George Bush photo

The President's News Conference on the Federal Budget Crisis

October 06, 1990

The President. I just wanted to comment. I know the leaders have been speaking. And I have not yet signed but, within the next couple of minutes, will veto the continuing resolution. We've had good cooperation from the Democrat and Republican leaders. The Congress has got to get on with the people's business. I'd like them to do that business -- get a budget resolution -- and get it done in the next 24 hours or 48 hours.

But as President, I cannot let the people's business be postponed over and over again. I've jotted down the numbers. There have been three dozen in the last decade -- three dozen continuing resolutions -- business as usual. And we can't have it. The President can only do this one thing: send that message back and say this is not a time for business as usual. The deficit is too important to the American people.

So, I expressed my appreciation to the Speaker, the majority leader in the Senate, the majority leader in the House, two Republican leaders -- thanked them for coming together in a spirit of compromise to get an agreement that I strongly supported. It didn't have everything I wanted in there, but now I'm calling on those who did not vote for it on the Republican side and on the Democratic side to get up with the leadership and send down something that will take care of the people's business once and for all.

I am sorry that I have to do this, but I made very clear that I am not going to be a part of business as usual when we have one deficit after another piling up. Had enough of it, and I think the American people have had enough of it.

Q. What changed your mind, sir?

Q. Mr. Mitchell [House majority leader] came out here a minute ago and said that this served no useful purpose. What useful purpose?

The President. We have a disagreement with him. I think it disciplines the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans. They're the ones that have to pass this budget, and they ought to get on with it. And the leaders, to their credit, tried. But a lot of Members think they can get a free shot, right and left. What this message says is: No more business as usual. So, we did have a difference on that particular point. I think both the Speaker and the majority leader did not want me to do this.

But look, let me take you guys back a while. In August I wanted to keep the Congress in. That story was written. And I've listened to the leadership, both Republicans and Democrats; said no, we'll acquiesce -- because they said that to keep the Congress here in August will be counterproductive: "Everybody will be angry with you. But the way to get it done is with the discipline of the calendar running after the summer recess."

And so, I acquiesced. I compromised. I gave. I'm not going to do it anymore. I'm very sorry if people are inconvenienced, but I am not going to be a part of business as usual by the United States Congress.

Q. Mr. President, Senator Dole [Republican leader] said that you had agreed to send up a new short-term spending bill that would include spending cuts -- a sequester. Could you tell us something about that?

The President. I'm going to stay out of exactly what we're going to do and let the leaders handle the details of this now. It's in the Congress, and I still strongly support the agreement that both Democrat leaders and Republican leaders came down on. And I'll say this: I do think that there's a lot of agreement and good will still existing for that. It's not going to be passed exactly that way. It was defeated. But let's leave the details of negotiation on that to the Congress -- starting back in right now. They're going to have to contend with this veto I sent up -- and obviously, I want to see that veto sustained.

Q. You say no more business as usual -- in one breath you say no more CR's [continuing resolutions], and in the next breath, Dole says there's some CR which is -- --

The President. Well, if it has some discipline -- what I'm saying is, I want to see the system disciplined. If what Bob Dole said is correct -- I'll sign one if it puts some discipline on the system. And if it doesn't discipline the system, then I stay with my current position. No, excuse me, I'm glad you brought that up, because I would strongly support that.

Q. Mr. President, the leadership made a strong point in saying that it's the average Americans who are going to be hurt, the Federal workers and so forth. It's not Congressmen but average Americans who are going to be strongly hurt by this.

The President. The average American is smart. The average American knows what's going on, I think. And I think they know that the Congress will continue to kick this can down the road and that they've got to act. I am very sorry for people that are inconvenienced by this or hurt by this. But this is the only device one has for making something happen, and that is to get the Congress to act, to do its business.

