Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

August 09, 1966

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I have no announcements and no voluntaries. I just want to be available to you if you have any questions.

I said to some of the folks that were over while I was receiving some Ambassadors that I would meet with them a little later. I think they have all had time to get back here, some 20 or 25 minutes ago. So if you are ready and have any questions, I'll be glad to take them.

MILITARY SITUATION IN VIETNAM

[2.] Q. Mr. President, what can you tell us to sort of update the situation in Vietnam? We took some pretty bad losses there over the weekend in aircraft, and some of our ground troops have been in a pretty strong fight for the last couple of days. How do you appraise the military situation there now?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't see any change for the worse at all. Our plane losses are under those that we have estimated. Our helicopter losses are under those estimated.

You sometimes, as you know, have heavier losses than you expect, and sometimes much smaller. Weather, good luck on their part, bad luck on our part--lots of factors enter into those things.

But I wouldn't say that the losses are unexpected. As a matter of fact, I reviewed the situation with Secretary McNamara last night, and Secretary Rusk 1 and others. We are under our estimates on both helicopters and planes.

1Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, and Dean Rusk, Secretary of State.

THE WAGE-PRICE GUIDELINES

[3.] Q. Mr. President, the Secretary of Commerce2 said yesterday that he thought it might be better now to measure the effect of wage and price increases on an individual. industry basis instead of on an across-the-board 3.2 percent basis. Does this reflect your thinking?

THE PRESIDENT. I did not so understand his statement. I think that what he said was that we all want an effective stabilization program--that we are going to do everything within the power of the leadership in Government to ask labor to stay within the guidelines and their productivity increases so we will not have to raise prices because of increased labor costs.

2 John T. Connor, Secretary of Commerce.

Now that figure has changed some from time to time, and I don't know just how to dramatize it, as Smitty 3 advises me to do on these statistics. But the unit labor cost is now 99-something. So it is a little under 100.

3 Merriman Smith of United Press International.

We have been able to do that, keep those costs in line, reasonably well. There have been some that exceeded the suggested Government recommendations. The New York Transit, as you will all recall, was 5 percent-plus. The auto workers were 4½ percent-plus. I believe the lumbermen's was 5 percent, and others in that area.

Some have been lower. A good many industry prices have been rolled back. We have attempted, every time we could, to get labor to stay where they wouldn't raise prices because of increased labor costs, and to get industry not to raise prices, period.

Now in some instances they have announced them and then reconsidered. One company, I think, told us yesterday they had 300,000 different items. Some were being lowered. Some were being raised. A good many were changing without even the executives knowing it.

STEEL PRICE INCREASE

[4.] But in the recent steel increase, when the word reached us that there was a proposed increase, we asked them to discuss that with our people so (a) we could price it out and be familiar with it; and (b) that we could exercise or make any suggestions that we desired.

Some of those people talked to us. Others didn't. We regretted that all of them didn't talk to us. We regretted that there was an increase, any increase, in price, but there was.

And when asked by Secretary Connor, I think he took the position that any inflation or any increases are not to be desired, and any inflation is harmful. But the question of the degree and how do you measure it is there.

Now, there is about $18 billion worth of steel sales per year, 17.7, I believe. These increases will result in about $50 million extra revenue for the companies after taxes.

They felt they needed that $50 million. .We would hope that they could have avoided it. But they didn't agree. They made the decision. We urged them to reconsider that decision, but we have not been effective.4

4On August 4, 1966, the White House made Public a statement on the increase in steel prices by Gardner Ackley, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in which he announced that after a price increase by Inland Steel Co. he had sent the following telegram to 12 steel companies: "Onesteel producer is reported to have raised prices today on major steel products. May I urgently request that your company take no action prior to discussion with the Government. Appreciate courtesy of early reply."

Mr. Ackley's statement pointed out that the Government's request had been ignored, and prices had been raised by four more companies. The statement concluded as follows:

"In my view, the action of these companies can only be characterized as irresponsible. They were unwilling even to hear the Government state the public interest in this matter.

"At this time, when Americans are fighting overseas, it is essential to maintain a stable economy. This means holding the line on prices and inflationary wage settlements. We have been urging voluntary cooperation and the good sense of labor and management. For this to be effective, it is necessary for those who have the power of wage and price decisions to be willing to discuss those decisions in advance, and to hear and understand the Government's position. Not to do so is deliberately to flout the public interest in cost-price stability at a critical time in our economic affairs."

