John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

March 15, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. I have several brief announcements to make.

[1.] First, the Secretaries of the military departments have been instructed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense to take steps to provide a greater percentage of defense contracts for small business. Specifically, the military departments have been asked to set a goal increasing individually in fiscal year 1962 small business participation by 10 percent over the year for fiscal 1960. Contracts for small business in fiscal year 1960 amounted to $3,440 million, or 16 percent. We are going to try to increase that by at least 10 percent.

In addition, we are going to provide an increase for small business participation in research and development contracts. During that year this category of contracting amounted to only $180 million, or 3.4 percent of the total. In addition, we are asking the Department of Defense to examine how additional contracts can be steered into distressed areas. At the present time we are not doing as much of that as I hope we can in the future.

[2.] Secondly, I am sending to Congress a request for funds to resume detailed planning of our largest remaining damsite in the Upper Columbia--the Libby Dam in Montana. It will be the first step in the development of the Columbia River Basin in coordination with Canada on an international basis. Yesterday the Foreign Relations Committee reported out unanimously the treaty that will make this dam possible. The Libby Dam will provide the power that we desperately need in the Northwest United States. It will help control the floods, that are devastating northern Idaho. And it will prevent the projected power shortage for that area.

The beginning of this project will give impetus to a new period of cooperation with Canada.

[3.] Next I want to announce that the Export-Import Bank is authorizing $25 million credit in favor of the Government of Israel, to purchase agricultural machinery in the United States, to help consolidate Israel's agricultural settlements, and electrical power equipment and construction items for the expansion of Israeli seaports.

This decision, I think, will help speed the development of Israel's economy.

[4.] And then lastly, I want to announce that we will hold a President's Conference on Heart Disease and Cancer, which will be held at the White House beginning April 22. The Department of HEW will then invite a number of distinguished medical leaders throughout the country to participate in this program.

Thank you.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, would you tell us, please, if you have any plans to appear personally at the United Nations General Assembly currently in session and, if so, when you might go up?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans to and I do not expect to appear at the Assembly.

[6.] Q. Could you give us your views, sir, about the possibility of reaching some accord with the Soviet Union on general disarmament as well as nuclear test bans, and would you be willing to meet with Mr. Khrushchev face to face if you felt this was necessary to reach a truly genuine agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, this matter is now being discussed, at least the procedural matters leading up to what we hope will be progress in the area of general disarmament. It is now being discussed at the United Nations, and Ambassador Stevenson has been discussing with the State Department the American position.

We--now that Mr. Dean has left to resume the discussions in Geneva, Mr. McCloy is working full time on developing an American position on disarmament. We have indicated before that we may not have completed our analysis until this summer, and we have suggested that we will be prepared to resume either the Ten-Nation Conference or some other similar structure, conference structure, in, we first suggested, September, and now we have suggested August at the latest. So we are going to concentrate our attention on disarmament now. We hope progress can be made, and we will--I will consider what usefully could be done to advance progress.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, in addition to the $700-odd million in highway money that you have instructed the Commerce Department to make available to the States ahead of time, Governor Rockefeller has asked whether it would be possible for the States to get an advance on the money for highways for fiscal 1962. Have you any ideas on the subject?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I received a letter from Governor Rockefeller and we are considering what action can be taken. We have to--the Congress has taken a very clear position on pay as you go, and we have to consider what funds can be made available between now and next July, and we have to consider what action the Congress is going to take on our request for additional funds in order to keep the program going.

So that all this is now being considered and an answer will be given to Governor Rockefeller after we have made a judgment as to what funds will be available, which depends in part upon what our response will be in the Congress.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, you have stressed the constitutional issues in the school-aid fight. Regardless of the constitutional question, do you think it is wise public policy to make Federal loans to parochial and private schools below the college level?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have stated my views in the previous White House conferences, and what I hope would be the procedure followed by the Congress, which continues to be my view. We will--when we see proposals, and what form they take, because as the previous press conference developed, loans take many different forms, and I indicated some fall within one category and some within another, and this administration will be glad to cooperate with the Congress in considering the matter.

