Jimmy Carter photo

Yazoo City, Mississippi Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Public Meeting.

July 21, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. It's a great pleasure for me to come to the dedication ceremony of the Yazoo City new high school. I was told before I came that the new building was air-conditioned. [Laughter]

I think it's time for the rest of the country to see the southern self-propelled air-conditioner we have here tonight. It reminds me of going to church at home, and I appreciate you letting me come and the great welcome that I've received already.

I want to say just a word about the school itself, because I think it typifies the South, Mississippi, Yazoo City attitudes.

In a lot of places in our country you couldn't get a school bond issue passed, particularly if the school classrooms were going to be filled with roughly two-thirds black students and one-third white students, but the people of Yazoo City, believing in your young people, having confidence in one another, and looking forward to the future with great anticipation and courage and confidence, overwhelmingly voted to build this new school which will be occupied for the first time this fall, and I'm proud of you. It shows the good judgment of Mississippians.

And last November 3, I also witnessed the good political judgment of the State of Mississippi. If we could have just changed three votes, it would have shown the good political judgment of Yazoo County as well. [Laughter]

I've enjoyed this first, almost exactly 6 months of being your President. I've tried to open up the decisionmaking process of our country to you and the people like you all over the Nation.

I think Presidents, Members of Congress, Cabinet officers, Federal administrators can make better decisions to the extent that we receive the judgment, common sense, and the benefit of the experience of people around the country. So, I'm very grateful to have a chance to get out, away from Washington, to see and talk and listen to you and others like you.

Earlier this afternoon I went to Charleston, South Carolina, and I spoke to about 1,400 people there who represented the State legislatures of the Southern States. I didn't talk about highway funds, welfare programs, revenue sharing. I talked about foreign policy. I talked about the interrelationship between our country and the Soviet Union, a very important speech that spells out our Nation's policy which might affect the lives of you and your children and your grandchildren in years ahead, because I don't think that my visits to the South and other places ought to be limited to a discussion of just things that involve dollars and cents or even important things like inflation or welfare programs.

Our Nation's international policies ought also to be understood by you, debated by you, discussed by you, argued by you, and ultimately, decided by you. We've got a great country, and what we want, obviously, is to have the true character of the United States of America demonstrated in every action we take, not only in our own domestic affairs but also throughout the world.

And one of the great bursts of applause that came this afternoon was when I said that we are deeply committed to carrying out the purposes and the principles of the United States in our deep and permanent and unchanging commitments to human freedom and human rights, and you can count on that.

Tonight I want to take about an hour and a half to listen to your questions and try to give you the best answers I can. I don't claim to know all the answers. I have a lot to learn. I learn a lot from people like you and from the Members of your congressional delegation, from your State and local officials.

And I think it's also good for the citizens of our country, who are watching television tonight, to learn from your questions, to see what are the things that concern the people in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

So, we'll start on my right in just a moment with the first question, and I think we have four microphones in the audience and I'll try to keep my answers clear. I'll try to answer the questions that you actually ask me. If I don't know the answer, I'm going to tell you I don't know the answer.

But if there's a question now, we'll start with the first microphone.

Yes, sir? Would you tell me your name, first of all, and then your question?


Q. My name is Herman B. Desell of Yazoo City. My question, Mr. President, relates to your proposal to balance the budget by 1981. I think most of us agree with that proposition, but many of us are concerned about possible impairment of ongoing programs that are vital to our local people--revenue sharing, the youth work programs, our educational programs, and related programs that provide job opportunities.

My question is, how will you go about establishing priorities to determine which of these programs may be modified or altered, and in what way?

THE PRESIDENT. Fine. That's an excellent question. Our projections of the future economic growth of our country, based on normal circumstances, show that we can continue the programs that are doing a good job for our people, that are in effect now. And with proper management, reorganization of the Government itself, with the elimination of overlapping and duplicating Federal programs and bureaucracies, we can have enough growth in Federal revenues to give us both expanded programs and/or tax reductions which are very important to you, or a balanced budget.

I think that if we are fortunate, we can have both--not only continue the present programs but have some tax reduction and also balance the budget by fiscal year 1981.

We're going to have to be very strict about what the Congress and I approve in the way of increased spending. I'll have to use my best judgment, along with the Congress, to determine what is necessary to expand, what is necessary to cut back, what is necessary to eliminate. But everything I do, obviously, will be done in the open.

The Congress has a very close check on the President and vice versa. But I'm determined that in normal economic circumstances, to give you a balanced budget before this term is over.



Q. Hello, Mr. President, I'm Ted Webb, a student at Ole Miss. You have been in office for about 6 months now. At this point in time, are you personally satisfied with the progress made by the programs you sponsored, and if not, which program has been your biggest disappointment and why?

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. Does anybody mind if I take my coat off? I got wet at the airport in Jackson this afternoon when I landed, a rain that they needed very much. I've still got on the same clothes, so nobody can tell whether it's sweat or rain. [Laughter] I'll let you in on a secret: It's both.

I've been very pleased so far with the progress that the Congress has made in the programs that I've put forward in the campaign and also in my first meetings with the Members of Congress. We asked Congress to pass strict ethics legislation to remove the conflicts of interest that might exist between public officials in the executive and legislative branches, and they've done a good job with this. I asked them to give me the authority to reorganize the executive branch of Government, and the Congress gave me almost exactly what I wanted.

I asked the Congress, in addition, to help me create a new Department of Energy, to bring all the 40 or 45 or 50 different agencies that have been responsible for energy together in a coordinated, well organized, bureaucratic entity so we could have a carrying out of an energy policy. I think it's accurate to say this month I'll be able to sign that legislation.