THE AIRLINES STRIKE

[5.] We did the same thing in the airline strike.5 We hoped that they would keep their increases as low as possible, but they could not be kept within 3.2. And we recommended, the leadership did, to the unions 4.3, and the union rejected that.

5 See [12.] below.

They are still trying to negotiate it out. That does not mean, though, that we do not desire a stable program, and that we are not going to try our best to have one. It may mean that we will study, as we do every week, and evaluate every possible way of handling these differences, and try to evolve any practical solution possible under our free enterprise, voluntary system to keep this program as stable as we can.

THE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX

[6.] I have told you since 1960, with 1960 as 100, the United States Consumer Price Index has gone to 108. In Germany, it has gone to 117. They are a little over 200 percent more than we are and they have the best record.

The United Kingdom has gone to 121. France has gone to 122. Italy has gone to 129, Japan to 139.

So, I think it is good that you keep these things in perspective. And relatively speaking, some countries have--their cost of living has increased 500 percent more than ours. Now we wish it had not gone above 100. We think the 108 is undesirable.

And we think that if it goes up to 109, 110, 111, it is undesirable. We will do everything we can voluntarily to keep it below that.

The average increase since World War II has been 2.6 percent per year in the Consumer Price Index, 2.6 percent per year.

The increase for the last 12 months in this country has been 2.5 percent. The increase in the Consumer Cost Index, for instance, in 1957, was nearly 4 percent--3 point-plus in just the year 1957. The first year of the Korean war it was 10 percent, when you compare the situation then and the situation now.

I point those things out so that you can evaluate for yourself the extent of it and the effect of it. Our job is going to be to do everything we can to keep the economy as stable as we can. When we have full employment we always know that we have problems with prices and with wages.

LEGISLATION ON THE AIRLINES STANCE

[7.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the continuing deadlock in the airline negotiations, do you wish the Congress to pass the resolution it now has before it?

THE PRESIDENT. Our position on that is very clear. It hasn't changed since Secretary Wirtz 6 enunciated it at the first hearing on 10 minutes' notice. He stated that we knew how to recommend legislation, and we did send up messages and letters from time to time. We had not sent any up in this instance. We did not desire to. We did not recommend legislation, period.

6W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor.

Now the Congress, from time to time, considers matters on its own motion and considers legislation. It is doing that, and it is a matter for them to decide. Our position is just as enunciated by Secretary Wirtz, at this time.

THE WAGE-PRICE GUIDELINES

[8.] Q. Mr. President, does the administration still regard the figure 3.2 as valid still under the circumstances?

THE PRESIDENT. The administration feels that the 3.2 guidelines as interpreted by us with the flexibility that they have in cases of industries who have not had increases, and things of that nature, as of this moment is the best measuring stick that we have.

We recognize that in some cases it is difficult for certain union groups to feel that they are equitable. We realize that certain industry groups, such as the steel group, feel that certain obligations to them require them to make adjustments. Sometimes when they make an increase and it involves a larger part of their production than the decrease involves, we think that it is a mistake. But it still represents to us the best measuring stick we have.

It is not perfect. It is exceeded in sore instances. We are constantly searching for anything that seems to be fair and just. We have nothing better to suggest at the moment.

The Labor-Management Committee has been asked to consider every possible approach. They have heard businessmen's views on it. They have heard labor men's views on it, like we did back in OPA, and WPB, and those procedures, and they were constantly amending them. Industry committees were constantly changing them. So, we are asking industry to give their views, and labor to give their views. We have men like Mr. Murphy, of Campbell Soup Company, on that Board, Mr. Edgar Kaiser, Mr. George Meany, Mr. Walter Reuther.7 They are all on the Labor-Management Committee.

7 W. Beverley Murphy, president of Campbell Soup Co., Edgar F. Kaiser, chairman of Kaiser Steel Corp., George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, and Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers.

They have considered it, along with Secretary Connor--he referred to it yesterday-and Secretary Fowler. They have given thought to other approaches. I don't know that there will be anything to come out of that. I don't want to build it up, but I do say they are constantly assessing it, as is the administration, every day.

VIETCONG REPRESENTATION AT PEACE TALKS

[9.] Q. Mr. President, if I may go back to the Vietnam situation, could you talk to us a little about the peace front?

I am thinking specifically whether the administration has, in any way, changed its view on the presence at a truce table, if we ever get to one, of representatives of the Vietcong.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think I have a thing in the world to add to what I have already said on peace.