But I am hopeful that, as I have said before, that the view taken by the administration of the desirability of passing the public school matter first--I am hopeful that that will be the decision which the Congress will adopt. But this is a matter that they are considering and we will consider with them.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, Cardinal Spell man in a statement this week indicated that tax exemptions for the parents who pay tuition for their children to go to private schools might be one possible approach. Do you think, sir, that this would be a constitutional way of perhaps compromising the issue?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that all this matter should be examined carefully by the Congress. The Senator from Oregon, Mr. Morse, has asked the Secretary of HEW to send up a brief on all the various kinds of assistance which are given to nonpublic schools and colleges, which the Secretary is preparing to do. The committees then of the House and Senate, and the House of Representatives, can consider what kind of program they wish to put forward and at that time we can consider what the constitutional problems might be. But it is very difficult as new proposals are made for me or for anyone else to be giving constitutional opinions on each of them as they come up, without seeing the definite language. That obviously is not my function.

I would be glad to have the departments of Government participate in considering these matters with the Congress. But my view on procedures which I hope the Congress will follow are well known. I am hopeful we can get the program which we sent to the Hill out of the way. Then the Congress will have to consider what it wants to do in this other area. And the administration will be delighted to cooperate. But I could not possibly, unless I saw exactly what kind of language, give even a private opinion as to its constitutionality.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, are you able at this time to tell us something of Ambassador Thompson's report on his meeting with Premier Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. NO, I have no statement on it at the present time.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, Prince Souvanna Phouma, a representative of the Laotian rebels, said after a visit to the rebel area, that Moscow had provided 20 times as many weapons to the pro-Communist side as we have provided to the Royal Laotian Government. Can you tell us whether we are considering a step-up in such shipments as part of a new look at this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have been watching Laos with the closest attention. As I have frequently said, and as the Secretary has said, it is our hope that from all of these negotiations will come a genuinely independent and neutral Laos, which is the master of its own fate. The purpose of these discussions among the various people who participate in them at Pnom Penh is to make this possible. However, recent attacks by rebel forces indicate that a small minority backed by personnel and supplies from outside is seeking to prevent the establishment of a neutral and independent country. We are determined to support the government and the people of Laos in resisting this attempt.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, labor unions want a shorter workweek to cope with the automation and unemployment. Your Secretary of Labor is against that. Are you for it and if so, would you prefer a shorter workday or a 4-day week? I don't mean yourself, personally, but the--

THE PRESIDENT. I prefer it for myself-[laughter]--but I would say that I am opposed to a shorter workweek. I am hopeful that we can have employment high at 5 days a week and 40 hours, which is traditional in this country, and which is necessary if we are going to continue economic growth, and maintain our commitments at home and abroad.

So, I would be opposed to any arbitrary reduction of the workweek. And I am unhappy when I see the workweek reduced artificially, in the sense that the pressures of a declining economy reduce it so that we get averages of 38.5 hours a week instead of the 40 hours a week. In any case, to answer your question, I would be opposed to reducing the workweek.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, your Latin American statement the other day was quite sweeping in calling for political and social reforms in those countries. Have you had any indications before or since of how much acceptance there is in Latin American countries for this kind of reform?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that it would be premature to make a judgment as to what the response will be in Latin America. I am hopeful it will be favorable; I am hopeful that we can begin discussions throughout the hemisphere which will lead to the kind of internal and external planning which will provide for a steady rate of economic growth throughout the hemisphere, which would be a cooperative effort. So that as of today I couldn't tell you what the response will be. I am hopeful it will be favorable, and I am hopeful that it will result in a joint effort of the kind that we saw in Western Europe in the late forties.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, recent public opinion polls and other reports indicate a high degree of public acceptance of your acts since you have become President, and of your program, at the same time that certain basics of the New Frontier legislative program are in considerable trouble in Congress. How do you go about translating public approval into congressional support?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is a matter, of course, on which every Member of Congress must reach his judgment. I think that the people are interested in high minimum wage, they are interested in improving our schools, they are interested in medical care for the aged, they are interested, I believe, in fiscal responsibility and the development of the highway program. Now, the problem, of course, is that there are--and they are interested in an agricultural program which provides some more adequate return for the farmer.

