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Wausau, Wisconsin Remarks at a Fundraising Reception for Representative David R. Obey.

March 31, 1979

Senator Nelson, Congressman Dave Obey, Congressman Reuss, Congressman Baldus, and Congressman McHugh from New York, Chairman White, and my good [fiend Ambassador Pat Lucey, friends of David Obey and, I hope, friends of mine:

There are 535 Members of the House and Senate. A President does not have time to visit many congressional districts in this Nation, personally, to support and to endorse a Member of the Congress. This allotment of the time and interest of the President has to be very carefully chosen and apportioned. But there was no doubt in my mind, when I had an opportunity to come here, that it was a sound investment, because it is so crucial to our Nation that David Obey stay in the Congress and continue to serve you, the President, and our country.

If you're going to work hard in the future elections to keep him in the Congress, would you just raise your hand so I can see how you feel? I'll join you. Thank you very much.

I want to express my thanks to you for the wonderful reception. At the airport, there were three or four thousand people who had come out and stood in the cold to wait for me, and alongside the highways there were large numbers of people who had American flags and signs of welcome. And this packed auditorium really makes me feel good. It wasn't that way the first time I came to Wisconsin. [Laughter]

I made the mistake of going to the university at Madison, a southerner, peanut farmer. I was bombarded with peanuts. [Laughter] I was thankful I didn't grow watermelons. [Laughter]

And then when I came back the night of the primary, you almost treated me the same way. Most of my people went to bed crying. I stayed up and eventually developed an enormous, grateful smile, when late in the evening, as you may or may not remember, the people in this area helped to put me over and gave me the delegate vote from Wisconsin. I want to thank you for it.

I've come here this afternoon to outline very briefly some of the thoughts that are on my heart. As Dave has pointed out to you, and to me on the way here, this group, the Better Way Club, is an extremely large and growing representation of America—farmers, working people, teachers; just average, sound, patriotic, dedicated, competent Americans who feel that the structure of government can best be served if government is removed from the unwarranted influence of the powerful and the selfish. That's what you've done for the last 10 years in this district to provide the right kind of influence.

The 10th anniversary of the special election which put Dave Obey in the Congress is an important event for you, for Dave, for Wisconsin, and for me, as President. Eight of those years that Dave has served were under Republican Presidents. And he pointed out the attitude and the problems of America when Hubert Humphrey came here to endorse him as a young man, about 30 years old, who was seeking his office for the first time in the Congress in 1969.

The Democratic Party at that time was at a low point. We had lost a heartbreaking election in 1968, when one of the finest men I've ever known, Hubert Humphrey, was narrowly defeated.

I came into office a little more than 2 years ago. The unemployment rate was 8 percent. There was a spirit of despair and discouragement throughout our country. Since then, we have had a net increase, with the help of Senator Nelson, Dave Obey, the other Members of Congress, of 7.6 million new jobs.

I was looking at the statistics for Milwaukee on the way up here. The unemployment rate in the last 2 years in Milwaukee has dropped from 9.4 percent to 4.1 percent. We have given America a chance to go back to work, a remarkable achievement, one of great and gratifying change.

We were afflicted then and we are afflicted now, for the last 8 years, by an inflation rate that's extremely high. The 3 years before I became President, the inflation rate was 8 percent, and there was talk again of restoring mandatory price and wage controls or having a deliberate recession to put people out of work again to hold down the inflation rate.

We are making much better progress than that. We still have a long way to go. But I can tell you that you've got two men behind me on the stage, among others, who have done as much to control inflation as anyone I know.

Hospital costs are doubling every 5 years. The impact of hospital costs permeates every facet of our lives. The Congress is now struggling with a hospital cost containment bill. When you buy an automobile, $120 of the cost of that automobile is what the auto workers have to pay for hospital insurance.

The leading light in the Senate is Gaylord Nelson, and I believe that with his help this year, the Senate will pass again hospital cost containment. And with the help of the House Members on the stage with me, we will finally get hospital cost containment legislation passed in 1979, and I hope you'll help us with it.

I campaigned for 2 solid years and planned even before that. And I think it's accurate to say that there was a searching in our Nation to correct some basic defects that had preyed on the hearts and minds of the American people. There was a loss of confidence in our Government. The Vietnam war had been costly not only in the 50,000 lives lost, as Dave has pointed out, but the American people had lost confidence in the sound judgment, the integrity, the honesty, the commitment, the spirit, the ideals of our country. The Watergate scandals swept across us like a cold, damp fog. And, of course, the CIA revelations were equally bad in severing the trustful interrelationship that must exist in a democracy between the people and their government.

One of the prime needs in making those changes, obviously, was to maintain peace. And I'm very proud that in the last 26 months—and I hope as long as I'm in the White House—we have not had a young man's life endangered on a field of battle anywhere on Earth. We're at peace, and we're going to stay there.

We have passed a sound ethics bill to bring to the Congress extremely high standards of performance and, also, to apply those same standards in the executive branch of government and in the judiciary.

The leading light in the House of Representatives is David Obey, and the leading light in the Senate is Senator Nelson. Many joined with them, of course, because the legislation has been passed and signed into law. It was not as rigid in its standards as I would have liked or as the Wisconsin delegation in its entirety would have liked. But for the first time now, we have a law to restrain the abuse of public office. And my guess is that in the future it will be constantly strengthened and appreciated by the American people.

If David Obey had not done anything else in the last 10 years, this would have been worth the investment of this district in the Congress. And I want to thank you for him and for that great achievement.