I asked the Congress to help me stimulate the American economy, and they did so to the tune of about $21 billion to put our people back to work. Late in December, we had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. That's down now to about 7 percent. We have more than a million people at work now, more than we had when I came into office and, as you know, the inflation rate has now leveled off; still too high but it's leveled off.

We have summer programs for young people amounting to about 1.1 million jobs for them, and we have public works programs that will be putting our people back to work shortly, in addition, throughout the country. These basic programs have already been passed.

We've had a $4 billion permanent tax reduction already, which means that an average family that makes $10,000 a year will have a 30-percent permanent tax reduction.

So far we've had good progress. We're now dealing with some very difficult additional subjects. One is a comprehensive policy on energy. We've never had that in our country. We are one of the few developed nations in the world who hasn't. It's based primarily on conservation and an end of waste of energy and a shift toward increasing use of coal, solar energy and so forth, and a reduction of our consumption of oil and gas.

The Congress is now struggling with that. I think it's accurate to say they will complete this work before they adjourn for the year in October.

We have other things, like social security-to make sure that our social security reserve funds are sound. So far the Congress has not acted on that. There's no doubt in my mind that this year they will.

So, I would say that the major programs that we put forward already are well on the way to being passed with a lot of other programs--strip mining legislation, agriculture bills. Later, welfare reform, tax reform, are still to be presented.

So, to summarize, I'm very pleased. The things that have disappointed me, of course, are the things that disappoint you. We've still got too many people unemployed. Last month, we had 270,000 new jobs, but the work force has increased to such an extent that we still have about 7 percent of our people without work.

As we put the new welfare legislation to the Congress, one part of it will be to encompass an additional 1 million new jobs. I want to put people who are able to work, to work, and get them off of welfare. I also, of course, want to make sure that those who are on welfare who cannot work are treated with respect and decency and an ability to live with pride in themselves and not be ashamed. That's still got to come. The inflation rate is still too high. So, in domestic affairs, we still have not been completely satisfied.

We're working on a SALT talk with the Soviet Union to cut down on atomic weapons. We haven't made enough progress yet. We're still trying. We're trying to get a comprehensive test ban so we won't have any more tests of atomic weapons. We're trying to bring peace to the Middle East, peace to southern Africa, and these things still have to be done. But I think the progress is in the right direction. So, we've had kind of a mixed bag the first 6 months. I think we've done a lot of new things that had been avoided or ignored for a long time, and I have been, overall, pleased. I have enjoyed it. So far I like the job very much.


Q. Hello, Mr. President. My name is Sue Tatum, and I come to you tonight with a question on behalf of my friends who are low-income people and fixed-income people. As you can imagine, they are having increasing difficulty paying utility bills. On a day like today it doesn't make a lot of difference, unless you want a fan, I guess. But many times their utility bills approach, and sometimes exceed, their income. Is there anything on the horizon to help these people?

THE PRESIDENT. I wish I could give you good news, Miss Tatum. But I think no matter who's in the White House, no matter who's in the Congress, that the price of energy is going to go up. We are simply running out of oil and natural gas, and the production of coal, atomic power, solar energy is going to be more costly in the future.

The major effort that we are putting forward in the energy program is to cut down on waste and for a family that is poor, whose utility bills are very high, the insulation of homes, the stopping of the use of electricity during the time of day when the demand is very high, the change in the rate structure of electric power to make sure that big business doesn't get very cheap rates and the homeowners get very high rates, those are some of the things that we are doing.

But my guess is that in 5 years from now the price of electricity, the price of gasoline, the price of natural gas, the price of propane, the price of coal is going to be higher. So, the only solution, it seems to me, is a much fairer distribution of energy and also a great reduction in how much energy a family uses to meet its own needs. It's not a hopeless case.

I might close my answer by saying this: Germany, Sweden, Japan, other countries have the same standard of living as we do. Their families have just as good a life as we do, as far as the material things are concerned. They use only one-half as much energy as we do. So, I think we need to cut back on the consumption and waste of energy. That's the main thing to do.

The last point I want to make--another one is--we need to control inflation. The Government can't do it by itself. I've been very disturbed today to find out that one of the largest steel companies is increasing its price for steel products another 7 or 8 percent for tin plate materials.

This means that they've increased the price of that particular steel product 12 1/2 percent this last September, less than a year. I don't think it's necessary. So, I would say that private homeowners, business leaders, industrial producers, and Government, all have to work together to hold down inflation, hold down the consumption of energy; but we can't depend on cheaper energy in the future. I'm sorry.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Roger McGrath, and I am employed by Southland Oil Company, a small independent oil company which built our first oil refinery here in Yazoo County almost 40 years ago. We compete in the marketplace against major oil companies, with abnormal advantages due to their control of crude oil supply, prices, and economy of scale.

In your energy address to the Nation on April 20--and we applaud you for facing the energy problem--you recognized the problems we independents face and called for improved antitrust enforcement based upon separate accounting for separate functional segments of the oil industry. But the proposed national energy legislation does not reach these issues and some administration spokesmen seem to express other views even to the effect that independent refiners are expendable in our Nation's overall energy program.

My question is, do you still intend to take these actions to protect competition and preserve the competitive viability of the small independent refiners; and pending long-term solutions, would you support the continuation of present Federal programs designed to provide temporary solutions?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The basic question is whether or not we will do what we can as an administration to treat the small and independent oil and gas companies on the same basis as the large ones; also, I understand your question is whether or not we're going to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws which do mean if they are enforced that the true competition in our country can be restored.

