John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

May 23, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon. Are there any questions?

[1.] Q. Mr. President, assuming that the King-Anderson bill passes, as you have predicted, do you then envision, perhaps next year or the year after, going to Congress again and asking for a plan which would provide similar coverage to pay doctor bills?

THE PRESIDENT. No, that is not planned. I notice that legislation was criticized one day for going too far in limiting the relationship between doctors and their patients, and on another day, the next day I believe, certain members opposed to the King-Anderson bill attacked it for not including doctors. This bill includes provisions for payment of hospital bills, nursing care, out-patient care. It does not attempt to interfere in any way with the relationship between the doctor and the patient, and we have no plans to provide such legislation.

[a.] Q. Has the administration any plans for dealing with the refugee problem in Hong Kong?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I notice in the press this afternoon that some effort now seems to be, at least is reported to be, made by the Chinese Communists to stop the flow of refugees. We are, of course, providing food for about a half a million refugees in Hong Kong, and have been for some years. The British have been doing an extraordinary job in finding employment, feeding the people who are there. There are several thousand refugees in Hong Kong and surrounding areas who have been cleared by our consular people for admission to the United States, and under the authority of Congress, which has been granted in similar cases, we are attempting to expedite their admission to the United States, under the power given to the Attorney General by the legislation--the same legislation which has permitted us to bring in Hungarian refugees and Cuban refugees.

It should be pointed out, however, that this does not get at the basic problem, which is that of a tremendous country, 650 million people, where the food supply is inadequate, and it swamps and dwarfs, obviously, Hong Kong and any effort we could make in regard to admission But at least we are helping to feed those who are there, though the primary responsibility has been very ably borne by the British, and we are attempting to bring in some refugees who have been cleared for admission to the United States.

Q. Would you consider it in the national interest, sir, to make an offer of American surplus grains as a food for Peace Program to mainland China, to Communist China, at this time?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there's been no indication of any expression of interest or desire by the Chinese Communists to receive any food from us, as I said at the beginning, and we would certainly have to have some idea as to whether the food was needed and under what conditions it might be distributed. Up to the present we have no such indications.

[3.] Q. There are published reports today, sir, that the Army group which originally remained in Thailand is not equipped with live ammunition. There seems to be some discontent among the troops over this. Would you discuss the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the ammunition is there. They haven't had--of course this is a friendly country--they haven't had ammunition clips in their guns, in their barracks, at all times. But the ammunition is available in case they were forced to move into a military area, or where military action might be taken of course the ammunition would be given. But it's not customary, in this country or in a friendly country like Thailand, these troops are not under attack--for ammunition to be inside the guns. But the ammunition is there, and it's quite adequate for any situation that might come, and further ammunition will be stored in appropriate places. It's merely a question whether all guns are loaded at all times in a friendly country, and unless there is sharp control, of course, by the military commanders, practice firing and all the rest. Until that is organized well, the ammunition is naturally under control.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us what you thought of the American Medical Association's reply on Monday night to your proposal--your speech on Sunday--about medical care? And also could you tell us what sort of reaction you have had so far in the White House to the two television speeches, yours on Sunday 1 and the American Medical Association's?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I read the statement and I gathered they were opposed to it. [Laughter] What I thought was remarkable was that the language used was so similar to the language which the AMA used when it opposed and successfully defeated the proposal which President Eisenhower sent up a number of years ago, to provide for reinsurance of private health schemes. That was a proposal--I was on the committee, as a matter of fact, that heard it and supported the legislation--and the AMA led the fight against it and defeated it. In addition, the AMA was one of the chief opponents of the social security system in the thirties. The words, "a cruel hoax" were used against the social security system at that time as they are used today.

1 See Item 202.

The statement--the description of our bill I did not recognize. Now I think that the American people know quite well what this problem is. There isn't anyone in the United States who will not have or has not already had a case of a parent who is sick for a long period of time, with the burden falling very heavily upon either them, or their savings, or upon their children.

There isn't any doubt that we take care, in this country, of those who have no resources. They are treated. We take care of those who are well enough off to pay for all of their bills. What this bill would particularly help are those who have some savings and who nevertheless find themselves hard hit, or their children who have some savings and find themselves faced with these large bills which in the short space of 1, 2, 3, and 4 months can run up into several thousands of dollars. So that I feel that the AMA may not support this bill, but I think the American people will, and I think more and more doctors are supporting it. And I think it's extremely important legislation.