Now, I recognize that there are important and powerful and well-organized interest groups in this country which oppose all of these programs, and that they are extremely active, and that they have been successful in developing mail campaigns of one kind or another which tend to give an impression that there is widespread opposition to increasing, for example, the minimum wage.

Now Mr. Gallup's poll the other day showed that over 75 percent of the people were in favor of increasing the minimum wage. I think that increase in the minimum wage is highly desirable. I don't think that anyone should be expected to work for 80 and 85 cents an hour in some of these jobs. We have seen them particularly in retail stores, in a business which makes over $1 million a year.

I think the more orderly way to finance medical care for the aged is through the social security system. I am hopeful that when these matters are brought to the floor of the House and Senate that a majority of the Members will support them. I think that a majority of the people support them.

I know, however, that we face very vigorous opponents who are well organized, and who bring a good deal of pressure to bear on this administration and on the Congress. But we are going to continue to work for these programs, and I am very hopeful that before the year is out they will have passed.

The members of the committees of the House and Senate, I think, have done very well. And I am hopeful that an opportunity will be given to each Congressman to vote on these basic programs this year, and then the people can make a judgment as to what--how their interests are being represented. But I am confident that we are going to get a favorable response.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, what do you think of the Air Force and other branches of Government organizing these side-bar corporations and using taxpayers' money to circumvent the Civil Service and pay large salaries to get scientists and others? Isn't this sort of incongruous with the call for volunteers for your Peace Corps?

THE PRESIDENT. I think a subcommittee of the Congress has been looking into this matter. One of the problems, of course, is that valuable technicians are required to make a substantial economic sacrifice when they come with the Government. Therefore, the services, faced with this problem of where these men who are essential can secure much greater pay outside the Government than inside, have had to resort to the devices to which you refer. And we are looking at the matter, but I would not want to give an opinion today which would deny the services of these valuable scientists. On the other hand, we want to make sure that the way the matter is being conducted is in the public interest. So we will have to say, Mrs. McClendon, that it requires a further examination because it is not an easy matter to solve.

I don't know anyone who has come to work with the Government that I am familiar with that has not taken a--has not made a financial sacrifice in doing so. But most of them have been willing to meet that sacrifice. And we are going to examine. the particular problem that you have suggested.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, your election in November was widely hailed as among other things a victory over religious prejudice. Do you think, as some speculation has already indicated in print, that the seemingly inflexible stand on the part of some spokesmen for the Catholic hierarchy on the school legislation may provoke more religious prejudice?

THE PRESIDENT. I am hopeful that it will not. I stated that it is a fact that in recent years when education bills have been sent to the Congress, we have not had this public major encounter. I don't know why that was, but now we do have it.

But everyone is entitled to express their views. The Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy are entitled to take their views. I think it is quite appropriate that they should not change their views merely because of the religion of the occupant of the White House. I think that would be unfortunate if they-I think they ought to state what they think. They ought to express their views, they are entitled to do that. Then I will express mine, and Congress will express its.