The answer to both those questions is yes.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Dr. R. W. Harrison, a local dentist. I would like to ask what are your plans for increasing the availability of all phases of health care to rural, underserved areas, and do you believe that Public Law 93-641, dealing with health care delivery, can be implemented effectively?

THE PRESIDENT. You're going to have to tell me what Public Law 93-641 is. [Laughter]

Let me answer part of your question. I'll let you ask me that following up. The first step in the delivery of better health care to our people is to control runaway costs. In hospitals now, for instance, we have the cost of the same level of health care doubling every 5 years. So, no matter what kind of health program you have, if the hospital costs are twice as high every 5 years, there's no way for the Federal Government or local and State governments or private citizens to pay for it.

We have introduced in the Congress this year a cost containment bill which will limit the increase in hospital charges to about 9 percent a year, with some flexibility in there to accommodate wage increases. That's the first step.

Another step is to cut down on the waste which goes into our health care system, when people are admitted into the hospital as inpatients, when they can just as well be treated either at home or in outpatient care, where the person comes to the hospital, gets treated, and goes back home. As you know, in many instances both doctors and hospitals benefit if the patient is admitted to the hospital. When you have a very simple operation, for instance, if you go into the hospital, stay 3 or 4 days, the costs are enormous. We need to do away with that as much as possible.

Another thing we need to do is that when people are treated in that fashion, that we have an increasing dependence upon nonphysicians--registered nurses, physicians' assistants, and others--who can give the same examinations, basic examinations and simple treatment, under the supervision of doctors so it won't cost as much.

We also need to have an emphasis on prevention of disease. When those of you who are my age were young, most of our contact either with private doctors or with the public health doctors and nurses was to prevent disease. We've gotten away from that now. We need to go back to the prevention of disease.

Another last thing I'd like to say on the cost of health care is this: There are increasingly wasteful, very expensive machines that are purchased by hospitals and health care centers, sometimes two or three in the same location and, of course, the patients who come there have to pay for those.

I think there needs to be an additional concern in reduction in this very high investment that has to be paid for by patients.

We also in some areas have too many hospital beds. When you have 40 percent of the hospital beds that are empty, then the patients that are in the other 60 percent are paying for their bed and also paying for those 40 empty beds that night. So, we need to have a much closer attention paid through local supervision, not the Federal Government, to make sure that we don't overbuild hospitals, hospital beds, machines, over admit people to hospitals, and give them health care that they don't need.

But I think in all of these cases that the money that we do save can go back into giving people better preventive care and better and more complete care for those who actually need it.

Now, the particular bill that you refer to, if you'll tell me briefly what it says, maybe I can answer your other questions.

Q. It combines the functions of the old regional medical program, comprehensive health planning districts, and does some of the things that you just mentioned. You must establish a certificate of need for new beds, for new machines, any new facility.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think that's very good legislation. And one of the best things about it, I understand, is that it lets the people who live in an area do the planning and make the decisions without having Federal Government supervisors or bureaucrats come in and do it for you. Is that correct?

Q. Correct.

THE PRESIDENT. I think that's a move in the right direction.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Tom Espy. In light of the recent developments in SBA's 8(a) set-aside programs, what is your posture or the posture of the President on the continuation and expansion of minority and disadvantaged economic development programs, especially those programs in the Department of Commerce?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm going to be frank with you. I think in the past that in many areas, the minority citizens have not been given an equal opportunity in the business world. When I came home from the Navy in 1953, I started a business and I needed, 3 or 4 years later, to get a loan. I went to the Small Business Administration and got a loan. I belonged to a prominent family in town and so I had every assistance that I needed from the local banks, from the Small Business Administration. They would send senior businessmen down to Plains to help me with my business, to make sure my accounts receivable were not too high, that I didn't overextend myself on loans, that my inventory was not too much, that I ran my business properly.

But quite often, minority new business people or sometimes women as well, when they get a loan from the Government or parts that are supported by the Government, have not been treated that way. Sometimes they've been given just enough of a loan to go into bankruptcy and have not been given a chance to work their way into the learning process.

This is what we're trying to address in the Small Business Administration--in the minority businesses part of it--and throughout the entire Department of Commerce.

As you know, there have been some scandals revealed recently where the Government had made loans to minority business people as a political payoff, I might add, before I came into the White House--and we're trying to stop that, also. I had a meeting today with Parren Mitchell, who is head of the Black Caucus, this morning, and as we put into effect changes in how to make these loans, we want to be sure that we don't have discrimination against minority entrepreneurs and also that when a loan is made, that it's not only sound but that that person who borrows the money has a constant attention given to him or her to make sure that the business is successful and that the loan is repaid.

I can't say to you that we have done enough in that respect in the past. But I can guarantee to you that we'll do much better in the future.


Q. Mr. Carter, my name is Mary Tucker and I would like to know how is it to be a President?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mary. Well, Mary Tucker, nothing would please me better in about 30 years than to have you find out how it is to be President by living in the White House yourself as President. And if you're running, remind me and I'll vote for you if Amy doesn't run. Okay? [Laughter]

Let me say though, to answer your question additionally, it's a good life. I spent 2 years, Miss Tucker, campaigning around this country. I came into Mississippi a lot of times. So did my wife, all three of my sons, all three of my daughters-in-law, my mother and my sister and many Georgians. And we learned a lot about Mississippi and we learned a lot about the other States in the Nation. And I think a lot of people got to know me.

