Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

May 29, 1979


THE PRESIDENT. No matter how Americans may differ on energy, we are united on two basic goals: first, to provide every possible means to alleviate the current crisis at all levels of government and in the private sector of our economy; and, second, to get this country firmly on the way toward more lasting solutions for the energy question and to keep it there.

First things first: Today, by Executive order, I'm delegating to all the Nation's Governors the authority to help manage our gasoline supplies over the summer. Using these powers, which I have authority to delegate, the Governors will be able to require that at least some gasoline stations remain open on weekends, to establish minimum purchase requirements, to prevent tank topping, which can convert a scarce surplus into spot shortages, and to impose an odd-even day sales system to reduce crowding and confusion by enabling drivers to buy gasoline on alternate days according to their license plate numbers.

Some of this authority already exists in some of the States, but this action will assure that all Governors throughout the Nation have help in managing the kind of situation that existed this month in Nevada, California, and some other places in our country.

These steps will simply make it more convenient for drivers to purchase gasoline, but they do not save oil or gasoline. While some increased supply and better management may minimize inconvenience, continued care, planning, and conservation will be required throughout the summer if we are to avoid gasoline lines and spot shortages.

As I've said so often, our country faces a long-term, chronic problem in obtaining adequate energy supplies to meet our needs. We have not yet addressed this basic problem. Until we put in place policies that will cut back demand, reduce waste, ensure maximum production of oil here at home, and develop alternate supplies of energy—alternates to oil—we will have to continue to live with the prospect of shortages.

It's necessary to stop aggravating the problem by blaming one another and by seeking out scapegoats. The fact is that the oil-producing countries are holding down supply while the rest of the world has increased demand. Our current difficulties have been made more severe by the stoppage of Iranian production this winter. Over 200 million barrels of oil which the world expected to have was simply not produced.

To meet demand over the winter and the spring, we had to draw down on our own supplies and also our own reserves, and reserve supplies of crude oil now are at very low levels. Since it takes 60 to 90 days for oil to be moved from a country like Iran across the ocean to our ports to be refined and then distributed, we are still feeling the loss of oil from that country even though Iran is producing oil again.

We now expect to see mild increases in oil supply, which should help to alleviate our present spot shortages. But in spite of this improvement, we will at best only have—at best we will only have about the same amount of oil during the summer that we had a year ago. In the meantime, Americans are expecting to use more than we had a year ago. Unless we are able to plan carefully and to conserve properly, spot shortages may exist.

As this Memorial Day has indicated, Americans are able to conserve energy if they are determined to do so. For example, Charles Warren, my Special Representative in California, reports that the use of trains and rapid transit in California was way up.

But I believe this country is capable of doing much more than just getting through the summer. Phased decontrol will begin June 1 to reduce our subsidy of imported oil and to increase domestic production of oil.

I've also proposed a windfall profits tax to capture, for public benefit, a substantial portion of the increased prices of oil resulting from decontrol. And I proposed an energy security fund to protect those who are least able to afford the rapidly increasing costs of energy, to improve mass transportation systems in our country, and to bring the full force of American science and technology to bear on this crucial problem.

These proposals, while not universally popular, are essential to get this country moving firmly on the way to a more lasting solution for our energy problem. I hope that I can have the support of the Congress and the American people for these energy proposals.

And now, I'd be glad to answer questions.




Q. Mr. President, I have a three-part question. What do you say to Members of Congress and the industry who say that decontrol will not lead to greater supplies? Also, what do you say to poor people who cannot afford the needed gas at these higher prices? And why did you use helicopters for two private fishing trips in recent days?

THE PRESIDENT. Can I take my choice of the questions? [Laughter]

Q. You can start from the beginning. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I'm convinced that the government control of oil prices has not worked. We presently have controls. Oil production in this country has continued to go down about 6 percent per year. Dependence on imported oil has gone up drastically, so that in spite of very rapid increases in the cost of foreign oil, our country has seen its imports now equal about one-half total consumption. This has robbed our Nation of valuable dollars. It's cut our country out of potential jobs. It's created very serious problems in our trade balance, and it's discouraged American production. It's also subsidized foreign oil and made energy seem to be much cheaper for consumers than it actually is.