Now, in regard to the mail, I would say that the mail we've gotten as a result of the speech is about evenly divided. But I will point out that I'm not as convinced--I was just looking at the White House mail. I got last week 28 letters on Laos, which is an extremely important problem, of which 14 disagreed with our policy and I think 6 supported it and others were undecided. I got 440 letters on a tax--the cancellation of a tax exemption for a mercy foundation, so-called, in a State in the United States, which is of not, I wouldn't think, great national significance-about 20 times as much mail on it. So that mail, unfortunately, is not true as an indicator of the feelings of the people.

In my judgment, if this matter comes to the floor of the Senate, it will pass this year. If it comes to the floor of the House, it will pass. And it will serve just as effectively as the social security bill has served us since the 1930's. Those who are opposed to social security should oppose this, but those who believe that social security has served this country well should support this because it is in that tradition.

[5.] Q. Sir, do you feel there is anything besides hunger, besides this great flood of refugees going into Hong Kong? There have been reports that some of these refugees have exit visas from China. Is there anything more here than meets the eye?

THE PRESIDENT. As I understand it, the British have accepted those who are political refugees; those who are not they have been forced to turn back because Hong Kong is so crowded. I read reports that they do not seem to be suffering from acute malnutrition, but there isn't any doubt that there is a food crisis. The distribution of food, the structure of the economy and the state in some of these areas in China have broken down, and many people desire to leave. If they could leave, I think many more would.

Q. Do you feel that the Chinese Government has perhaps become more oppressive and that this is a cause rather than hunger?

THE PRESIDENT I think it would be difficult to make an informed judgment as to all the motivations of those who are leaving but it's certainly a combination of those factors.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with the Billie Sol Estes case, there appears to be a possibility that a federal official was murdered in this case. In view of that, do you think that Secretary freeman was altogether justified in saying, as he did, that this case had been .ballooned out of proportion?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we should wait until the FBI has completed its investigation of the matter. I couldn't--Mr. Freeman is not--I don't think the Texas local officials made a judgment in regard to the case which has been accepted until recently. Now the FBI and the local authorities are reexamining the case and we'll get a much better idea when the examination is completed.

[7-] Q. Mr. President, apart from your statements last week in the press conference and your speech that evening on the future of the Atlantic alliance,1 are you making your views clear to President de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer before they meet on June 2?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the views of all the parties are well known to each other. I don't plan any further communication on the matter.

1 Items 198, 199.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, would you accept a Medicare compromise that did not include social security financing?

THE PRESIDENT. Social security is the heart of the financing, the heart of the legislation. That isn't a compromise. That'd be--just be giving up on the bill, and we don't plan to do that.

[9-] Q. Mr. President, are you satisfied that our misunderstanding with West Germany over the Berlin proposals have now been straightened out, and that discussions will be resumed with the Soviet Union with the full support of the West German Government?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the misunderstandings have been straightened out. As far as the positions of the parties, that we must wait on until we analyze the German proposal, which has just been received, as you know, within the last 24 hours. That will be analyzed and a proper response will be made to the West German Government. As far as the talks, as I have said, they will continue.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan to take any action to help the stock market, if it gets any worse?

THE PRESIDENT Well, I think the economy, which is moving steadily forward, is the best stimulant to the stock market--the most natural one. The figures we have for April are encouraging. Car sales, increased retail sales, and all the rest indicate that the economy has a good deal of strength, so that I believe that the stock market will move in accordance with the movement of the economy, as a general rule.

Now, there have been many, at least four, occasions since the end of the Second War when the stock market has dropped at the time the economy was rising. I think last week we talked about this. I gave an example of 1956, when the stock market went down at the time when the economy was steadily rising. The economy is rising, unemployment is down, the prospects in this month are good and, therefore, I think that the stock market will follow the economy.

As I said before, the stock market was very high. If, when you're talking about valuation of 22 times earnings or dividends, that's a very high sale and twice as much as it was, for example, in 1957. But as far as the long haul for the stock market, I think it will keep in line with the economy. I think that the prospects for the economy for this year, as I've said, are good.

[11. ] Q. Mr. President, is our true commitment to Southeast Asia similar in principle to the one we have in Western Europe, that is, are we ready to deny Communist force throughout Southeast Asia?

THE PRESIDENT Well, our treaty relationships with Laos and Viet-Nam and Cambodia are somewhat different than our NATO relationship. As you know, they were covered by SEATO, and they were protocol states of SEATO. Thailand itself, is, of course, a signatory, which is in a comparable way the same as NATO.