Now, I feel that people like you and your parents have put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and a lot of faith in me. And I think that as long as I am able to come out like this and meet with you and others and learn, that I can do a good job.

We've brought our family back together. We had been separated for almost 2 years. Amy was only 2 years old when I was elected Governor and she was 3 years old when I moved into the Governor's Mansion. Now she's just 9, but she is enjoying living in the White House, too. She goes to the public school right down the street. She has a cat and a dog and a treehouse, and she has a lot of her friends come into the White House. So, we have a good family life.

I've had a good chance so far to work with the Members of the Congress. Your own Senator Stennis and Senator Eastland and Sonny Montgomery, your Congressman, have been a lot of help to me. I had Governor Finch up to the White House a week or so ago to help me with energy problems. So, I have a lot of help.

So, in general, it's been a very pleasant job. The working conditions are good. My office is near my home and the people have been very nice to me so far. And I just hope I don't ever betray the trust that all of you have placed in me. And I hope that you'll come up sometimes and visit me in the White House and also have a chance to play with Amy for a few minutes. Would you do that?


Q. Mr. President, my name is Everett Beers. I strongly support your position on human rights as manifested in your foreign policy statements. I'm very sorry that I missed your remarks on human rights this afternoon. But I would like to know, aside from the rhetoric that's been generated, can we really hope to influence the world community on human rights issues, and how can you conscientiously justify excluding our allies such as Korea and Greece from human rights commitments and also, have you made an affirmative action plan to implement some long-range goals in this area?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a difficult question to answer, but I will do the best I can.

Obviously, throughout the world, I think in every country without exception in the heart and mind of every person, there's a desire to be free, to make one's own decision, to speak without fear, to have a chance to express one's political beliefs, to seek different kinds of employment without interference by government, not to be dominated by officials who have power, not to be imprisoned without adequate charge, and not to be tortured when one is arrested, whether or not a conviction has been carried out or not.

So, what we began to speak for 6 months ago is nothing new. It doesn't exist just in democracies or free countries like ours. It exists in the nations that are most dominated by totalitarian governments.

I think that my voice and others like mine all over the world, including, I hope, yours, when raised for liberty, for human dignity, for freedom, have a cumulative effect. We don't have any desire to go into a country with force and try to change their form of government. But I think it's accurate to say now that when an open spokesman for a minority group anywhere in the world is arrested, that it is a very newsworthy item.

We have seen recently in Argentina 342 political prisoners, who had been there for a long time, released. In Korea now, just this week, political prisoners who had been in prison for a long time are being released. And I think it's accurate to say that the trend is toward an enhancement of human rights.

In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, this October, there will be a very open and wide debate, I would say for at least a couple of months, part of which will be devoted to human rights, whether or not families can be joined together, whether people who want to leave a country can do so without being punished. And the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki treaty, and it will be debated--so did Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the United States, the Western allies of ours. And all of us, including us, the United States, are trying to look good in the eyes of the world.

I think the progress is going to be quite slow. But I believe in the long run our efforts will be successful. But I am afraid if the United States does not take a strong position, that the cause of human rights is going to be damaged very severely. And I also believe we've ignored this question too long.

I think it was time this year, following our own 200th anniversary, to raise again a beacon light that will make our people proud and say we stand for something. We stand for the same thing that inspired Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and others to offer their lives, if necessary, to found a country based on freedom. And I think this is a good move.

I've been criticized a good bit for being so outspoken about it, because it might make some leaders of other nations angry. I'm not trying to make anybody angry. I'm not trying to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. I'm not trying to bring back the Cold War, but I'll say this: As long as the American people back me on the subject, we will never stay quiet on the subject of human rights.


Q. Mr. President, I am Dr. Will Thompson, a local family physician. I'm concerned about the issue of human rights also, but more particularly am interested in your opinion, your feelings on the abortion issue.

First of all, I'd like to commend you on your opposition to Federal funding for abortion on demand. And I would personally like to see you continue in your opposition to abortion on demand--this issue. My question is: Do you consider the issue of abortion on demand as a human rights issue since unborn children are human beings, created in God's image, and if you do not consider the abortion issue as a human rights issue, why not, and then if you do consider it, will you actively oppose abortion on demand in other areas during your administration? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Doctor.

I think of all the questions that have faced me as a candidate, this was the one that was most widely discussed. The Supreme Court has ruled in several instances on the abortion question in recent years. One basic ruling has been that at the first stages of pregnancy that a woman has a right to have an abortion. Georgia had a law that prevented abortions except in the case of danger to the mother's life or when the pregnancy was caused by incest or rape.

As Governor, I personally supported that law. When the Supreme Court struck it down, we passed the most conservative abortion law possible under the Supreme Court ruling.

I do think that the abortion issue involves the question of human rights. There's an inherent conflict in the basic discussion: the right of a woman to have control over her own body, free from interference by government, and on the other hand, the right of the embryonic child to live.

The Supreme Court has drawn a line between the first 3 months of pregnancy, as you know, when abortions are permitted, and the other roughly 6 months of pregnancy when very tight constraints are placed on the right to have abortions. That's an arbitrary line that's drawn, and as President, I support the ruling and will enforce it to the best of my ability.

I don't favor the Federal Government financing abortions. The last year about 300,000 abortions were paid for by Federal funds. I was told that in the District of Columbia this past year there were more abortions than there were births. I'm afraid that to take a very permissive stand on abortions, paying for them, which puts them in the same category, roughly, as other contraceptive means, will be an encouragement to depend upon abortions to prevent pregnancy.