I think it's better to reduce the Federal bureaucracy and to decontrol oil prices very slowly and steadily—oh, just 1 or 2 percent per month for 28 months—so that we can have increased domestic production and a reduction in imports.

As far as the poor people are concerned, we are only willing to let the oil companies keep, out of each dollar increased in price, about 29 cents. The rest goes to either local or State or Federal governments or to the owners of land where oil is produced.

The income for the Federal Government from the windfall profits tax, brought about by decontrol of oil, will go into an energy security fund. A substantial portion of this fund will be used to pay to poor families for the increased cost of oil and other energy. The rest of it will go, as I said, for rapid transit and to produce additional supplies of oil.

It's much less expensive for me, when I travel from one place to another, to go by helicopter. When I go by highway, because of security requirements, I have a very large entourage, including seven or eight carloads of press who follow me when I go by car. And at each intersection along the highways, the State Police have people there to guard the intersections to prevent my injury in case of an accident. So, it's much less expensive for me to go by helicopter.


Q. Mr. President, election year tax cuts are rather commonplace in this country, and I wonder if we can look forward to a Carter-proposed tax cut in 1980.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I doubt very seriously that we'll have any tax cut in 1980. My own major responsibility is to deal with the inflation question. Part of that, of course, is to be fiscally responsible in reducing the Federal deficit. If we have the option between substantial reductions in the deficit and controlling inflation on the one hand, and having tax reductions for the American people in an election year on the other, I would forgo the tax reduction and insist upon controlling inflation and cutting the deficit.


Q. Mr. President, United Airlines and the machinists union last week reached a contract settlement that was well over 30 percent, yet another assault on your 7-percent wage guidelines. How long can you expect the American people to sit tight and support a 7-percent guideline, when inflation is running at over 13 percent over the last 3 months and when the big unions are getting fat contracts?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the problem is finding a suitable alternative. I don't maintain that every settlement in the last 6 or 8 months has been under the 7-percent guideline. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, however, that the price constraints and the wage constraints that we have imposed on a voluntary basis have had very beneficial results. Eighty-five percent, at least, of all the wage settlements since we imposed the voluntary standards have been within the 7-percent guidelines. Even those that have exceeded the guidelines, in my opinion, have been much lower than they would have been without the restraints.

We're trying to do three things, and we're going to stick with it: first of all, to have a fiscally responsible government, to cut down waste, and to reduce the Federal deficit; secondly, to eliminate the unwarranted regulations and redtape that's imposed by government on the private sector, which is highly inflationary; and, of course, the third thing is to stick with and to try to induce the American people to support the voluntary wage and price standards.

All of these factors working together will have a long-range, beneficial effect in controlling inflation. In my opinion, a deliberate recession, which is one alternative which would cause very high unemployment, is unacceptable. And mandatory wage and price controls, which have been tried in the past and have never worked, except during wartime, are also unacceptable.

So, we have a good, sound, anti-inflation program. It's going to require some time for it to be effective, but I intend to stick with it.


Q. Mr. President, many of your legislative initiatives have run into trouble on Capitol Hill this year—hospital cost control, the Panama Canal implementation legislation, oil price decontrol—legislation to extend that—and so forth. To what extent do you believe it is the President's responsibility to exert leadership over the Congress, and to what extent do you believe you've fulfilled that responsibility this year?

TEE PRESIDENT. I think the President has a major responsibility not only to propose to the Congress legislation that's of benefit to the Nation, but also to fight for congressional approval of those proposals. The ones you mentioned as examples are very important to our Nation.

We have already signed, and the Senate has ratified, a Panama Canal agreement, two treaties. Those treaties became effective the first day of April. The Panama Canal Zone will become Panamanian territory on the 1st of October. If the Congress does not act to implement those treaties, then we would have no effective means by which we could adequately defend the Panama Canal between now and the year 2000, nor manage our personnel in keeping the canal open. I believe that the Congress will eventually be responsible and will pass the implementation legislation.

