The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. At the beginning of this year, I proposed to Congress substantial tax relief for almost every taxpayer in our country. I also asked that some important and long-overdue reforms be made in our unfair and very complicated tax laws.
Last week it became clear that the Congress is seriously considering a tax bill that contains no major reforms at all. That's bad enough, but this new congressional proposal is even worse. It actually attempts to take a step backward through some version of the so-called Steiger capital gains amendment. This proposal would add more than $2 billion to the Federal budget deficit. Eighty percent of its tax benefits would go to one-half of 1 percent of the American taxpayers, who make more than $100,000 a year. Three thousand millionaires would get tax reductions averaging $214,000. The other 99 1/2 percent of our taxpayers would not do quite so well.
For instance, a middle-income family making between $20,000 and $30,000 a year would get a tax reduction from this proposal of less than $1. And the working man or woman who makes $20,000 or less a year would get no more than 25 cents.
The American people want some tax relief from the heavy burden of taxation on their shoulders, but neither they nor I will tolerate a plan that provides huge tax windfalls for millionaires and two bits for the average American. That underestimates the intelligence of the American people.
My proposals to reduce the taxes paid by large and small businesses so that they can invest in new investments, new businesses, new equipment, new jobs, is a much more fair and effective approach than providing huge tax giveaways to millionaires. Both businesses and also American working families deserve a real tax cut this year, and our tax code barely needs to be made simpler, fairer, and more effective.
I'm working hard for tax reduction and tax reform, but only Congress can pass laws. I'm still confident that in response to the obvious desires of the American people, the Congress will act responsibly on the tax package I have submitted. The American people expect and deserve no less.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, could you give us your current assessment of Middle East peace prospects at this time, when Israel and Egypt are again apparently at an impasse?
THE PRESIDENT. My experience in dealing with the Mideast peace proposals leads me not to be surprised when we have temporary setbacks or rejections from one side or the other.
I thought the Israeli Cabinet response to our two basic questions was very disappointing. And I notice that this weekend the Israeli Cabinet rejected an Egyptian proposal that has not even yet been made. It's not in final form, I understand. It certainly has not been presented to us to present to the Israelis. It's already been rejected.
Our commitment to pursuing a comprehensive and effective peace agreement in the Middle East is constant and very dedicated. We will not back off on this. After we receive the Egyptian proposal when it's put in final form, we will be sure to relay it to the Israelis, as the Egyptians will request, and then both proposals, the Israeli proposal, the Egyptian proposal, will be on the table.
At that time it might be appropriate, if the Israelis and Egyptians agree, for a meeting between their Foreign Ministers, perhaps, and our own Secretary of State. I would hope that at that point we could make real progress toward searching out the common ground on which they might stand and alleviating the differences that still remain. But I can't predict the rate of progress. It obviously will require good faith and some flexibility on both sides.
Q. Mr. President, in the current war of words you've said you are not going to let the Russians push us around, and Mr. Brezhnev says that you're pursuing a dangerous policy by playing the Chinese card.
My question is, are they pushing us around and are you playing the Chinese card?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we're too strong and powerful and deeply committed a nation to be pushed around. Our economic, military, political strength, the basic principles on which our Nation is founded, are too strongly held and preserved by the American people to permit us to be weak enough to be pushed around.
As I said in Annapolis, and as we've had as a constant policy, we want to be friends with the Soviet Union. We want to have rapid progress made on the SALT negotiations, the comprehensive test ban, increased trade, better communication. Some of the things the Soviets do cause us deep concern. The human rights questions within the Soviet Union in violation of the Helsinki agreement, their intrusion, along with the Cubans, into Africa, these things do cause us some concern and create in the American people some doubt about the Soviets' good and peaceful intentions. But I have a deep belief that the underlying relationship between ourselves and the Soviets is stable and that Mr. Brezhnev, along with myself, wants peace and wants to have better friendship.
We are not trying, nor will we ever try, to play the Soviets against the People's Republic of China, nor vice versa. We have some very important relationships with the Chinese that need to be pursued. There are worldwide common hopes that we share with the Chinese. We have bilateral relations that we want to expand-trade, exchange of science and technology, and so forth—and at the same time, we want to have peace with the Chinese, almost a billion people. These are the goals that we have maintained during my own administration, the same identical goals as were evoked clearly by President Nixon and President Ford.
So, we won't let any temporary disharmonies or disputes about transient circumstances delay our pursuit of peace with the Soviet Union, nor our ability nor commitment toward better relationships with the People's Republic of China.