So, I would rather emphasize, as President-and I might say the Secretary of HEW agrees with me completely on this issue, Joe Califano---I would rather emphasize the prevention of the pregnancy at the time of sexual intercourse and not have the woman who might be very poor and very ignorant depend upon abortions as a way to terminate a pregnancy because of carelessness or sometimes a deliberate act.

It's very disturbing how many of the recipients of Federal payments for abortion in the past have been repeaters. They come back time after time for additional abortions which show that it's not entirely ignorance.

So, with a good education program, with a firm stand not to encourage abortions as a normal way of life, and with the provision to poor people of government supported contraceptive devices if the person believes in their use, these are the alternatives that I personally favor in preference to abortions.


Q. My name is Maurice King. I want to know if you are considering doing away with the Federal housing subsidy program, and, if so, why?

THE PRESIDENT. We are not considering doing away with the Federal housing subsidy program. There is no doubt in my mind that the program will be continued. We are constantly searching for a way to do a better job of providing good housing with the amount of money that we have available, and both Secretary Patricia Harris and Secretary Califano at HEW, Bert Lance at the Office of Management and Budget, myself, and others, are trying to see a proper balance on how limited Federal funds might be made available.

I believe in family homeownership and in many instances there's no way for a family to finance a home without Federal assistance in the acquisition of the loan, and sometimes interest subsidies. Among young people--I mean, older people, the 202 programs, to provide housing for them with a reasonable monthly payment, ought to be continued. We also, of course, need to continue the Section 8 program which provides decent housing for those with very low incomes.

The question that is being addressed is, with a limited amount of money for housing, how to make sure that we don't spend too much on very expensive homes for just a few people when many more hundreds of thousands of American citizens do without housing subsidies at all.

But the answer to your question in one word, about whether or not we are going to do away with the housing subsidy program--the answer is no.


Q. Hello, Mr. President. I am Jeff Davis, and my question is, with the Republic of Panama asking for complete control of the Panama Canal, do you feel it would be a mistake to grant their demand, and do you think that the Panama Canal Zone would be a vital base in case of a third world war, as Cuba is a threat to our Southern States?

THE PRESIDENT. Fine. In 1903 to 1907, our country worked out with Panama an arrangement to acquire control of the Panama Canal Zone and, of course, we built the Panama Canal. The treaty said that Panama retained sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone; that we had control over the Panama Canal Zone as though we had sovereignty. So, even in the time of Theodore Roosevelt the agreement was that we and the Panamanians both, in effect, have sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone--they have legal sovereignty, we control it--to operate after the building of the Panama Canal itself.

My hope is that we can sign a treaty with Panama to share with them, from now until the year 2000, the operation of the Panama Canal itself and to continue, after the year 2000, an adequate authority to protect the Panama Canal, to keep it open for international use, giving our own warships priority along with those of Panama in the use of the canal.

My guess is, that before many more years go by, we might very well need a new canal, one at sea level, that can handle very large ships. This was studied when Lyndon Johnson was President, and the cost of it was very high, several billions of dollars. Since then we have seen a much greater need for the canal.

We are now looking for a way to get Alaskan oil and gas to the central part and the Eastern seaboard of the United States. The large ships that bring the oil down from Panama [Alaska] can't go through the canal. If they bring oil, they come down to the Panama area, off-load the oil into small ships; the small ships go through the Panama Canal and bring the oil, in the future, up to the gulf coast or the eastern coast.

On natural gas, when it does come, it will be liquified at a very, very low temperature, put in large ships and brought down perhaps to the Panama Canal itself. There is no way to change it back into gas, send it across Panama, and reliquify it. It costs too much.

So, in the future, I would say that we will need a sea level Panama Canal that can handle our large warships and the large tankers and freighters that are part of international commerce now.

So, I think we ought to keep good relations with Panama. We can prevent an attack on the Panama Canal by a foreign government. It would be almost impossible to prevent the disruption or closing of the Panama Canal by sabotage if the Panamanians were determined to put it out of commission. So, it is important for us to work with Panama and not against Panama.

So, to summarize, between now and the year 2000, we will retain under the proposed treaty our control, partial sovereignty with Panama having sovereignty as well. This is derived from 1907. After the year 2000, we will give up the actual operation of the canal to Panama but retain the right to defend it with our armed forces and to keep it open, with first priority given to American warships and Panamanian warships to use it. I don't know what the treaty terms might be, but that's the best report that I can give you right now.


Q. Hello, President Carter. My name is Jeff Hogue, and I'm a student at the University of Tennessee. Last year, yourself and the Democratic Party proposed the creation of a national health insurance program. I was wondering if you would briefly explain how such a program would work and how, at the same time, you could accomplish your goal of decreasing the budget and the national deficit with a program of such outrageous spending.

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. I have described in general already some of the principles that ought to be used to cut down on the cost, which is the first step under the bill we've already presented to Congress--to cut down on unnecessary health care, to have more emphasis on prevention, outpatient treatment, the use of paramedical personnel, and so forth. We presently spend in this country about $600 a year [per person] for health care; by far more than any other nation on Earth. And I believe that without any substantial increase in the total expenditures, we can have a good health care system.

If we put one in, and I would like to see it done, a comprehensive health care system, then the financing of it will still come, either from taxpayers, which it presently is now to some degree, private users of health care, and other organizations formed, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, by the citizens ourselves. I personally prefer the health insurance program to be administered, to the extent that it can, on a competitive basis by private insurance firms, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield. When it's obvious to me and to the Congress and, ultimately, to the American people that the Government should play an additional role in managing the health care or insurance system, then I would not hesitate to do that.