On oil decontrol, which I have proposed—and just described, I think, adequately-my belief is that the Congress will not change that law. The decontrol action that I have taken is in accordance with the law passed by Congress in 1975. There's a great deal of debate going on, and I believe that we will have decontrol, which is good for our country.

Hospital cost containment—here again, the Congress has a major responsibility to deal with this effectively. The lobbying pressure on the Members of Congress by the hospital lobby is extraordinary, but I believe that in the long run, the Congress will see that this is one of the tangible actions that they can take this year to help control inflation. Hospital costs have been going up twice as great in previous years as the inflation rate, a completely unwarranted, additional charge on the American people that ought to be stopped.

And so, I have not given up on any of these programs as far as getting them implemented by congressional action. But I'll bear my share of the responsibility if we fail.

My judgment is that the American people are beginning to feel that their own Government can't deal adequately with crucial issues to the country, like inflation and like energy and like having a peaceful world in which to live. And until the American public gets aroused, we're going to have difficulty in Washington getting action taken.

But I believe the public is becoming increasingly aroused as they see the need for this action, and I predict to you that the Congress will act favorably on these three items. I have no intent to back down. I'll fight for these three programs and others that I've proposed to the last vote in Congress, and I believe that we will win.


Q. Mr. President, even though it might not be your favorite way of doing things with Congress, why don't you get tough to the extent of saying to Members of Congress individually that, "If you won't help me on these major programs that I feel are important to the entire country, I won't go along with my administration providing the individual, district-by-district services that you are interested in as a Member of Congress"?

THE PRESIDENT. I represent those districts also. Every one of the people who lives in any congressional district is my constituent. And I don't think it's right to punish the people of our Nation who live in a particular farming community or city or congressional district because a particular Member of Congress does not comply with the proposals that I make that I believe to be in the best interest of our Nation.

The best approach that I have been able to make—and we've had a very good success in having the Congress approve my proposals in previous years—has been to deal, first of all, with the Congress directly, both as a body and also individual Members of the Congress.

When I do face a serious problem, like with the windfall profits tax when the prediction was we had no chance to get it passed, I take my case to the public as strongly and effectively as I can. I think that's the best way to induce the Congress Members to vote in the best interests of their constituents and mine, not to punish the constituents in a district.


Q. Mr. President, as you said before, decontrol begins Friday, and the OPEC Ministers meet next month. What do you expect the OPEC Ministers to do? What action do you expect them to take?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I think OPEC has raised the price of oil excessively this year, and I hope they won't raise it any more.

I believe in the long run, they hurt not only our country but every nation on Earth, and especially the poor nations who are destitute to begin with. I think the OPEC nations in the long run hurt themselves by raising the price of oil excessively.

They have always demanded—and I give them credit by assuming that their demand was sincere—that countries, like our own, that use and waste so much energy cut back on consumption. That's one of the main thrusts of the energy proposals that I have made to the American people and to the Congress.

As you know, the major consuming nations in the International Energy Agency this spring have resolved, all of us, to cut back by 2 million barrels per day on our total worldwide consumption. This amounts to about a 5-percent reduction below our projected 1979 rate—reduction in consumption. I'll be meeting with six leaders of other nations in Tokyo the last week in June and, there again, we'll try to deal with the question of consumption in the world being higher than present production.

I would like to see the OPEC nations level off their price, certainly not to exceed the rate of inflation; secondly, to increase production in return for which the consuming nations who waste a great deal of energy would impose and adhere to strict conservation measures.

Increased and sustained supply, a stable price, and reduced consumption is the best all-around approach, but I think there has to be some give-and-take, some recognition of mutual interest between us and OPEC, before we can succeed in stabilizing the energy supply and price situation.


Q. This past Saturday, unbeknownst to anyone, you took off to Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, and went fishing.

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. Now, you told Helen Thomas [United Press International] at the beginning of the news conference that this saves energy by not having to drag along all the press people and not having us tail along. How many times previously have you been able to escape the news media and travel unbeknownst to anybody?