I think that any person who is really interested in the United States position knows it. And if they had as much information on the views of the others as they have on the United States, I think we would be closer toward peace.

We made clear during two pauses, during the visits of emissaries to more than 40 countries, during communications with over 100 nations, that we were willing to sit down at any time, at any place and discuss anything that had a reasonable chance of producing a settlement. We still stand ready to do that.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL

[10.] Q. Mr. President, is the version of the civil rights bill, the housing section of the civil rights bill that emerged from the House Judiciary Committee, acceptable to you?

THE PRESIDENT. The House is considering that bill. And I think it is to be acted upon in the next day or two. The matter will then go to the Senate.

And while it is going through these adjustments and debate, I don't think there is anything I would want to contribute to it from this end of the line.

THE WAGE-PRICE GUIDELINES

[11.] Q. Mr. President, is it fair to conclude from what you said about the 3.2 guidelines a moment ago that while you have nothing better to suggest at the moment, your mind is open to considering revision of that figure?

THE PRESIDENT. We are, and we have been, every week since I have been President, trying to find formulas and procedures that would be fair to the worker and the management. This seems to have been the procedure that up to now has done that, and still provided the best stabilization. Until we find something better, we will continue to follow it. We are constantly looking for something better.

THE AIRLINES STRIKE

[12.] Mr. President, on the airline strike, some of these airlines have different dates for negotiating--

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't hear you.

Q. Some of these airlines have different dates, as you know, for negotiating with the machinists. I think American Airlines' contract runs out at the end of July. My question is: Is it your intention to go ahead and exhaust all the emergency procedures that are at your disposal regardless of the action on Capitol Hill with regard to emergency airline strike legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it would be better to cross those bridges when I am faced with them, instead of this morning. I don't know what might develop in between.

And I am not sure that I follow the full import of your question. I wouldn't want to mislead you.

We were faced with the problem in the five airlines. We appointed the Board. The Board made its recommendations. We submitted the Board recommendations. They were unacceptable to Mr. Siemiller.8 They were upgraded some $7 or $8 million. And he did recommend them along to his workers. They were rejected.

8 P. L. Siemiller, president of the International Association of Machinists, which was involved in a labor dispute with five major airlines (see Items 256, 322, 360).

Now we are hopeful that once it is decided about the legislation we can negotiate an agreement between the workers and those five,

On American, we appointed a Board.9 That Board will make its recommendations. We will have to wait and see what happens there. On what happens down the road is a matter that will be met as it confronts us. I would not want to pass judgment before we get to it.

9 On July 27, 1966, the President issued Executive Order 11291 establishing an emergency board to investigate a labor dispute between American Airlines, Inc., and employees represented by the Transport Workers Union of America (2 Weekly Comp. Pres. Does., p. 1000; 31 F.R. 10175; 3 CFR, 1966 Comp., p. 134). The board was composed of John T. Dunlop, professor of economics at Harvard University, chairman, Bayless Manning, dean of the Stanford University School of Law, and J. Patterson Drew, Washington attorney.

On August 30, 1966, the White House announced that the board had submitted a 53-page, processed report to the President. The release stated that the board did not make specific recommendations on wage and other monetary items in the wage dispute because in its judgment such precise proposals would be a disruptive factor in the negotiations. Specific recommendations were included on such issues as work rules and grievance procedures, the release noted, and the public interest was stressed in the report (2 Weekly Comp. Pres. Does., p. 1184).

U.S. ECONOMIC STABILIZATION RECORD

[13.] Q. Mr. President, is it fair to say that the old system of economic management has broken down and we have got to find a new one? Is that a fair analysis?

THE PRESIDENT. First, I don't know what you mean by "the old system." If you are talking about the guidelines, the answer is in the figures I think I have given you.

We have the best stabilization record of any industrial nation in the world. We have, comparably speaking, a much better record the last 12 months than we have had in the period when you had no guidelines--for instance, in 1957. We have a much better period than you did the first year of the Korean war.

I would say that in 6 years' time, to have an increase of 8 percent when the nearest one to you is 17 percent would show that it had done reasonably well. I would say that when the average increase in the last postwar period since World War II had been 2.6 and the increase this year is only 2.5, the last 12 months, that that would not indicate that the country was going to pot.

I think that we must constantly be concerned with every settlement and do everything we can to bring them in line. Sometimes when we do, people feel we do too much.