No matter what we do, this program needs to be phased in over a fairly long period of time. By early next year, 1978, we will be prepared to present to the Congress a comprehensive, nationwide health insurance program, with emphasis on the things I've described to you--I think without substantial increase in the total cost and in a way emphasizing the private sector as much as possible, but without fear of having the Federal Government participate to the extent that I and the Congress think it's necessary.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Betty Rainey. I'm a housewife and mother of three. Welcome to Yazoo City.


Q. What aspects of what you consider to be your southern heritage have led to your concern with human rights in this Nation and abroad?

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. When I answer this, I don't want you to feel that all the characteristics that I'd ascribe to southerners are not also shared by people who live in other parts of the country. But I think that we have always been a deeply religious people in the South. When I was in a submarine, they used to tease me about being from the Bible Belt, and I am. And I think that our lives in this part of the country, perhaps more than most parts of our Nation, are built around the church. And, of course, our religious beliefs emphasize compassion, love, concern about downtrodden people, equality in the eyes of God, basic human freedoms, courage to stand up to one's convictions, and so forth.

The second thing that I believe that we admire, being basically a rural area, is not only the right but the duty of people to stand on their own feet, to make their own decisions, to manage their own affairs, to support themselves if they are able, kind of an independence of spirit which also, of course, persists in a lot of other parts of our Nation. Here again the value of individual human beings is very important.

We in the South, in the War Between the States, seceded from the Union as an expression of independence from the Federal Government. When the war was over, we came back into the Union. But I think there was engendered in our own hearts and minds an emphasis in the importance of local governments, ones close to us that we could see and control more directly, and somewhat of a distrust of the Federal Government.

I hope that that distrust is being lessened now as the days go by. But it's there. And I think the last thing is that, like all other people in this great country, we've been filled with the words of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, and others--that all men are created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that we have a government designed not to control us but to guarantee our rights.

So, human rights is a part of the American consciousness. These kinds of commitments that I share with all other Americans make it almost inevitable that our country will be a leader in the world in standing up for the same principles on which our Nation was founded.

The last thing I would like to say about it is this: In the South we were guilty for many years of the deprivation of human rights to a large portion of our citizens. Now, to look back 20 years, when black people didn't have a right to vote, didn't have a right to go to a decent school, quite often did not have equal opportunity to 'seek or acquire a job, or to get a decent home, is an indictment on us.

I think it was with a great deal of courage that the South was able to face up to that change. I personally believe it was the best thing that ever happened to the South in my lifetime. And we have seen the benefits from it. Now we white people and the black people who live near us can work together on common problems and share trials and difficulties and seek common solutions. I think it's strengthened the South.

I would not be here as President had it not been for the Civil Rights Act and for the courage of some leaders--and I don't claim to be one of them--who changed those bad aspects of the South to the present greatness of the South. So, from the good things and the bad things in our heritage, it made the human rights issue be very vivid to me. But I'd say the most important aspect of it is that it is part of the consciousness of the free people of the greatest nation on Earth, the United States.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Cindy Fuze, and I am also a local housewife. The United States Corps of Engineers presently has a project underway to strip large areas of hardwood forests from the banks of the Yazoo River, allegedly to aid navigation. Many landowners and conservationists oppose this project.

My question is, can you tell me an effective way that a concerned individual such as myself might have to oppose, to express opposition to this kind of wasteful project and proposition?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, ma'am. I would say that one of the ways that you as a private citizen can help is to ask a question about the subject on nationwide television to the President of the United States.

I don't know about your specific project. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with it. But I think that the Corps of Engineers, at least since I've been in the White House, is beginning to change its concept about what is a good expenditure of taxpayers' money and what is not.

In my opinion, it's much more valuable to have a wild stream and swampland and hardwood forests the way God made it than it is to have an open ditch that has been destroyed to some degree. But I think that the values that are attached to these questions are changing.

Obviously, a large part of the delta area of Mississippi that's so valuable to you and all others was former swampland that was drained. So, the balance needs to be struck and I am very eager to see wasteful water projects that are very, very costly, that were approved 25 years ago, or 15 years ago, be terminated, and that every project now be assessed on the basis of modern day concerns about environmental quality, open spaces as well as the value of dollars expended.

So, although I don't know about your specific project, it's one that ought to be looked at very closely. I'm very proud tonight that your Congressman and your two Senators are here. And I think that their hearing from you and others like you would be very important to them. I guarantee you that if Senator Eastland and Senator Stennis come to me and say, "Mr. President, we would like to see this project stopped," that I will stop it, if I can.

I might add very quickly that the House of Representatives passed over my objection almost all the water projects that I wanted to veto. But under the leadership of Senator Stennis, about half of those water projects were eliminated from the appropriations bill, and I'm very deeply grateful to him and others who supported my position.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Kenneth Helton, and I manage the local Sunflower grocery store. My question is, what is being done to ease the tax burden of the middle class working people, and how will the Federal Government go about this?

Also, Mr. President, as Jerry Clower might say, we need the Federal Government to shoot up here among us. We need some relief. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I think Jerry is here tonight. When I got off the plane in Jackson, Jerry Clower was there. When I was making my little, short talk, he held my raincoat for me. I have always been an admirer of his. He's one of the great products of Yazoo City. I want to congratulate you for giving him to the rest of the country.

A lot of the country philosophers and country comedians, even the country popular song composers, express concerns like yours very clearly to the rest of the world, and I'm thankful for it. So far, as I said a little earlier, we've had some tax reform. We have raised the standard deduction, which saves about $4 billion, most of which goes to the low-income and middle-income American families.