The social security system was bankrupt. It's now in a sound condition. Our foreign policy has been brought into the open. There was a time when the President and the Secretary of State and other leaders evolved foreign policy in secret and then sprung upon the Congress and the American people, as was the case in Angola, a proposal for involvement of our country in the internal affairs of foreign countries. That time is changed.

There was a time in the fall when the United Nations General Assembly met; every knowledgeable and thinking American would flinch, because we knew that two-thirds of the nations on Earth would use the United States of America as a target for attack as a butt for their jokes. Now we've changed that.

Our country has a reputation that's admirable. We've raised the standards of our foreign policy. We've brought it out in the open. We have tough, open debates in which you yourselves can participate. We have raised the flag of basic human rights, and as long as I'm in the White House, that flag will remain flying high and our country will be known as a protector for basic human rights throughout the world.

I just want to mention one other thing, and then I'd like to close by making a few, specific remarks about Congressman David Obey.

We've had problems with our Nation's economy. When I came to Wisconsin, I not only visited the urban centers of your State and the university campuses, but I went out on the farms, when I didn't have a large entourage of Secret Service agents or news people either, when I used to really brighten up if I saw one person with a tape recorder in his hand or a scratch pad. [Laughter] And I studied from data given to me by your own universities, the fact that the average dairy farmer in Wisconsin, the average family, had a net income per year of less than $7,000 and an average investment of over $150,000. Farm income was going down steadily. We were approaching a time of recession in the agricultural communities of our country. Those who grew grain were constantly flinching, because periodically the Republican administrations would declare embargoes and cut off farm exports.

Since then, the Congress has passed, in 1977, a new farm bill. It went into effect a little more than a year ago. Last year, net farm income went up 30 percent for the American farm family. Exports hit an all-time high. Wisconsin farm exports last year went up an unbelievable 35 percent in just 12 months. I think we are well on the way now to a renewed farm prosperity, and I hope to keep us on that road.

We have a need to strengthen the ties not only between the President and the Congress but between Washington, the State capitals, and the cities and towns and counties of our Nation. We've made good progress in this respect in restoring the 'basic system on which our Nation is founded, a system of federalism.

We've tried to shift responsibility closest to the people themselves. It's very difficult in a modern, fast-changing, technological world, with the confusion of conflicting ideas and conflicting demands, to have a proper balance in serving the people who send you to Washington. David Obey, as much as anyone whom I know, has that capability. He's a man who's not only honest and decent and competent, but he's also sensitive and compassionate. And he has common sense.

As you know, he's one of the leaders in working to correct the problems of the handicapped. He's one of the leaders in meeting the legitimate needs of the senior citizens of this country. He's worked hard for improvement in mental health. My wife admires and loves him for that.

He's worked to point out the dangers to the average working man and woman in this country because of chemicals in the air, in the environment where they work, to improve their health. He pointed out on the ride in from the airport with me that more than 20 percent of all cancer existing in our Nation is caused by environmental problems on the job.

These kinds of actions are those of a man whose heart is filled with understanding and love. But David Obey is not an impractical dreamer. He's not someone with his head in the clouds, because he knows that you have to pay the bill when the Federal Government provides services.

He has a remarkable, almost unique honor of serving both on the Appropriations Committee and also on the Budget Committee. He's a sound fiscal manager. He's worked hard to make sure that unnecessary regulations and redtape are eliminated from the Government process. He's worked hard to reduce our deficits.

When I came here to campaign in 1976, our Federal budget deficit was more than $66 billion. We have slashed it more than half. Next year, we'll cut it even more. And we're working now to achieve a balanced Federal budget, without cutting back on the beneficial services which go to our people.

David Obey has a special leadership role, however, that has endeared him to me. I believe that the strength and power and influence of the United States must be maintained to exert our own American ideals throughout the world in a beneficial and idealistic way, to make us proud. But we need not do it by interfering militarily in the internal affairs of other countries.

We've tried that and we failed. What David Obey has done that's so important is to see that the tremendous strength of our Nation must be maintained—moral strength, economic strength, political strength, and military strength—but that our beneficial influence should be exerted through peaceful means.

He's chairman of the subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee which is responsible for allocating very carefully, very precisely, in a targeted way, American economic assistance to other countries in such a fashion that they can be made good customers of ours, can recognize the advantages of our own free enterprise system, and can eliminate rather than cause conflict and war.

This is not an easy thing to do. You will never know, not having served in Congress, what a tremendous amount of political courage it takes to play a leadership role in handling a foreign assistance bill. But it's a matter of supreme statesmanship, and that's the kind of leadership that you have sent to Washington in David Obey as a Congressman.

I could go on and on talking about David Obey. I want to lead a nation that's committed to some very simple principles—to peace instead of war, to exemplify in the highest sense equity, fairness, and justice for all, to keep high our standard of civil rights or human rights, and to give our own citizens a better quality of life.

Those are notable goals. They are goals which I think we are capable of achieving. We've got a strong nation, a competent nation, a bold nation. And I hope that we can continue a superb partnership between the people of this country, the President who serves in the White House, and superb leaders in the Congress.

I hope you will continue to support our Government in a constructive way, recognizing that partnership as the basis for a democratic society, so that you and I, Dave Obey, Senator Nelson, others, can make the greatest nation on Earth even greater in the future.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Newman High School gymnasium. In his opening remarks, he referred to John C. White, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Jimmy Carter, Wausau, Wisconsin Remarks at a Fundraising Reception for Representative David R. Obey. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249500

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