Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Production of the MX Missile

December 14, 1982

Q. Why are all these people smiling?

The President. What?

Q. Why are all these folks smiling?

The President. Well, we tell little anecdotes on the way down here to cheer us up.

Representative Michel. It was the whole nature of the meeting.

The President. No, it's really just that we're overjoyed at the opportunity of meeting with all of you.

Q. Just 10 seconds, sir.

The President. What?

Q. We're going live. We just need 10 more seconds. [Laughter] Okay. Go ahead, Mr. President. [Laughter] We may be late, but we get there.

The President. Yes, they told me that I could just tell them to go when I was ready. [Laughter]

Well, this morning I met with a group of leading Republican and Democratic Senators to discuss the future of the MX Peacekeeper missile. And I'm pleased to report that we've reached a bipartisan agreement that we hope will preserve funding for the missile and enable us to continue the restoration of America's defense capabilities.

In recent days, it's become apparent that many Members of Congress agree with my assessment that production of the Peacekeeper is in the national security interests of the United States. At the same time, however, they want to take a closer look at the question of how to base the missile. The agreement we've reached today is a reasonable balancing of those interests.

All of us who met today pledged that in the next few days we'll work with others in the Senate and with Members of the House to secure full congressional assent to this plan.

In closing, let me reaffirm my very strong view that the United States needs to move forward with an effective land-based missile, one that will not only enhance the prospects for a secure America but will also strengthen the hand of our negotiators at the arms conference and the arms control talks in Geneva.

The world in which we live is uncertain at best. And we must be fully prepared in order to protect our interests and defend the cause of peace.

Q. Does the Peacekeeper get dumped?

Q. Mr. President, does that mean dense pack is dead?

The President. That was the first hand up, right there. What?

Q. Does that mean dense pack is dead? Have you agreed to forgo dense pack to reevaluate basing?

The President. No. And let me straighten something out on that whole thing. First of all, our first proposal was -- with the MX -- that, because they don't all come out of the oven at the same time -- there's a progression as they're made -- that the first certain number that came off the line simply be placed in Minuteman missiles [silos] while we continued to work on a basing mode, because there was great disagreement about the original concept of the previous administration of the racetrack idea and 4,000 shelters for 200 missiles. We're building -- we're only asking for 100.

Congress decided against the idea of placing any of them in Minuteman missiles [silos]. And so we continued and the Defense Department continued with a study of various methods of basing them. And finally the one that -- as I've said before and used the expression -- that came up with the least warts was the dense pack system. And Congress had also asked that by December we come up with a recommendation. So, we came with that recommendation.

But I have made it clear to them all the time that the important thing is to let us get started with the production of the missiles, because there's going to be a considerable delay in getting them. And if there had been no opportunity, we simply presented the plan, no opportunity to debate or discuss with the Congress on this decision, and so we said, ``We're perfectly willing to sit here, if you'll let us start making the missiles, and discuss with you, negotiate, and see if there's any improvement or better plan.'' And that's always been our position.

Q. Mr. President, what's the compromise? You haven't told us anything about -- where is the compromise, and who was involved?

The President. Well, the compromise is going to involve -- would you like to explain what the compromise is, John Tower?

Senator Tower. The compromise is simply this: that the funding for production of the MX missile would be retained in the bill, but would be fenced. And the bringing down of the fence would be contingent on two things. The President is required to resubmit a certification of his selection of basing modes, along with information on alternative basing modes. Then the Congress would act under expedited procedure, within 45 days of the submission of the certification, to approve the basing mode recommended by the President or any alternative they might select. But it would require affirmative approval of both Houses of Congress, under expedited procedure so it could not be filibustered.

Q. Mr. President, do you have any -- --

The President. Bill's [Bill Plante, CBS News] hand was up.

Q. Mr. President, let me just ask you this. The Soviets have made it plain that if we build, they'll build more missiles. Can this really lead to any kind of arms control, do you think?

The President. Yes, it can, because participating in our meetings has been General Rowney -- is home. They're taking an interlude here in the arms negotiation talks. And he has spoken of the impact that this has had and the seriousness of the negotiations, that the Soviet Union is willing and is negotiating.

And the thing is, this is not in the sense of a bargaining chip that somebody can say, ``Well, you're building it just to tear it down.'' No. We need a modernization. Even if we get the reduction of arms which we're seeking and which there has been some indication that the Soviets are seriously considering, this would not be the missile that would be taken out of circulation.

We need to modernize to catch up with the five generations of missiles that they have been developing while we have stayed static and have not improved in the last 15 years in any of our missiles. We do not match them in accuracy. We do not match them in megatonnage. This is a missile that is comparable to their big missiles, their SS - 18's.

Q. Mr. President, is there any promise -- --

The President. Him, and then you.

Q. Is there any promise in the reported Soviet offer to cut in half their intermediate missiles now aimed at Europe and Asia? Does that give some promise that maybe they're moving?

The President. Well, I think the very fact that they made a proposal to reduce in numbers reveals that they, too, are concerned. And they became concerned when NATO asked and we agreed to provide comparable intermediate-range missiles, of which there are none now in Europe, as a deterrent to their use of the SS - 20's. And, so, the very fact that they have volunteered, it isn't adequate. And it would still leave us at a considerable disadvantage.

I'm going to be able to take one more. And I'll take yours, and then I'm going to -- I think these gentlemen here are going to very patiently be available for further questions on this.

Q. Is the passage of this funding proposal, Mr. President, expected in the House and the Senate in this lameduck session? I know the Senate, but what about the House and the conference committee? Do you expect to get the whole thing through this time? Is that what the agreement looks at?

The President. You're getting into procedural matters now, having to do with the fact that a bill has passed the House and now before the Senate and there is the need for a continuing resolution and all. And I think that I'm going to walk away and let them handle those questions.

Q. But Tip O'Neill says he won't go for the compromise. So, doesn't that mean you can't win it at all even though you have a Senate agreement?

The President. Well, in my view, Tip's just one vote.

Q. Will you take a question on another subject, Mr. President? What are you going to do if the Social Security Commission doesn't come up with firm recommendations on Friday? And how do you feel about the suggestion made by Senator Dole and others that the White House is just plain scared to touch this issue?

The President. We're not scared to touch the issue. The idea of appointing a commission was supposed to be that the commission would include experts, experts in the field of actuarial statistics and insurance and pension plans, and that since our previous experience had been that all we could succeed in doing was making it a political football and terrorizing the senior citizens -- and I don't think that we participated in making it a football or that, but that seemed to be what was happening -- that we decided on this bilateral -- or bipartisan commission for them to study what was needed to meet the immediate short-fall and to meet the long-range short-fall.

And I'd like to remind you all that for 30 years almost, long before I was ever in public office, I have been making public addresses on the actuarial imbalance of social security, which by 1964 had reached some $300 billion. And yet a year ago when we tried to make a proposal about this, it was denied by the leadership of the other party in the House -- it was denied that there was any such emergency confronting us. And now we've already borrowed a billion dollars to keep the program going.

We need a solution, but we appointed a commission. It doesn't seem to me that this is the place for us to be interfering. We're waiting for the commission to come back and tell us, could they agree on a plan; if so, what; or do they have alternatives? Then we will consider those.

But now I'm going to turn you over to these gentlemen, who can answer your specific questions on the subject of the day.

Note: The President spoke at 11:20 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Following his remarks, Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker, Jr., House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, and Senator John Tower answered reporters' questions. Their remarks were included in the White House press release.