For a family, for instance, to repeat myself, that makes about $10,000 a year, their income taxes will be reduced because of this legislation already passed and signed into law, about 30 percent per year.

We are now working on a comprehensive tax reform package which has three basic goals, one of which is to be much simpler. The second one is to remove as many of the tax loopholes as possible and to be fairer. And the third is to be more progressive in nature, which means that those that have the higher income will pay a higher percentage of the taxes.

So, those three principles are the ones on which we are basing our tax reform study. I will be recommending to the Congress this comprehensive tax reform no later than the adjournment of Congress in October. They won't have time to vote on it this year, but when the Congress comes back into session next January, this tax reform package will be waiting for them, and you will have a chance and other Americans to know what is in it.

I'm very determined to remove the present tax law from the books which, as I said many times in the campaign, is a disgrace to the human race, and have a fair tax structure in this country, for a change.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Sam Ray. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recently announced that they're screening their regulations to take out unrealistic ones.

Since 1970 small businessmen have been complaining to their Congressmen and others in Washington about OSHA's tactics. What will be done in your administration to safeguard against further abuses of power by Federal regulatory agencies?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm a small businessman, too, as you know. And in several of the magazine and newspaper articles recently there's been an analysis of the OSHA program by my brother, Billy, concerning his filling station and concerning Carter's peanut shelling plant. So, I know at first hand the problems with the program.

I think I want to make clear that the Occupational Safety and Health Act is a good piece of legislation. It's important that in the working places we protect the health and safety of employees, but the OSHA program is going to extremes.

The Director of OSHA this past week announced that 50 percent of all the report forms that had been used in this country are being eliminated altogether before the end of September, and that the other 50 percent of the reporting forms are being substantially simplified.

I believe, also, that we have had too much of an emphasis on detailed regulations on safety. For instance, if you had to go home and write for me every possible description of a safe chair or a safe stool or a safe ladder, it would take you a year to do it. And it would take a 200-page volume to describe every possible danger that could be related to a ladder or a chair.

I think the Federal Government ought to get out of those kinds of detailed safety precautions when the worker can observe with his or her own eyes that a danger exists, and then have the safety regulations covered perhaps by increases in the payment for workmen's compensation if an employer does have a dangerous place for the employees to work.

It's a little different in the case of health because, for instance, in my peanut shelling plant for years we treated peanut seed with what is called sericin, which is a mercury compound. I had no idea that it was poisonous, and neither did my other employees that worked with me in the shelling plant. But had we had OSHA back then in the fifties and early sixties they could have told us that a mercury compound was dangerous to our health because an employee can't tell what is dangerous.

For a long time nobody knew that breathing cotton lint would give you permanent lung disease or asbestos fibers would cause death. Nobody knew anything about radioactivity. So, I think in the field of health care that the regulations often are necessary.

In the safety area, I don't think many, of them are necessary. But we are doing what we can now to simplify the whole system, to shift the program as I've described to you. I hope the Congress will help us with it and just a change in those regulation forms that I described to you will make a million and a half small businessmen happy before the end of September.


Q. Good evening, Mr. President. My name is Michael Espy, and I'm presently a law student out of state. I understand the effect of the neutron bomb will serve to devastate human life through the spread of radiation, while leaving property, military structures, and other tangible objects relatively unaffected through the minimal blast and heat effect.

In light of this, what is the rationale behind your encouragement of a production of a weapon of this nature, which would seem to prioritize property over the preservation of human life?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. I have not yet decided whether to produce the neutron bomb or to deploy it among our own forces in Europe and other places. I will make that decision before this summer is over. I've not yet studied the subject.

But I might point out to you a few brief facts about it. Any nuclear weapon is horrible, and the first nation that uses nuclear weapons must be sure that the act is justifiable in the protection of invaded property or other very serious reasons for such use.

We now have the warheads of the Lance missile and our large gun projectiles, nuclear weapons. They destroy large areas of territory with both the bomb blast, fire from the explosion, and radiation. For the same projectile, you would have about the same radiation, much less blast or flames. This means in a way--and I think everybody agrees with it--that if you ever use a neutron bomb, it's much better than using a regular presently deployed projectile or Lance missile warhead. I hope never to use either one.

If we use them, for instance, on property that is invaded---our country or the countries of our allies--then you would need to move into that area as rapidly as possible with our own American forces. Under those circumstances, you would not want to have flames and long-lasting radiation. The neutron bomb radiation is quick-acting, and it's gone. The whole thing is very horrible to everybody who studies the subject.

I might point out to you, too, that an M-16 rifle destroys human life and not buildings and property. This is not a new concept in war when the destruction of enemy forces is the prime objective. So, I don't believe that the neutron bomb is more wicked or immoral than the present nuclear weapons we have and the Soviets have as well.

The argument against the neutron bomb is that because it is "clean," that there might be more temptation to use it. That would not be my own attitude as long as I am President, because I have a fear that once nuclear weapons are used, even the smallest ones are used, that there is a good likelihood that the nuclear war will escalate rapidly into the exchange of very heavy weapons between the warring countries.

So, there are arguments on both sides of the neutron bomb. If you have a projectile and use it, it's better. I would not let its characteristics cause me to use it quicker, and I don't look on it as a way to prevent war.

So, I'll make a decision later on this summer based on these principles that I've described to you. And I hope and pray that I'll make the right decision.


Q. Mr. President, first off, I'd like to thank you for correctly pronouncing the name of this great city, Yazoo City. Secondly, I would like to ask you my question.

