Remarks During a White House Briefing on the Program for Economic Recovery

February 24, 1981

The President. I realize I'm interrupting here, and I did just drop by for a few minutes before today's briefing ends, that I thought I might add a few words of my own to those that you've already heard from members of the Cabinet.

Over the past 6 days since I addressed the Congress, the response to our economic program has been enormously encouraging. Several thousand Americans have already written to me or have sent telegrams expressing strong support. If you want the figures, the latest telegraph count is 2,490 favorable, 43 unfavorable. And I won't vouch for the arithmetic, but somebody that figured it out said that was 98 percent in our favor.

Yesterday, as you know, I had an opportunity to meet with the Nation's Governors, and they all recognize that this program will require some belt-tightening. But many of them also agreed that only if our Government grows less will our economy grow more.

And finally, I'm pleased that this morning Senators Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina are together introducing a reconciliation resolution in the Senate so that the Congress can begin speedy and earnest deliberation on our proposals. Their bipartisan support for this resolution is very much in the spirit of what I said to Congress last week: that economic recovery must not be a concern of one party or one President, but of all parties and indeed all Americans. It shouldn't simply be my plan, it should be our plan.

So, I'm very pleased today that the legislative process to put America back on the road to economic health is now fully underway.

[Press Secretary] Jim Brady's told me that I can take a couple of questions before I leave.

Yes?

Reporter. Mr. President, on the defense budget, the rationale for it, in your increase, you believe that it's necessary in order to keep from falling behind the Russians. Now President Brezhnev has suggested a summit meeting with you to try to decrease tensions, and I presume down the line if it all worked, that might change the rationale for the defense budget. What are the chances that you'd have a summit meeting with Brezhnev, under what conditions, and what could you discuss?

The President. Well, I think the only answer to that question is I was most interested in his suggestion, and it's something that now we will discuss and discuss it with the State Department, with the Cabinet in general, and very particularly, discuss it in the days ahead with the leaders of our allies, which is -- Margaret Thatcher coming here, Prime Minister of England, this week. That'll be part of the discussion, because I have pledged to them that we're not going to act on things like this unilaterally. We'll have a discussion with all of them as well as with our own people, and I have repeatedly said that I am willing to negotiate if it's a legitimate negotiation aimed at verifiable reductions, in particular, the strategic nuclear weapons.

And I also made it plain that I think that at such a negotiation table, if and when this takes place, there should be other considerations, what has been termed by Mr. Brezhnev as linkage. I think that you can't just deal with just one facet of the international relationship; you've got to deal with all of the problems that are dividing us.

Q. Would you have to agree to do certain things before you went? In other words, would the agenda have to be so complete that they would already have agreed to do things that we want them to do?

The President. Oh, no. I don't think anything of that kind, no.

Q. Mr. President, following up your linkage philosophy, what do the Soviets have to do to stop the shipment of these arms into El Salvador in order to qualify for such a summit conference?

The President. So far, at least publicly, they've been denying that they are involved in that, but I think the evidence that we have and that we've made public and that we've told our allies about makes it evident that they are involved.

I would think that this would be one of the things that should be straightened out -- their participation in that kind of activity.

Q. Mr. President, is there any danger that we can become involved in El Salvador to the point that we might not be able to extricate ourselves easily?

The President. No, I don't think so. I know that this is a great concern. I think it's part of the Vietnam syndrome, but we have no intention of that kind of involvement. But there's no question but that we are in support of the government there against those who are attempting a violent overthrow of the government.

Mr. Brady. Thank you very much, Mr. President. Do you wnat to take one more question?

The President. Well, I'll take back there, and then he tells me I've got to go. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. My question is about the summit meeting. If you appear to be delaying, won't that look like Brezhnev is the one seeking peaceful means, seeking a summit, and that the United States is the one holding off? Won't you be accused, won't it appear that way if you don't act quickly in giving him an answer?

The President. Oh, I don't think it's a case that we'll be obviously or intentionally dragging our feet. I think he's going to -- or the world is going to see that this isn't something that you just say, ``Well, you know, come on over. Let's talk.''

We do have to put this up to our allies and to their leadership and wait for their consultation, as well as talking it over ourselves. So, I think that they would understand that. They've had experience dragging their feet.

Mr. Brady. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Mr. President, do you consider his invitation sincere, and do you think it comes from the heart -- the Soviet invitation for a summit, or do you -- are you suspecting -- --

The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I don't know that I could answer that. I wouldn't try to guess what's in his inner thinking, but let me just say I found it very interesting.

Mr. Brady. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. How about these heartless budget cuts?

The President [to the briefers]. Back to you. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 a.m. at the second of a series of briefings on the economic recovery program given by administration officials for reporters in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.