Q. Mr. President, you seem to be blaming Congress, but in fact, a lot of their constituents are the ones that urged them to vote against this. They say it's unfair -- the burden is unfairly divided, that the poor and the middle class are paying too much. Is it possible that maybe this program that you proposed with the leaders just was not acceptable to the American public?

The President. Well, certain aspects of it might well not have been acceptable to the American public on both the right or the left. But when you're trying to do the country's business, I've discovered you have to compromise from time to time, and that's exactly what I did. Took a few shots in the process, but it doesn't matter. What matters is, let's move this process ahead now.

But, yes, you're right -- some people didn't like one aspect or another. We had Republicans jumping up on our side of the aisle and saying, "I'll vote for it if you change this," or "I don't like this part of it, but if you change that -- " And similarly, you've got people that you were quoting that were on the other side.

But at times, one has to come together to do the country's business for the overall good. And these outrageous deficits cannot be permitted to go on and on and on and on. I'm worried about international markets. I'm worried about this country -- the opinion that it can't take care of its fiscal business.

And to their leaders' credit, Democrat and Republican, they tried very hard. They failed to get a majority on the Democratic side. And Republican leaders, with the help from this President and all I could bring to bear on it -- we failed, because we had people -- were looking at one narrow part of the package and not at the overall good. And I am hopeful now that with the urgency this veto brings to bear on the situation, that reasonable people, men and women in the Congress, can come together.

Q. Mr. President, what kind of progress is being made on a new budget resolution? And sources on the Hill are saying that there is growing support for raising the tax rates of the wealthy in exchange, perhaps, for the cuts on premiums for Medicare. But you have opposed that in the past. Are you willing to give on tax rates for the wealthy?

The President. I don't know the answer to your question. They're just going back up now to try. I like the parameters of the other deal wherein I compromise. We've got people -- your question reflects the views on the more liberal or left side of the political spectrum -- who raised those questions. We have some on the right side of the political spectrum coming at the process from another way.

Now, I say: Let them go up and negotiate it. This is the business of the Congress. And our people will stay in touch. I won't mislead them. If there's something that's so outrageous I can't accept it, I'll let them know at the beginning so they don't waste their time. But we're flexible. I've already compromised. And I'm not saying that I can't take a look at new proposals. But you've got to put together a majority in the Congress, and that's where the leaders are having great difficulty.

Q. Following up on that, members of your own party dislike the deal so much, how could you and your advisers have misjudged the sentiments of members of your own party?

The President. Because it's easy when you don't have to be responsible for something. It's easy to just get up and say, hey, I've got an election in 3 weeks, and I'm going to stand up against this particular package -- Medicare, the taxes, the home heating oil, or the fact there's not enough growth or not enough incentive. Any individual Member can do that. Maybe it plays well at home. The President and the leadership of both Houses have to be responsible for the overall good of the country, have to make something happen. I can't get it done just my way. I don't control both Houses of Congress. I'd love to think that that luxury would come by way someday, but it hasn't. Therefore, we've had to compromise. So, I will keep trying in that spirit -- that cooperative, positive spirit.

But when it comes to the discipline that comes from saying, "I'm sorry, no more business as usual," that's where I can stand up. I don't need a consultation to do that. I've got plenty of advice on one side of that question and the other. But I am absolutely convinced this is right.

Even those who are inconvenienced by this are going to say, thank God, we'll get the American people's business of getting this deficit under control done. That's my objective. I think every parent out there who sees his kid's future being mortgaged by the outrageous deficit, sees a shaky economy that's being affected by prolonging these deliberations, will be grateful in the long run. In the meantime, we've got to take a little heat.

Q. Mr. President, the budget resolution that failed is one that you worked hard for. Despite the fact that you gave a national televised speech, despite the fact that your popularity is very high -- and you failed to sway even a majority of votes in your own party. Does that concern you, and do you think this is a major setback for your Presidency?