If we ask the aluminum people, or the steel people, or the molybdenum people, or the copper people to not make increases, folks feel that the Government shouldn't do that. If we ask the wage earners to take a 4.3 instead of a 5, 6, 7, or 8 percent raise, they think we shouldn't do that. But we have done it.

And I think the results have been better than they have been in any other country. They are not as good as we would like. We regret it is not a 100 percent batting record. But in the last 12 months it is 2.5 percent. The average since the war has been 2.6 percent. So we are under the average for all that period. We are under any other nation. The nearest one is 200 percent.

Great Britain and France are about 300 percent. Italy is about 400 percent. Japan is 500 percent.

So I don't know anybody who would want to move from here to go someplace to find where the cost of living is better.

FIREARMS CONTROL LEGISLATION

[14.] Q. Mr. President, have you any information on prospects for passage of the gun bill in this session of Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I presented my views the other day. I think they are well known. I have done it by message and I have done it by statement. Congress has a good many measures yet to consider.

We went over our program last night. We have signed some 50-odd bills of the some 80 or 90 that we expect. Some 15 or 20 of them have already passed the House, and some 10 or 15 passed the Senate that have not passed the House.

Our problem now is to get those two together. And we think we will have a very good record before the Congress adjourns. But just whether it will reach every bill that we want, of course, is always conjecture.

SOLUTIONS FOR URBAN PROBLEMS

[15.] Q. Mr. President, the problem of the cities, as is quite apparent, is a growing one. You said in Indianapolis that rioting in the streets is no way to make progress in civil rights.10 Yet rioting in the streets continues. Do you see any other moves that the Federal Government can take in this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, a good many of them. We are trying to take some here in Washington. I asked them to take every step they could possibly take to find recreation, find employment, open the swimming pools, turn on the sprinklers, turn up new recreational areas here in the city of Washington. We have done the same thing with the mayors and with the Governors of the country in our meetings.

10See Item 347.

There are a good many things, though, that we can, and should, and must do in my judgment for the cities. We are now preparing for our budget for next year. We do plan to concentrate a good deal of our appropriations and our recommendations in this particular field.

The first thing they can do is provide a Teacher Corps, where we can have teachers in these areas that need help so much.

The second thing they can do is the new idea of rent supplements, which we think offers us the greatest opportunity since FHA was endorsed in this country to provide decent housing for poor people.

We have urged the Congress to adopt that principle, to embrace it. They have made a small appropriation, but we have another one pending in the Senate for the next year. And we have talked to some of the Senators. I met earlier this week with some of them and urged them to get action on the rent supplement.

On the Demonstration Cities bill, we recommended a program there that extended for several years. Some of the Senators felt it would be more acceptable and we could get it underway quicker if we moderated the program--instead of taking in several years, if we just made it smaller to begin with.

Mr. Califano 11 went up and conferred with the interested Senators, and we agreed on the kind of a bill that the Congress and the Executive would accept. They have reported that bill. We want to get a vote on the Demonstration Cities bill as soon as we can.

11Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Special Assistant to the President.

So the Teacher Corps, rent supplements, Demonstration Cities, plus anything and everything that we can do, is being considered. We are opening some of our Federal installations where we can to these families and these young people in crowded areas, for swimming pools and for playgrounds.

I have asked Secretary McNamara to review every facility. I have asked the Interior Department to do it. We think there is much to be done and very little time to do it, but we are getting ahead with the job as quickly as we can.

And I would hope before this Congress adjourns it would pass all three of those measures. We will have additional recommendations ready for the next session.

I am meeting with the Budget Director tonight at 6 o'clock to review those recommendations for the January budget of next year.

PLANS FOR FOREIGN VISITS

[16.] Q. Mr. President, are you giving any thought to the possibility of going out of the country this year, possibly to go into the Pacific area, such as Australia and New Zealand?

THE PRESIDENT. There are always possibilities that the President will travel, Smitty. You have been here longer than I have, and you know that.

I can't announce any plans at this time. I would not want to make a commitment to you that I wouldn't go. I have no plans. I am not working on any.

But I did indicate at Mexico City that the suggestion made by other leaders of the hemisphere that we have a meeting of the leaders was something that was worthy of consideration; and if a proper agenda could be worked out, if proper plans could be made for a conference, I thought a conference would be desirable.12

12 See Item 175.

Now if that happens, and those conditions are met, then, of course, I have indicated that I would be delighted to go. I have also indicated that I would like to visit other places. I have no plans to do so at the moment, but I would not want to indicate that I wouldn't go.