Q. Mr. President, to follow that up, you are consciously not linking the progress in the strategic arms negotiations to Soviet behavior either in Africa or the dissident problem. There is a suggestion made by a member of the National Security Council staff that there should be linkage, however, between trade with the Soviet Union and the transfer of technology to the Soviet Union and their actions throughout the rest of the world.
Do you favor using trade and economic incentives as a means of moderating Soviet behavior?
THE PRESIDENT. I've not heard that proposal that you describe. As you know, the Soviets have arrested an American businessman. 1 We've had a very hard time trying to determine if there is any grounds for his arrest, and the Soviet press, which is a spokesman for the Soviet Government, has already condemned him without a trial or even without thorough investigation. This kind of an episode naturally causes concern among the American business community, who does look upon the Soviet Union, as do I, as a good place for the sale of American manufactured products, American farm and agricultural products, and other things. But we've never tried to threaten the Soviet Union, we've never held out the prospect of increased or decreased trade if they did or did not do a certain thing that we thought was best.
1 Francis Jay Crawford, an employee of the International Harvester Company, was detained by Soviet authorities for alleged currency violations.
We try to pursue peace as the overwhelming sense of our goals with the Soviet Union, and I think that's shared in good faith by President Brezhnev.
So, I think the word "linkage" is sometimes inappropriately used. It's obvious that there is a good factor in progress with the Soviet Union if the American people, the Congress, the business community feel that they are acting in good faith toward us, that they have friendly attitudes toward us, they treat our citizens over there, trying to enhance trade, with respect and with fairness. And all of these things are tightly interrelated. But I think the word "linkage" is one that's inappropriately used.
TAX REDUCTION LEGISLATION
Q. Mr. President, in your opening remarks on the tax legislation and the Steiger amendment, the implication is strongly there, but you stop short of actually saying you would veto legislation with the Steiger amendment. Will you veto such legislation if it comes to your desk?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I said neither the American people nor I will tolerate a plan that does what the Steiger amendment does. I think that's clear enough. I don't see any way that I could accept a major tax proposal of this kind that did cost the Federal Treasury $2 billion, and increase the budget deficit that much, and channel almost all of the money to the very rich people. So, I don't see any possibility of my approving such a plan.
CIVIL RIGHTS PROSECUTIONS
Q. Mr. President, your Justice Department has set up a dual prosecution policy in cases of police brutality where the victims' civil rights may have been violated. But there seems to be some confusion over when the dual prosecution policy should be used. I wonder if you could clarify.
THE PRESIDENT. I doubt it, but I'll try. When I came in office and when Griffin Bell became the Attorney General, there was a concern that we shared about the mistreatment of minority citizens in this country—blacks, those who speak Spanish, and others. I believe that at the present time, we are investigating about 192 cases of that sort. Each case has to be assessed on its own merits.
There is a duality in culpability among those who commit some crime. I'm speaking in generalities now. One is the actual criminal case where you punish someone for abusing another person. Sometimes the abuse extends to the death of the victim. Another element of criminality is the violation of the American civil rights act, where a person's rights are deprived, even the loss of life.
If in the judgment of the Attorney General-and he makes the judgment, I don't—the original case is not adequately pursued, nor the punishment, if meted out, adequate for the crime, if there's a gross abuse of that, then the Attorney General reserves the right to enter the case and try the perpetrator of the crime on the basis of a civil rights violation.
This has been historically the case, but we've revived that issue. And without referring to a specific case, this is our policy. As I said, to repeat myself, each case has to be decided on its own merits, though, and the Attorney General makes that ultimate decision.
Q. If I could follow up on that for a minute, in the Rodriguez case in Dallas it's been reported that Drew Days at the Justice Department decided not to prosecute that case, and that you talked to some Mexican Americans while you were down in Texas and promised that Attorney General Bell would go ahead and look into it himself personally.
Why was that decision made? Why was it decided that Bell would go ahead and prosecute when Days had decided not to?
THE PRESIDENT. There was an erroneous press report, which sometimes occurs in our Nation, which indicated that Drew Days had made a decision and that he had recommended to Mr. Civiletti, who pursues criminal cases, that this case not be pursued further.
We inquired of Mr. Days about the accuracy of that report. He has not yet made a decision about whether he would recommend any further Justice Department involvement. And I asked the Attorney General, which is appropriate, to look into the case himself. This is a case of high interest to the Spanish-speaking community in the Southwest, and again, his decision would be made on the basis of the merits of the case. But Mr. Days has not made any decision on his own. He has not made any recommendation to Mr. Civiletti, which was erroneously reported by the press.