The President. No, I don't think that at all. But I do think -- yes, it concerns me. I'd like everybody to do it exactly the way I want, but it doesn't work that way. So, now we have to use a little discipline -- --

Q. Mr. President -- --

The President. -- -- nice guy stuff, and we'll try. It's a tough decision, it's not an easy decision I've made, but it is the right decision. So, I'm disappointed they didn't do it my way. But I'm in here to do what is best for the country; and what is best for the country is to get this deficit under control, to get this economy moving again, and to see people at jobs, not out on some welfare line. And that's what's at stake here -- economic soundness of the United States.

We've got a lot of things going on in the world, and a strong economy is vital to what I want to see achieved in this country. So, you have to take some hits. I mean, you don't get it done exactly your own way.

But I read these speculative stories. Tomorrow, there's going to be another vote. Tomorrow, somebody else will move the previous question or second the motion, or some committee chairman will jump up and say, hey, what about me -- my little empire is being invaded here. And I'll say, hey, the President's the guy that has to look at the overall picture.

I can understand Congressmen doing that. But we came together on a deal. We worked for it. Everybody had a chance to posture that didn't like it. They have no responsibility. But I feel a certain responsibility to the American people to move something forward here -- want a compromise. Now we're going to say: We'll try it this way. No more business as usual. Do not just keep putting off the day of reckoning. And I don't want to be a part of that, and that's why I've had to veto this resolution.

Q. Mr. President, you've talked a lot about discipline today. Do you think the American people on average are willing to accept the discipline of a tough budget?

The President. That's a very good question. And if you look at the vote in the House of Representatives, you might say no. But I think in the final analysis the answer will be yes, because I think we sometimes underestimate the intelligence of the American people. I can see where a Congressman can jump up on a specific spending program that'll help him in his district. I can see when somebody will give you the broad tax speech or help him in his district.

But in the final analysis, what the American people look at is: Do we have an economy in which I can feed my family, where I can have opportunity to work for a living, and where I can put a little aside to educate my kids? And therein lies the problem, because that's what we're working for -- is we're trying to get this Federal deficit down.

But I think you raise a good point. I think a lot of these Congressmen can jump up without any responsibility for running the country, or even cooperating with their leaders, and make a point that's very happy for the home folks. But I think that view underestimates the overall intelligence of the American people, whether conservative, whether a guy's working on a factory line someplace, whether he's an investor someplace.

That's why I think this is very important that the Congress now finally come to grips with this.

Q. There's some talk about this special challenge to Civiletti.

Q. Mr. President, it sounds like you're now saying: Hands off. It's up to the congressional leaders to do the negotiating.

The President. They've already started up the road there to go to Congress and start negotiating. But, no, we've made very clear that we're continuing to help. I don't want to mislead them. There are certain things I can accept. There are certain things I can't. So, I think it's very important that our able team, in whom I have total confidence, stay in touch with them.

Q. But not sit at the negotiating table with them?

The President. Oh, I think they'll be there. I think it all depends on what forum. I think there is some feeling, Ann [Ann Devroy, Washington Post], that on the part of Members, both Democrat and Republicans -- hey, you summiteers handed us a deal. Well, what the heck? I mean, how do you expect to get as far along toward an agreement as we did get? But what I want to do is facilitate it. And if they want to know where the White House is, fine. If they want the ideas that largely led to an agreement, fine, and I think they will. But we're not going to force our way in. This is the business of the Congress. The American people know that. They know that the President doesn't pass the budget and doesn't vote on all this stuff. It's the Congress who does it.

So, I'm not trying to assign blame. I'm simply saying, we're available. We want to talk -- fine. I think both leaders have indicated they wanted to stay in fairly close touch with the White House.

Q. Mr. President, there is some talk of a constitutional challenge to Civiletti on the bill that the Attorney General's opinion is not sufficient to run the Government, and that violates section 7 of the Constitution.

The President. I haven't heard anything about that.