Q. My question, sir, is this: would we pull our forces out once the Laos Government is formed, or would we feel we had to stay there until we were sure that Communist force would not exert itself in that area?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we'll have to make a judgment of what the situation is in those areas. I quite agree that when you put troops in they become difficult to take out, unless the situation is stable, so that I've not ever said that the troop movement in Thailand--its end could be predicted. But we are staying there and then we will make a judgment as to how long they should stay, based on the events, as we have in Europe.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, the Agriculture Department has given only one reason for withdrawing its grain from the warehouses of Billie Sol Estes in Texas, this being that it is in the public interest. They have declined further comment. In view of the fact that the Department has previously said that there was nothing wrong with the warehouses or the operations, could you comment, sir, on how it would be in the public interest to remove the grain when the creditors are depending on this income to help settle their bills?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are not, as you know, removing the grain immediately. We are removing it--moving it into the normal channels of trade over a period of time. If we moved it out immediately it would cost the Government about $2 million. We're moving it out, with more speed out of this terminal than we would out of others because of all the circumstances surrounding the case. But we are going to move it out, but it's over a period of time and it will not be moved from one terminal to another terminal, but instead will be moved into the normal channels of trade in a way which will not cost the United States Government anything. But I think it's appropriate that under reasonable conditions the grain is moved away from that terminal.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to evaluate the White House Conference on National Economic Issues that has just concluded? Do you feel there is a value in having this mass ventilation of ideas between labor and--

THE PRESIDENT Yes, I do. The meeting, of course, had two phases. One was of public speeches. I wished in the public speeches that we could have discussed what I feel are some of the newer problems that the economy faces and which labor-management faces. I understand that in the private meetings that there was a much more--there was a willingness to forget some of the old basic arguments between labor and management and consider some of the new challenges. But I think that this is the first of what I hope will be a series.

I believe that there really isn't much sense in having a long argument about the union shop or about industry-wide bargaining. Those arguments are well known, the positions are hard, and are taken clearly on both sides. As I said, in my opening, what I would like to hear them talk about is how the Government, labor, and management can function so as to provide for a steadily increasing economy, what we can do about the flow of gold, how we can prevent periodic recessions at every 2 or 3 years, how we can maintain full employment as other free countries have, what's the proper relationship between government and business and labor, what should be our budget policies, our debt policies. These are all matters which concern us today and about which we must do something. I would like to have their views on it. Not so much their views on questions which have been debated, about which we're fully informed of the point of interest of each of the parties, but rather these new, and as I've said, rather sophisticated and technical questions.

It's my understanding that in the private meetings there was discussion heading in this direction. I hope, therefore, we will have another conference quite soon so that we can continue to talk about these things. I will be very appreciative to the business advisory committee, which is now looking into giving us some suggestions on the flow of gold, and the CED's committee, which is going to study the economy of several European countries. I have asked our Council of Economic Advisers to consider particularly the case of France, which has had rather extraordinary economic vitality, so that I hope we can begin to focus our attention on these matters in the next few months.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, last weekend in New York you made it quite clear that you were anxious to help Brazil with emergency food shipments,1 and about the same time one of the maritime unions began picketing the ship which was to carry that food to Brazil. I wondered if you had any feeling of disappointment in that, or whether you had any fatherly advice on union leaders?

THE PRESIDENT. I understand that the ship is now being moved to the dock to load and is going to Brazil, that this matter has been settled.

1 In a statement released in New York City on May 19 the President announced an increase in emergency food shipments to drought-stricken Northeast Brazil.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, Dr. Harry Wexler of the United States Weather Bureau and his counterpart in the Soviet Union jointly have presented a plan to be approved by the Economic and Social Commission of the United Nations for studying world weather by earth satellites. Do you view this as an optimistic sign that the United States and Russia may ultimately cooperate both on space and on earth?

THE PRESIDENT. We felt the first place to start was on weather, and I think that any progress we can make on that would be very welcome. I must say that we strongly support any cooperative effort we could make on weather, predictions of storms, and all of the rest, and I hope it will lead to other areas of cooperation in space.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, on this matter of the growth rate of Western Europe, you have several times pointed out that it is twice ours. What relationship do you think this has with deficit financing?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's what I think we ought to be--one of the matters we ought to be talking about. Their budgetary system, as opposed to ours, is somewhat different and that's one of the matters which I've asked the Council of Economic Advisers to look at; it's one of the matters which the CED should look at. I'm not sure that our budget keeping is as modern as the economy demands.

In addition, I think we ought to look at our tax structure, which of course we're doing, as part of the overall tax reform we're going to send up next year. Does our tax system stimulate the economy or does it serve as a drag on the economy because of the way it hits the structure at a time when the economy is moving out of a recession into a period of prosperity?

The 1958 and '60 experience and perhaps the experience this winter all indicate that these are matters which should be very carefully looked at. In other words, I don't think we should be satisfied with the way we are operating our economy as long as we are not going at full blast, as they are.