I am very hopeful that though there may be a difference of opinion on this matter of Federal aid to education, I am hopeful that when the smoke is cleared there will continue to be harmony among the various religious groups in the country. And I am going to do everything that I can to make sure that that harmony exists because it reaches far beyond the question of education and goes in a very difficult time of the life of our country to an important ingredient of our national strength. So that I am confident that the people who are involved outside the Government, and Members of Congress and the administration, will attempt to conduct the discussion on this sensitive issue in such a way as to maintain the strength of the country and not to divide it.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, there has been some speculation that in order to finance some of your aggressive programs you may possibly seek a national sales tax or even possibly a penny a bottle tax on soft drinks. Could you comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no such plan.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, there has been a controversy in recent days between the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and the Chairman of your Council of Economic Advisers as to what constitutes a reasonable expectable level of unemployment. What is your view on this matter?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there has been--I am not so sure that the controversy is as significant as perhaps it has been reported in the paper. Mr. Martin has made the point that a good deal of structural unemployment exists and I think we have to say that in coal, steel, and perhaps some in aviation, it does exist, structural unemployment, and will continue to be a problem even if you had a substantial economic recovery. It would be far less if you had a substantial economic recovery. I do not see that there is a basic clash between these two views. But I think that they are both important and both ought to be considered. In other words, I do not think that regardless of whether the unemployment we now have is structural or not, and some of it is structural and some of it is not, I do not believe we should accept the present rate of unemployment as a percentage that we should live with. In other words, we have to reduce that percentage. I hope that we can reduce it down to 4 percent, but we are going to have to reduce it. But I do agree with Mr. Martin that even as we attempt to overcome unemployment in this country we are faced with a very serious and important structural unemployment which results from technological change, which the Canadians have also, and which even in good times would cause us serious concern.

In other words, even in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, southern Illinois, and Pennsylvania, and even in 1959 and in 1957, you still had serious pockets of unemployment which were concentrated, even though the overall national figure was rather limited. It is my understanding that the Joint Committee on the Economic Report may call back Mr. Martin and Mr. Helley to discuss this further. I think that would be useful. It is a very important national problem, but I don't think from my conversations with both of them that there is a serious disagreement between them.

[19] Q. Mr. President, in connection with the farm bill now in conference in Congress, the principal fight seems to be over the section which would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to sell grain into the market to hold the market price down. Do you feel that this enforcement feature is an absolute requirement in connection with the bill?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am hopeful that the conference will reach a decision which gives the Secretary powers in this area, if not the specific language of title III, at least language which will protect, provide protection for the bill. If we don't--if the Secretary lacks power--this bill isn't going to be successful, and a good many people from the urban areas who voted for the program with title III in it, in the House of Representatives, have a right, it seems to me, to expect that the Secretary will be given sufficient powers to protect the program from noncompliers who, if they are--who may use the program, if title III is out, for speculative and exploitive purposes. So that I consider it most important that title III remain in, or otherwise some alternate language which will give the Secretary substantial powers provided in title III should be provided by the conference. Otherwise, we are not going to have any relief.

I am sorry to see the important agricultural leaders opposing giving us the protection which is required. You cannot have the Federal Government supporting agriculture in important ways unless there is some control over production and if there is some limitation, some provision for crosscompliance. Otherwise, the program will continue to cost a lot of money, the farmers' income will continue to drop, and we will have a gradual deterioration of agriculture in this country. The program we suggested and sent to the Hill in my opinion was one that was well balanced, and I am hopeful that a well-balanced program will come out of the considerations of the House and the Senate.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, this has to do with the labor-management conference which is scheduled for March 21. The past history of such conferences has shown a high percentage of failures, except at times of national crisis. Do you feel the present state of urgency is great enough to anticipate some success, and how do you plan to go about communicating that sense of urgency?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it is. One reason alone I think makes it extremely important, and that is the problem of our being able to be competitive abroad. There are some indications that last year's favorable balance of trade which protected to some degree our gold supply--that we may not have as successful a year abroad. And I would think both manufacturers and labor unions, and certainly the public, would want to see American industry remain competitive. If we are not able to be competitive with a very strong and thriving industrial economy in Western Europe, we are going to find ourselves in serious trouble. There are also serious domestic matters, automation, technological change, unemployment, the wage-price spiral. I am extremely concerned about all these matters. I am sure they are. They live with them. And I am hopeful that we can encourage a public interest philosophy among all the groups which will provide progress. We have not been successful in the past, but I don't--these are the only things we can do. We lack any other powers.