DAVID G, GARTNER
Q. Mr. President, it's been reported that you've asked David Gartner to resign from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and it's been rumored that he has told you that he wouldn't. Are these things true? And if so, what are you going to do about them?
THE PRESIDENT. I might say I don't know Mr. Gartner. He's one of the roughly 700 people that we recommended to the Congress be appointed to positions of importance. In assessing the factors in his case during the last week or so, both 'I and my staff members, after consultation with the Vice President, who does know Mr. Gartner well, we have decided Mr. Gartner ought to resign.
He has not committed a crime, he has not violated the law, but the image of impropriety, resulting from the acceptance by his children of a substantial gift, leads me to think that it would be better if he did resign. I understand that Friday, Mr. Gartner called my staff members and said that he did not intend to resign.
So, the description that you made is substantially correct. I do not have authority to remove Mr. Gartner from office once he has been confirmed by the Senate. But I think he should resign. The decision now is up to him.
Q. Mr. President, so there's no further step that you feel you can take at this point?
THE PRESIDENT. No, except to encourage him to reconsider and resign.
Q. Well, sir, it was my impression at your last news conference here that you had already assessed the case, because you seemed at that time to indicate that you saw nothing wrong with the circumstances surrounding all of this. What has caused you to change your mind?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have looked into it much more thoroughly than I had before I came to the last press conference. The report I made last time was basically accurate, that he had reported voluntarily the acceptance of the gift to his children, that the Senate Agriculture Committee had been thoroughly conversant with this fact, and that the Senate committee and the Senate itself had confirmed him, that he had not committed any crime. I believe, though, in light of the fact that there is an allegation of impropriety on his part, with which I agree, that he should resign.
EUROPEAN TROOP REDUCTIONS
Q. Mr. President, along with the recent tougher rhetoric from Moscow, there's also reportedly been an important concession by the Soviets that the talks over reducing the number of NATO and Warsaw Pact troops faced off in Europe, I wonder, in light of that, what are the prospects now for an agreement of those talks?
THE PRESIDENT. The prospects now are much better than they were a month ago. We, along with our NATO Allies, have been pursuing what we call the mutual and balanced force reductions in the European theater for a number of years in the talks at Vienna. And the Soviets, this past 2 weeks—I think within the last 2 weeks—replied in a very affirmative way. Over the weekend President Brezhnev made a speech, I think at Minsk, where he said that this was a major reply on the part of the Soviet Union. He thought that we should assess it very carefully. So, I don't know what the future results should be.
There is a difference in estimate of the number of Soviet forces in the Warsaw Pact region, Eastern Europe, compared to what we think they have there. We think the Soviets have a superior force in the number of men, the number of tanks, to us. The Soviets' estimates are considerably lower.
We are negotiating now with the Soviets to see where the disparity lies. And what we want is to have a balanced reduction, so that at the end of this reduction the two forces will be roughly equivalent to each other and that they will be at a lower level than before. So, I would say it's a step in the right direction, and we will pursue it.
CRITICISM OF FOREIGN POLICY
Q. Mr. President, last week in Texas, in the course of defending Mr. Brzezinski, you criticized the Soviet Union and Cuba for attacking him, and you also criticized special interest groups, which presumably are domestic organizations. Many people think that you had reference to the Jewish community, which has been critical of Mr. Brzezinski.
Could you explain, sir—there are two parts to this question—who or what special interest groups do you mean, and what limits, if any, do you think there ought to be on the criticism of officials like Mr. Brzezinski involved in the making of foreign policy?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's open season on me or officials in the Government, as you well know, and I think that's part of the American system, which I don't deplore. I didn't have any particular special interest group in mind. I said "special interest groups" and then following that specifically referred to the Cubans, the Soviets, and their apologists. And that is an adequate example, I think, of special interest groups to whom I refer.
The point is that I make the ultimate decisions in foreign policy. There is a minimum of disagreement between the National Security Council and the State Department. I do get advice from various sources, both in and out of Government. And obviously, in a complicated issue, I get recommendations that sometimes are at variance with one another. But when I make the final decision, then I want to be and am the one responsible. I make the judgment and neither the Secretary of State nor Dr. Brzezinski makes those judgments.