Q. Mr. President, are you going to cancel your campaign schedule next week if this impasse is not resolved?

The President. I don't know. I've got to cancel everything that has to do with government, I guess. Maybe that's a good chance to get out there in the political process.

Q. How long can you hold out? How long can you let the Government stay shut down before you decide to toss -- --

The President. Watch and learn.

Q. How long do you think the Government can stay shut before -- --

The President. It's not a question of how long I can take it; it's how long the Congress can take it. But Congress is where the action is. It's the Congress that has to pass this in the House and in the Senate. That's where the action is. They've postponed this tough decision as I've mentioned -- how many -- 30-some times. And we just can't have it. The American people are saying, "I want something done about this." That's where the focus will be.

So, I don't think it's a question of taking heat here or these guys marching out here about honking their horns on taxes. They know I don't like taxes. You get some other guy in Washington out here with a little placard, demonstrating -- something about the government employees -- we've been supporters of the government employees. But we cannot have business as usual.

The American people -- I don't know about inside the beltway, but outside they are fed up with business as usual, and so am I. I wish I had total control so we could do it exactly my way, but we don't. So, I've compromised. Now we're prepared to say, I'm not going to accept a resolution that just postpones it. I've told you I tried that approach.

I tried it in August. Let everybody go home on vacation when I had some good, sound advice I probably should have taken: Make the Congress stay in August. And I listened to the leaders, and they said: "Oh, please don't do that. It will be counterproductive." Now they're saying to me: "Please don't veto this. It will be counterproductive." When do the American people have a say? They want to see this deficit under control. And I don't have many weapons here as President, but one is the veto. When I do it, cast it on principle, I hope it is supported.

Q. What's happened to the prestige -- --

Q. If Dole sends up another CR, if the Congress sends up a CR with sequestration, when could that happen? Do you have some timeframe?

The President. I don't know.

Q. Could it happen the next couple of days, sir?

The President. Oh, yes, absolutely. It could happen this afternoon.

Q. It could happen this afternoon?

The President. Sure. Whether we -- together? I'm not that certain. Perhaps it's a little oversimplification because they're telling me there are some difficult problems right and left, both sides. But, no, they're going right back to negotiating. Let's hope it does. That's the way to serve the constituents.

Q. If it came up this afternoon, sir, would you sign it this afternoon?

The President. It depends what it is. I'll be around.

Q. You have vetoed the CR?

The President. Yes -- well, I haven't actually signed it, but I've got to rush right in there now and do that and send it up to the Hill. They know that they've -- --

Last question.

Q. Why did you change your mind?

Q. What's all this done to the prestige and influence of you and your office?

The President. Well, I think it will demonstrate that there is some power in the Presidency to compel the Congress to do something, and I think that's good.

Q. You are vetoing, though?

The President. Oh, yes. It hasn't been vetoed yet, but I need a typewriter in there to get it done. By the time we finish this press conference that has gone longer than I thought, it'll -- probably all typed up.

Q. Might you trade the bubble for capital gains now? Do you foresee that as a compromise?

The President. The negotiators in the Congress have a lot of flexibility. I remain in a flexible frame of mind. Certain things I can accept and can't. But I'd like to think that now those who postured on one side or another with no responsibility will join the leaders, Republican and Democrat, and say: Hey, we've got a responsibility to the overall good here. We can no longer just give a speech. We've got to pitch in and come together. And that's what my pitch is.

And that's why I'm doing it and doing this veto -- saying, hey, no more business as usual. And I think people understand that sometimes a President has to make a difficult decision. So, I don't worry about the prestige. I was elected to do what -- in a case like this -- what I think is best and in the national interest. And that's exactly what I'm doing.

Thank you all very much.

Q. Are you going to type those up yourself?

The President. Yes, but I didn't give you the full load.

Note: The President's 62d news conference began at 11:30 a.m. on the West Driveway of the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this news conference.

George Bush, The President's News Conference on the Federal Budget Crisis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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