Q. Sir, may I ask whether you plan to have the first meeting of the labor-management conference at the White House?


[21.] Q. Mr. President, have you sent Ambassador Dean back to Geneva with authority to lower our demand for inspection sites within the Soviet Union, to bring it closer to the Soviet figure?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Dean goes back to Geneva with the hope, the administration's hope, that it will be possible for the United States, the British, and the Russians to come to an agreement on nuclear--for a nuclear test ban, which would provide adequate security to all the countries involved.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, is it a fair inference from your answer to Mr. Knebel's earlier question that the constitutional issue aside for the moment, you do not have a personal opinion as to whether it would be wise public policy to expend Federal funds on elementary and secondary nonpublic schools?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have--my previous discussions have rested on the constitutional questions.

Q. And you do not wish to speak on the other question?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would have to see what kind of loans they were, Mr. Roberts. As I said before, in 1958 I did vote the loans for education, science, and technology. I voted for that program. I voted against, as a Senator, across the board loans.

So that I have looked over recently the number of programs which the Federal Government has in these areas, impacted areas, aid to particular kinds of colleges-we sent up a program providing for actual grants to medical schools for private colleges, which could be sectarian. So that there is a whole spectrum of programs, some of which raise constitutional questions and some of which do not.

So it is difficult to give an across the board answer. Across the board loans, I have indicated the constitutional question which it raises. There may be other programs which do not raise a constitutional question, which may be socially desirable, and there may be other programs which do not raise a constitutional question which may be socially undesirable.

All I could say is that because of the complexity of the issue it would be better to consider this as a separate matter, and when we have an actual bill before us, this administration could give its views on both the constitutional and the socially desirable elements of the program.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, a study was made recently by the Michigan Law School that recommended that the regulatory responsibility for atomic industry be under an agency other than that which is responsible for its development. The study indicates there is a dangerous paradox in allowing both regulation and development responsibilities to remain within the Atomic Energy Commission. What are your views on this? This has come up during your time in Congress, too, this question of separating health and regulation from--

THE PRESIDENT. Health and regulation?

Q--from development of the industry itself.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there has been some separation of the health with the Public Health having responsibilities in this area, and I think that members of the Atomic Energy Commission agree that there should be some external check on their research and development programs, and I think that there is a fair balance today. It was a matter which was discussed when I was at the Atomic Energy Commission.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, before your inaugural, you expressed the hope that you would be able to use former President Eisenhower in some capacity in your administration. Are you still of that opinion, sir, and do you have any plans in that regard?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans at the present time. I have not been I have not discussed the matter with the President, and if we do have an area where he could be helpful and where he felt he could be helpful, then I would discuss it with him. At the present time I think he is still continuing his vacation, to which he is very much entitled.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, Adrian, Mich., is deeply concerned over what disposition the Government will make of the surplus Air Force metal extrusion plant there. Twice, when GSA has received bids, a firm which reputedly would dismantle the plant has been high bidder while the firm which ultimately might employ as many as 2,500 has been second highest. Appeals for retention of the plant for the local industry have been directed to you. Would you comment on what you have done or plan to do?

THE PRESIDENT, Well, I have talked to Mr. Moore about it. I have expressed my hope that an arrangement could be worked out to transfer the plant so that employment can be permitted. One of the problems, of course, is that it would require the transfer of the plant at a price which--at least what is now being examined is whether the transfer of the plant could be made at a price which would be justified. But I quite agree that if it is possible to use this plant for employment, it should be done. I am hopeful, and I am glad that you reminded me of the matter. I am hopeful that we could perhaps get a decision out of Mr. Moore's agency this week, and I will press for that. Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's seventh news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 15, 1961.

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

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