowner, they also go up to the utility companies that produce electric power.
Many utility companies around this Nation have an automatic escalator clause where, without any approval by the regulatory agency in a State, they can pass on those increased fuel costs to the consumer. Obviously, the more we can hold down our consumption of energy, the more we can save on our monthly fuel bills and the more we can hold down the increase in oil, natural gas, and coal prices.
One of the additional problems with the lack of conservation is that we've now increased our oil exports [imports] to $45 billion a year, and they comprise about 50 percent of all the oil we use. If we should have—and heaven knows, I hope we never have—another oil embargo where those supply interruptions would afflict our Nation, it would be a much more serious problem to our national security, to our own economic prosperity, and, even, national existence than it was back in 1973, when that temporary interruption took place.
So, we've got to do at least two major things, among others: Each one of us conserve the energy that we consume by every possible means; and second, to increase the production of available supplies in our country of energy—coal, which can last several hundred years, and particularly those replenishable supplies derived from wood, from solar sources, from geothermal supplies, and so forth.
SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE BERGLAND
Q. Jean Alice Small, the Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois, Mr. President. Recently it was reported that the Secretary of Agriculture Bergland is considering resignation from his Cabinet post because of your position on agriculture and the farm bill. May I ask if this is true? And in reference to your Cabinet, do you plan to make any Cabinet changes in the near future or after the election?
THE PRESIDENT. That report was absolutely erroneous. There was no basis for it at all. There has not been any difference of opinion between myself and Bob Bergland about agricultural policy. At the Cabinet meeting Monday morning, Bob Bergland said that, as was the case when Mark Twain said the report of his own death had been exaggerated, that he had never contemplated resigning from the Cabinet. And as a matter of fact, if Bob Bergland and I have ever disagreed on a basic agricultural policy, I'm not aware of it.
I contemplate no changes in my Cabinet. Nothing would please me better than to finish 4 years with the same Cabinet I presently have.
Q. Thank you for straightening it out.
Q. Mr. President, Bailey of the Minneapolis Tribune. Sir, the Attorney General said yesterday that 68 FBI agents will be disciplined but not prosecuted in connection with the burglary indictments, conspiracy indictments that were handed down yesterday.
Two questions related to that: Will the names of those 68 agents and the discipline applied be a matter of public record; and second, the decision not to prosecute them apparently was based on the theory that they were following orders. I wondered whether you regard that as an appropriate reason for deciding not to prosecute a law enforcement officer who violates the law?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know whether or not they will be, whether their names will be made public. I'll have to ask the Attorney General about this. I don't know the legalities of it. I think that Griffin Bell made the right decision. He made it on his own—without consultation with me, by the way—to prosecute the ones who issued the orders.
Obviously there are some instances in the military and otherwise when a heinous crime, when committed by someone under orders, should be punished. But I think in this case the Attorney General made the right decision.
MR. PATTERSON. Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Carter's twenty-ninth news conference began at 1:56 p.m. in the International Ballroom West at the Washington Hilton Hotel. It was broadcast live on radio and television.
Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245096