Now, the question is, how much of this, as I've said, is due to the Common Market, how much of it's due to a different stage of economic growth, and how much of it is due to different economic planning, different relationships between the various segments of the economy? These are all matters which I believe all of us in government, management, labor, and the public ought to be looking at, to see if there's something that we can learn that's to our advantage.

What we don't always realize is that while the economy may be in a--the budget may be in a deficit overall for a fiscal year, that deficit may be concentrated in the first few months. Then as the year goes on the taxes begin to come in and you then begin to get a surplus which, of course, has a brake effect on the economy. In addition, the cash budget as opposed to the administrative budget has an entirely different impact on the economy. So that all these are the kinds of questions which I would like to see us-by "us" I mean all of us who are concerned-talk about and not merely concentrate our attention on these rather old slogans and fights which shed heat but not too much light on the matters which are directly before us.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, there is another health problem that seems to be causing growing concern here and abroad and I think this has largely been provoked by a series of independent scientific investigations, which have concluded that cigarette smoking and certain types of cancer and heart disease have a causal connection. I have two questions: do you and your health advisers agree or disagree with these findings, and secondly, what if anything should or can the federal Government do in the circumstances?

THE PRESIDENT. That matter is sensitive enough and the stock market is in sufficient difficulty [laughter] without my giving you an answer which is not based on complete information, which I don't have and, therefore, perhaps we could--I'd be glad to respond to that question in more detail next week.

[18.] Q. Sir, from your knowledge of the stock pile investigation which Senator Symington is developing for public consumption, I was wondering if you think the amount of money lost to the Government there will in time dwarf the Billie Sol Estes defraud?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as we have said, there is no evidence that the Billie Sol Estes fraud has cost the United States Government any money.

Q. Yes, I realize that--

THE PRESIDENT. There have been improprieties-but let me, if I may, finish--the amount of money in this case, as came out yesterday, which revealed that because of an intervention by certain public officials that it cost the Government $650 million and the company made a $5 million windfall, of course, when you compare the amounts of money, this is obviously a greater loss to the Government. But I would not attempt to make a judgment of either case and its ultimate effects until these investigations are completed, both Senator Symington's and the FBI's.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, the British appear to be facing difficulties in their negotiations with the Common Market group regarding safeguards for their trade with the Commonwealth nations. In the possible event that the British did not affiliate with the European Economic Community, would that cause us to reappraise our plan to cooperate with the Common Market?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Of course, we're going to cooperate with the Common Market. The Common Market is in existence. We believe that it will contribute to the political stability of Europe as well as its economic well-being if Great Britain should become a member. So we have supported the admission of Great Britain. If Great Britain does not join, of course--which we believe would be unfortunate--the Common Market, the six, would still exist, and we would deal with the six and with Great Britain. But we think that the interests of Europe, the interests of the free world, of the Atlantic Community, would be best served by Great Britain being a member.

[20.] Q. Sir, would you be willing to participate with former President Eisenhower in a TV discussion of domestic issues before the country in the elections this fall?

THE PRESIDENT- Well, I would have to wait and see. Neither one of us are candidates this fall. [Laughter] There will be many candidates- I've already stated that I would debate, if I were a candidate in 1964, against whoever I was running against. I haven't heard any suggestion that we debate this time. We'd have to wait and see what the situation was. President Eisenhower and I are both appearing on a program this week on the necessity for the passage of an effective trade bill in cooperation, and I think that that is, in this case, a constructive relationship in the national interest. What next fall will bring we will have to wait and see.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel that the Government pay raise you proposed is inflationary? How does that square with your--

THE PRESIDENT. Not the proposal we sent. No, it is not inflationary. It fits within the guidelines?1

1 See Item 55.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, as you know, the Indonesian Government has accepted the Bunker proposal. In the meantime, the Netherlands has not. In the meanwhile, guerrilla warfare activities are increasing in that area. What do you think is the prospect of future negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know the United States has been working very hard, with the help of Ambassador Bunker, to attempt to work out a solution which would make the kind of military action which is now taking place unnecessary. We have not had success. I believe that Ambassador Bunker is discussing this matter now with responsible officials of the United Nations to see what further action could usefully be taken. But I hope that the proposals of Ambassador Bunker would be considered very carefully by both sides, because we would be very concerned if the situation in that section of the world disintegrated or degenerated into a complete military conflict between these two countries. So we're--Ambassador Bunker is in New York today on that very matter.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President's thirty-fourth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, May 23, 1962.

John F. Kennedy, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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