THE PRESIDENT. Not enough— [laughter] —and it wasn't unbeknownst to the press.

I have a rare opportunity to go fishing or to get out in the woods and swamps and in the fields and on the streams by myself. I really believe that it's not only good for me but for the country, to be able to do that on occasion. I wish I could do it more. But I don't intend to ignore any opportunity to take advantage of a fishing trip when my own work permits it, and I hope the press will understand and the people will understand that I, like the average American, need some recreation at times.

I enjoyed it. I didn't catch as many fish as my wife. It was one of the nicest days of my life, except for that fact [laughter] —and I'm very proud that I had a chance.


Q. Mr. President, the British, who've been our partners in formulating a policy towards Rhodesia, have recently ruled that the elections there were free and fair. Can you tell me now, does your administration intend to pursue a separate policy there, or will we now agree with the British conclusion?

THE PRESIDENT. We have been consulting closely with the British Government since the new administration under Mrs. Thatcher took over. Secretary Vance has just completed several days of discussions, both with her, with her Foreign Minister, and with other officials.

The new Rhodesian Zimbabwe Government will take office, I think, the 1st of June. Within 2 weeks after that date, I will make my decision about whether or not to lift the existing sanctions. I've given the Congress this assurance. And obviously, my decision would be made taking into consideration those consultations with Great Britain.


Q. About a month ago, Mr. President, you brought about, helped bring about, a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union. As part of that exchange, as I understand it, there was an agreement that the families of the Russian dissidents would be allowed immediate passage to the West. However, many of those families have not been released, and there were reports that some of them have actually been harassed. Is that a breach of the agreement? What has the U.S. Government done about it? And secondly, do you have any information on another report that the Soviets are about to release 12 more prisoners, possibly including Anatoly Shcharanskiy?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any information about the second item except what I have read in the news. We have no direct information about that. I hope the report is true.

The Soviets did agree to release the families of the five dissidents, earlier, without delay and without harassment. My belief is that the families will be released. There have been delays. Whether they were brought about by an unwieldy democracy [bureaucracy],1 or by actions of subordinates who weren't familiar with the government policy, or whether it was deliberate, I have no way to know.

1 Printed in the transcript.

There have been some delays. But I think in spite of this, the families will be reunited, and that's one reason that I'm very thankful about it.

Q. You do not see it as a breach of the agreement, then?

THE PRESIDENT. There was some delay, and there was some harassment of the families in my opinion. Whether that was imposed by the government officials or whether it was part of the unwieldy—the Soviet bureaucracy, I can't judge. But I'm thankful that the families will be released.


Q. Mr. President, John White, the party chairman, Democratic Party chairman, said the other day that he thought the activities of some of those Congressmen promoting Senator Kennedy were divisive and might turn the Presidency over to the Republicans in 1980. Now, do you agree with him? And would it be helpful if Senator Kennedy just today made a Sherman-like statement, as he did in 1974, take himself out of the race?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any quarrel to make with the statement that was issued by John White. No, I do not disagree with his statement.

I don't really have any comment to make about what Senator Kennedy does. He's made statements repeatedly about what he would do.

Let me make this point: No President can expect to have unanimous support, even within one's own party. This has been the case with every predecessor of mine who lived in the White House. But that's not my major concern. I'm not an announced candidate, and I don't intend to make every judgment about what ought to be done for this country on the basis of whether it would or would not lose support by nonpartisan Americans or officials in my own party for an upcoming election.

Some of the decisions that I have to make on inflation, on energy, on foreign affairs, are very difficult to make. I don't believe anyone can accuse me of trying to gain a vote, for instance, by my energy proposals. They've just lost votes, but they were necessary. And if I should ever modify my positions away from what's best for this country in order to pick up support, then I would not deserve to be President. So, I don't intend to do it.

If a few or even a large number of Democrats endorse someone else, that's their business. I'll continue to try to serve the country as best I can and deal with the political question when the election comes along.


Q. Mr. President, I know in your Inaugural Address, you dedicated your administration to eliminating atomic weapons from the Earth.