THE PRESIDENT. I might say some of my staff members, who speak with a heavy German accent, when they asked me where I was going, I said "Yazoo," and they said, Gesundheit. [Laughter]

But I've known about Yazoo City all my life, and I've known the good sides and the bad sides of Yazoo. As you know, one of the most horrible scandals that we had in Georgia was when Yazoo belonged to Georgia and we had the Yazoo frauds. But we didn't know then the value of your beautiful farmlands.

I also, of course, have seen the tremendous leaders that have come out of Yazoo City and all the people who live in the South. I think the rest of the Nation knows about Willie Morris and others who have written beautiful things about the South, and I'm very proud to be here. And I think after tonight maybe even more people will know how nice Yazoo City is.

I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go ahead.

Q. Fine. Recently you agreed to support major changes in the Nation's labor laws, which will have the effect of making it much easier for big labor to organize in the South. I wonder if you please could explain that for us.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I am not sure that the purpose of the legislation would lead to heavier organization by big labor in the South. What the legislation does is expedite and makes clearer the law under which factories can be organized.

If, under the existing National Labor Relations Board regulations and laws, workers in a plant vote to organize, then the new proposals would make sure that management has to comply with the law. There's no doubt about that. It also provides for a quicker determination of labor disputes. It also does protect workers who are injured in violation of the Federal law.

So, it would expedite the determination of a labor dispute. It would make sure that the present laws are enforced more quickly and fairly. But I don't think that the legislation would lead to more rapid establishment of union workers in the South.

There is a heavy emphasis now on unionizing some of our plants in the South. I don't think this legislation would affect it one way or the other in any material way. But it will be simpler, quicker, clearer, fairer legislation, and I think it will be beneficial to the country.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Susan Griss. I, too, would like to welcome you to Yazoo City. I have seen on the news this week that the United States, under the support of your administration, has endorsed and supported the membership of Vietnam into the United Nations. The first thing that the Vietnamese asked for was financial aid from the United States to rebuild.

How do you feel about this? Do you expect the United States to, in fact, support the rebuilding effort and support the Vietnamese financially, and do you think the Congress will support you, too?

THE PRESIDENT. I want to answer--this is the last question I can answer--I want to answer it in a little bit broader sense, but I won't ignore your question.

We have a basic decision to make in our country in our foreign policy about how to deal with nations who, in the past, have not been our friends and who, in some instances, have been our enemies on the warfield. Should we write them off permanently as enemies and force them to be completely under the control and influence of Communist powers, or should we start the process of giving them an option to be both our friends and the friends of others, hoping that they will come to a more democratic free society and join with us in making a better world?

I'm not in favor of writing those countries off. It's a controversial issue. I might point out that the Soviet Union, for instance, has a very strong effort being made to recruit as friends our own neighbors in Central America and South America. And I think that this peaceful competition with the Soviet Union for friendship of those nonaligned countries is good for our country, although it is controversial.

I have tried to open up relationships with Vietnam. The leader in the Congress in taking this initiative happens to be your own Congressman Sonny Montgomery. He went to Vietnam, I think, in a very courageous and effective way to try to get the Vietnamese to give us back the bodies of American servicemen lost in action.

When I got to be President, Congressman Montgomery came to the White House to give me a report on what he had done. Later, I sent another delegation back to them to ask them to find those bodies and to return them to us. They've done a great deal to try to find and return those bodies since that time. When Congressman Montgomery went to Vietnam, they brought back 11 American bodies and since then the Vietnamese have delivered others.

We have always for the last 25 years opposed Vietnam's entry into the United Nations. This year we did not oppose it. And now Vietnam will be a member of the world community in the United Nations. I don't have any apology to make about that action. I am not in favor of the United States paying any money or reparations to Vietnam, however.

Our time is up. The networks want to have about eight or ten minutes to close out after I go. It's now an hour and twenty minutes. And they tell me that I need to close.

Before I leave you, I would like to say this: I've enjoyed being here. The quality of your questions has been no surprise to me and, as you can see, they've covered a wide range of subjects--from the history of the South to the future of Vietnam. And this is typical of the intense interest in public affairs that exists among the American people.

As I said to begin with, I don't claim to know all the answers. I'm learning every day. I have a lot of people who believe in me. I have a lot of people who have doubts about me. I have a lot of people who voted for me; a lot who didn't. But I think it's accurate to say that almost every American wants to see me succeed in being a good President. Because to the extent that I do succeed, your own lives and those of your families will be better, freer, and fuller lives.

We are partners in shaping what our country will be. You are partners with me. And I hope that I can serve in such a way that would increase your own confidence in our government, increase your own confidence in the Federal Government, which in the South sometimes has not been a pleasant phrase, and that I can convince the American people that the Government in Washington is your government.

These hopes that I have are dependent on you for realization. If you withdraw and lash but and condemn and criticize your own Government as a general proposition because you don't like one or two things that happen, our whole country is weakened.

But to the extent that you participate in the debates and try to correct mistakes and let us know what you want done in Washington, and participate with us, to that extent we'll be a success.

I'll do the best I can not to disappoint you, and I ask for your support, your advice, your counsel, your criticisms when I make mistakes, and your prayers every day.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:02 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Yazoo City High School. The public meeting was broadcast live on the Public Broadcasting Service.

Prior to his remarks, the President took part in the dedication of the gymnasium.

Following the meeting, the President spent the night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. L. Owen Cooper, Sr., residents of Yazoo City.

Jimmy Carter, Yazoo City, Mississippi Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Public Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243369

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