THE COST-OF-LIVING PROBLEM

[17.] Q. Mr. President, getting back to this question of inflation, out on the Midwest trip you were talking about the rise in personal income with 11 extra pay checks a year for families even after allowing for price increases.

How do you reconcile that with the figures from the Commerce Department that show that because of inflation, per capita buying power in 1958 prices actually is down from $2,287 to $2,277?

THE PRESIDENT. I would let you reconcile it. I haven't seen that. The statement that I made in my speech was an accurate one. I don't know about these figures. I would be glad to have someone go over them with you, but I don't have an answer to your question. I just don't know.

Q. Mr. President, along the same line, the labor unions seem to be saying that with the cost of living currently going up at an annual rate of 3 1/2 percent, they have to get increases at least that big just to stay even. How do you feel about that?

THE PRESIDENT. I can understand the views of the working people. I think we are all conscious when there are increases in the cost of living, and we are all concerned about them.

I think there are times when some of us have to understand that we can't have everything worked out just as we want them to be. That is certainly true so far as your President is concerned.

I have no magic and no wand that I can wave and say, "This is just the way it should be." If I did, this curve that shows us at 108 would be at 100. But relatively speaking, I think that that tells a pretty good story. And that story I would like every American to know--it doesn't have any blood in it, and it is not as sensational, but it is better than any other country.

We have to constantly have as our goal a stable program to protect the dollar and try to keep wages and prices in line. There will be some months when it will go up more than others, but the record is this:

For 12 months it is 2 1/2 percent. There has been a 2.6 percent for every year since World War II. That is considerably less than some of those years, such as 1957, when you weren't too concerned with headlines every day on the thing. You had an increase of between 3 percent and 4 percent then.

And I think it is important for you and for the country to get this message: The Government is very concerned with an effective stabilization program. It is going to do everything that it can.

Let me show you some headlines today:

"Two in Cabinet back guidepost policy but ask revision."

"Wage-price guidelines may be eased."

"Government abandons wage-price guidelines."

Now there are three different papers. I would say that the Government's position is that we are going to constantly reassess and reevaluate and try to find an effective formula. But until we do, we are going to urge upon labor and management to be as restrained as they possibly can be in this situation. Beyond that, we can't go any further.

If it gets to the point where they are not restrained and it appears that other measures are essential, of course, we will recommend them.

LYNDA BIRD JOHNSON'S EMPLOYMENT PLANS

[18.] Q. Mr. President, there is a report this morning from New York that your daughter Lynda Bird is job hunting in New York.

THE PRESIDENT. What about it?

Q. Is it true?

THE PRESIDENT. Lynda told me, I think yesterday, that she wanted to work this year and that she had been asked by three or four of her friends to come in for an interview. She is being interviewed this week and will be in the next several weeks, I think, preparatory to deciding what work she will do this year.

Q. Do you know what kind of work it would be?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think it would be premature. I don't think she has decided, and I know that her employers have not. She has just told them that she would like to work there--work next year.

PRESS REPORTS ON FUTURE MILITARY NEEDS

IN VIETNAM

[19.] Q. Mr. President, there were reports published this week about two studies.

THE PRESIDENT. What reports? Who published them? I want to see if it is worth my answer.

Q. The front page of the New York Times yesterday--and subsequent reports.

THE PRESIDENT. The Dale 13 story, are you talking about?

13 Edwin L. Dale, Jr., New York Times correspondent.

Q. No, the story on the reports, evidently out of Saigon, pointing to the need for our presence in Vietnam for 8 years, or with 750,000 troops for 4 years.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I saw that.

Q. Sir, do you consider that a realistic estimate of the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. We have not been able to find any of those reports in the Government here. I read the reports. There were several deep, deep, deep backgrounders taking place out there by civilians and military people and different ones. I asked Secretary McNamara if he could confirm the existence of such a report. It was, I believe, alleged to be a Defense Department report. Is that correct?

Q. That is what the paper said, yes.

THE PRESIDENT. I called him and asked him. He said that he was not aware of it and he would check it and let me know. He came over last night and said he had not seen one. He was not aware that there was any Defense Department report; that he did not agree with the conclusions.

I have never seen it, or heard of it. The first I knew about it was yesterday morning.

Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's sixty-ninth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 9, 1966.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239242

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