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q. We're on the verge now of making the decision on the MX. I gather it has accuracy, it hits within 100 yards, and it has a doubling or a tripling of the atomic blast power. It could be a very destabilizing weapon in the strategic arms system, and also make SALT III very difficult to achieve. What's your decision on MX?

THE PRESIDENT. The most destabilizing thing that we could have in our strategic relationship with the Soviets would be acknowledged inferiority or a vulnerable strategic deployment of missiles. We have just completed almost 7 years of negotiations with the Soviets to actually reduce the present, permitted number of missiles on each side, to put constraints on the number of explosive warheads that could be on each missile, and to limit the improvement in quality of existing missiles. That is a major step toward my ultimate goal, which I believe is one shared by the Soviet Union leaders, of eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth in the future.

But while we do have heavy deployments of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union—although now being constrained more severely than they were before—we must maintain an adequate level of armaments, and we must maintain the security from attack of the armaments we have.

So, when we do deploy new types of missiles to stay current and to keep our equivalency with the Soviet Union, that, in my opinion, contributes to peace, and this is completely permitted in the SALT II agreement which we have just negotiated.

The agreement on new types of IGBM's is that each side can only have one new IGBM during the life of the treaty. And that was carefully planned in order to provide stability and to stop the enormous buildup which the Soviets have been demonstrating in recent years to catch up with us, since we were originally far ahead. And if we can maintain that rough equivalency with the Soviet Union, maintain an adequate defense, and maintain the security of our own missile systems, that is a major contributing factor to peace.

So, it is not destabilizing. I think it is stabilizing.

Q. Have you decided on the MX?



Q. Mr. President, on the Middle East, sir, is it feasible in your view to expect the Palestinians and other Arab nations to join the peace process as long as the United States does not put forward some of its own ideas in greater detail about what autonomy is going to look like on the West Bank and Gaza?

In other words, as long as the Israelis are continuing to say there will be no Palestinian homeland, there will be no entity linked or unlinked to Jordan, there will be no Palestinian state, is it not incumbent on the United States, again in this peace process, to come forward with some ideas of its own in order to encourage the Palestinians to join in?

THE PRESIDENT. We've never been reticent about putting forward our ideas both to the Israelis and the Egyptians and to others about what ought to be done in the West Bank, Gaza area. We've never espoused an independent Palestinian state. I think that would be a destabilizing factor there.

I believe the next step ought to be the exchange of views during the negotiations between Israel and Egypt. We will observe the different proposals that are inevitably going to be made; some of them have been described publicly. Then later on, after the negotiations proceed as far as they can do with any degree of momentum, we will reserve the right—requested, I might say, by both Israel and Egypt— to put forward United States proposals to break a deadlock or to provide a compromise solution.

We have been involved in that kind of process both at Camp David and when I went to the Middle East. I think that's one of the reasons that we've been as successful as we have so far.

But for us to preempt the negotiations by putting forward, to begin with, an American proposal, I think, would be counterproductive, and it would remove some of the reasonable responsibility that ought to be directly on the shoulders of Prime Minister Begin and his government and President Sadat and his government.

I might say that this past weekend, I talked personally to President Sadat and to Prime Minister Begin and, this morning, to Secretary Vance. And they were all very pleased and very excited not only at the progress made in El Arish and Beersheba but also at the attitude on both sides toward a constructive resolution of these very difficult issues.

So, at this point, I feel very hopeful that both sides are negotiating in good faith. We'll be there to help them when they need our help.


Q. Mr. President, last week an Atlanta grand jury indicted your former budget director, your friend, Mr. Lance, on criminal charges. I'm aware of the fact that the courts have enjoined discussion of this case and won't ask you to do that, sir, but in view of the confidence and friendship you have expressed publicly for Mr. Lance, I wonder if you could share with us your reaction to the indictment and your feeling about Mr. Lance at this time as a person?

THE PRESIDENT. Bert Lance is still my friend. I don't see any benefit to be derived from my commenting on the actions that are presently underway within the legal system of our country.

FRANK CORMIER [Associated Press]. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

Note: President Carter's fiftieth news conference began at 4 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. 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/249672

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