I think it's easy for someone who disagrees with a decision that I make to single out Dr. Brzezinski as a target, insinuating that I'm either ineffective or incompetent or ignorant, that I don't actually make the decisions, but that my subordinates make them for me. And it gives an easy target for them without attacking the President of the United States.
But I've noticed that President Brezhnev, Mr. Castro, and others always single out Dr. Brzezinski as their target. It's not fair to him. I think it overly exaggerates any possible disagreement that the State Department and the National Security Council have, even in the formative stages of a decision. And it takes away from the fact that in this country I'm the President, I make the decisions, and I want to be responsible for those decisions once they are made.
Q. Mr. President, what precisely is our position with relation to the Soviets? It isn't always easy for us to discern the precise position. Is it hard-nosed or is it conciliatory or is it somewhere in between? I wonder whether you could refine your answer on this a bit.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know any clearer way to express it than I did in the speech I made in Annapolis a few weeks ago, which I very carefully wrote myself, and a speech that I went over with my advisers, almost every word in it.
We want to be friends with the Soviets. We want to improve our relationship with the Soviets. We want to make progress, and I might say we are making progress on a SALT agreement, on a comprehensive test ban agreement, the prohibition against attacks on one another's satellites, the reduction in the level of forces in Eastern and Western Europe, which I've already discussed, and so forth. These discussions, these negotiations, are going along very well. We're making good progress. And as I said in my speech in Annapolis, I believe that Mr. Brezhnev wants the same thing I do. He wants peace between our country and theirs.
We do, however, stay in a state of competition. This is inevitable. I think it's going to be that way 15, 20 years in the future. We want to have accommodation when we can mutually benefit from that accommodation. We are willing to meet the Soviets in competition of a peaceful nature.
When the Soviets commit some act with which we disagree, I have to make a judgment whether to be quiet about it or to speak out openly and acquaint the American people with the facts so that Americans can understand the interrelationship between us and the Soviet Union.
As I said, I think in an interview with a Dallas newspaper a couple of weeks ago, though, our relationship with the Soviet Union overall is stable. It's not in danger. There is no present threat to peace.
The negotiations are proceeding in good faith. There's no cause for alarm. And I think this is pretty much a normal circumstance. I would hope that when we conclude the SALT and the comprehensive test ban negotiations, hopefully without too much delay, that Mr. Brezhnev and I might meet personally and to ratify the agreement that's basically been hammered out.
We are much closer to an agreement than we were a few weeks ago. We've made good progress.
Q. No chance of a meeting before then?
THE PRESIDENT. I have extended an almost standing invitation to Mr. Brezhnev to come over and meet with me. My belief, however, is that he will not meet until the prospect for an agreement is quite imminent. But I welcome this. And I feel quite at ease about our relationship with the Soviet Union, although there are public debates, public disputes, sometimes public disagreements.
Q. Secretary of State Vance has said that we want to cooperate with the Neto government in Angola, and we just sent a diplomat over to Angola to do just that, talk to them. But a few weeks earlier, the CIA Director had been up on Capitol Hill trying to get approval from the Senate for a plan to back-door weapons to the rebels in Angola. What is the consistency in these two positions, and would you have approved that plan?
THE PRESIDENT. There was never any plan put forward to send back-door weapons to the rebels, because that would have been in violation of the American law. And I don't believe any responsible person in my administration would have violated the so-called Clark amendment, which prevents us from either direct or indirect involvement in the internal affairs in Angola.
Our relationship with the Angolan officials has been a fairly consistent one. Ever since I've been in office, we have had negotiations or consultations directly with Angolan officials. This is important, first of all, because we want to have peace in southern Africa. And Mr. Neto, who is the leader of the Angolan Government, has some influence on other African leaders, particularly the leaders of SWAPO, where we want an agreement in Namibia. Also, we have wanted to hold the Angolan leaders responsible for any future possible invasions into the Shaba Province in Zaire.
I also would like to see the Cubans begin to remove their troops from Angola. And a few weeks ago in New York, their Foreign Minister, the Angolan Foreign Minister, met with our Secretary of State and suggested additional consultations, which is a continuation of what we've done all the time.
We have no desire at this point, no plans to normalize our relationship with Angola. But we have never contemplated getting militarily involved in Angola, directly nor indirectly, and this present visit by Mr. McHenry 2 to Angola is part of a series of consultations with them.
2 Donald F. McHenry, Deputy U.S. Representative in the United Nations Security Council.
Q. Mr. President, if I may follow that up. I'm not quite sure what you are saying when you say there was no plan presented to the Senate. The CIA Director, Mr. Turner, did present a document, a written plan, to Senator Clark to try to see if Senator Clark thought that this would be acceptable, and would not violate the Clark amendment. The plan called for sending arms through a third country to the rebel forces in Angola.
Did you know about that meeting? Did you know about that document? And since others around the administration did, would you have approved it?
THE PRESIDENT. I didn't have any idea that the CIA Director had even talked to Senator Clark about it. My impression of it from the news reports and from subsequent information was that he went to consult with Senator Clark to see within the bounds of the law what involvement would be possible in Angola. But I had no knowledge of that, nor have I ever intended to send weapons to Angola, either directly nor indirectly.
TAX REDUCTION LEGISLATION
Q. Mr. President, to get back to the opening statement on capital gains tax policy, as you know, Mr. President, the House Ways and Means Committee is considering the so-called compromise proposal advanced by Congressman Jones of Oklahoma, which would set capital gains, I believe, at a 35-percent maximum rate and also eliminate the so-called alternative tax.
My question is, is the Jones compromise equally unacceptable as the Steiger proposal to you?
THE PRESIDENT. When I referred to the Steiger amendment or proposal, I was also referring to the Jones proposal, which is a version of the Steiger amendment. Both these proposals apply basically to the desire of some Members of the Congress to remove part of the income of very wealthy taxpayers from the minimum tax.
A few years ago, the Congress very wisely said that if there were loopholes or provisions in the tax law that let a wealthy person avoid paying any tax, they would at least have to pay some tax under the new minimum tax laws. And the Steiger amendment and the Jones amendment, part of it, refers to that basic principle. I disagree with the Steiger and Jones proposal.
Ms. Woodruff [Judy Woodruff, NBC News].
Q. If these proposals, if these plans, the Steiger bill and the Jones bill, are as onerous as you suggest, then why have so many Members of Congress, including so many Democrats, come around in support of them?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we don't have any clear indication of that. They do have enough support to cause me concern. My guess is that when the Congress becomes acquainted with which taxpayers in our country benefit—that is, the very wealthy taxpayers—and how they give no relief to the average and middle-income families, my guess is that the Congress will reject this proposal.
Q. Mr. President, are you satisfied that your tax cut and your tax reform plan were sufficiently fair for middle-income taxpayers?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think they were eminently fair, and my preference, of course, is that my original proposal would be adopted. My guess is that the Congress will not adopt my tax reform proposals in their entirety.
WHITE HOUSE VISITORS
Q. Mr. President, sir, you've extended White House hospitality to a variety of people, including jazz musicians and prizefighters. Could you tell us why you haven't invited Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or in another category, Howard Jarvis or, in another category, your fellow Southern Baptist Convention speaker, Anita Bryant, or do you approve of—disapprove of the positions of these people?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't have any inclination now to say whether I approve or disapprove of what they do. I'm sure they've all done things of which I do approve and they probably have all done things of which I disapprove. But there are
Q. You wouldn't subscribe to original sin, then. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. There are 220 million people in America, and there's a limit to how many we can invite. [Laughter] But we'll continue our invitations in the future and maybe somedays get around to those whom you offer as a possibility.
Q. Anita Bryant said to the Southern Baptist Convention that Midge Costanza came down and intruded herself into the Dade County ordinance struggle.
Was that at your direction or was that Midge's kind of spontaneity?
THE PRESIDENT. I didn't know that she went to Dade County. If she did, it was not at my direction.
NATIONAL HEALTH CARE
Q. Mr. President, given the seriousness of the inflation problem, do you still plan to offer a comprehensive national health program, and if so, when? What's your current thinking on that problem?
THE PRESIDENT. Within the next few days I will direct the Secretary of HEW to comply with principles that I outlined to him in the preparation of a national health proposal. The implementation of it, and the passage of it by Congress before it's implemented, will have to accommodate budget constraints and the attitude of both the Congress and the American people.
I do favor a comprehensive health proposal. Now at this time, the high inflation rate and the very tight budget constraints would not permit immediate implementation of it. It might take many years before the final plan is completely put into effect.
After I give these instructions to Mr. Califano, then he will be consulting with Members of the Congress who are particularly interested and will be consulting with Governors and interest groups like the hospital administrators, doctors, and so forth, to work out not only the specifics of the proposal but also the rough time schedule that we would follow in their implementation.
MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mr. Cormier.
Note: President Carter's thirty-fourth 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/248967