Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Accomplishments of the 97th Congress

December 23, 1982

The President. Good morning. Are we on already?

Q. Yes, we are.

The President. We are. All right. [Laughter]

Q. Please go ahead.

The President. All right. Well, we just had some excellent news from Capitol Hill. The Senate has voted to end the filibuster and has taken final, favorable action on the highway improvement revenue legislation. And before the stampede to the airport starts, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate the Members of the 97th Congress for their accomplishments while in this postelection session. They've dealt with some very difficult issues and put in some very long hours, when they, like so many other Americans, have been anxious to return home for the holidays.

In passing this highway revenue legislation, the Congress made a very important contribution to the quality of transportation in America and to the mobility that we sometimes take for granted. This bill, which I look forward to signing, will speed the repair of our aging roads, bridges, and transit systems and accelerate work on the uncompleted portions of the Interstate System.

It's a credit to leaders of both parties and to the hard work of many Congressmen and Senators on both sides of the aisle that this legislation was passed during this session. I applaud the Congress for their bipartisan support to ensure that our roads and transit systems are safe, efficient, and in good repair.

In addition, this bill will provide up to 6 additional weeks of benefits to unemployed workers who have used up all their weeks of unemployment insurance. These additional weeks of benefits will put more than a half billion dollars in the hands of long-term unemployed workers between now and March 31st, 1983.

The Congress also adopted full-year funding for the Government, the first time it has done so in 3 years. While still only in the form of a continuing resolution, this action will allow us to get right to work on the 1984 budget in January. By starting on time next year, we'll have a chance to finish on time and end this era of government by continuing resolution. This alone more than justified the Congress returning after Thanksgiving.

Members also resisted pressure from many special interests to pad the budget with unwarranted pork-barrel projects. Unfortunately they failed to fully fund production of the Peacekeeper missile, and only one House overwhelmingly approved the Caribbean Basin Initiative. However, as I've said, initial missile deployment will be possible during debate of a permanent basing system, and the CBI will be high on our legislative agenda for next year.

Again, I would like to thank the leaders and the Members of Congress for their hard work, and wish them all -- and all of you -- a very merry Christmas.

Foreign Policy

Q. Mr. President, it's been a turbulent year around the world -- three major wars, one of them still being fought. Do you feel, when you look back, that you were able to set your own agenda this year, that you devoted much more time and energy reacting to foreign crises? And what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

The President. Well, I haven't thought about it much in that line, except that we can say that in this year, and even in the preceding year, the Soviet Union has not advanced further in its expansionism than it had 2 years ago. It has not gone into additional countries. I think we have made great progress with regard to our relationship with our allies in Europe and Japan, and more recently -- although we began earlier -- with our neighbors here in the Western Hemisphere. And I think that the initiative that we've taken in the Middle East is probably the greatest accomplishment, and I have great hopes for that. If we can bring peace to that very troubled area, I think we will have made a very great accomplishment.

Q. And disappointments?

The President. What?

Q. Disappointments?

The President. Well, you always have some disappointments. Every time you send something up to the legislature, you don't quite get what you wish you'd gotten.

Conservatives in Congress

Q. Mr. President, speaking of those disappointments, what about the conservative filibuster? They've frustrated you and the rest of the country for several days on this gasoline tax and, in particular, also brought down any chance of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Aren't you frustrated and angry with the conservatives? And what does it mean for the future leadership in the coming Congress?

The President. Well, I've been dealing with legislators for 10 years, and so I'm not too surprised by things that happen. With regard to making any specific comment on this, they have their own rules. They abide by them. And I respect the separation of powers.

Q. Well, can't you just say how you feel about the tactics that were employed? Senator Simpson of your party spoke out; there have been other Republicans who've spoken out. Doesn't it say something that's not very positive about the conservatives in your party?

The President. I would rather add, generally -- if I had a criticism to make, it would be on the whole subject of the budgeting process in the Federal Government. And believe me, it is in need of reform.

You'll realize that this, as I say, is the first time in 3 years -- and we're already 3 months into the fiscal year -- this is the first time in those 3 years that we have had a spending bill that is in conformity with the budget resolution and that has been passed clear to the end of the year. And I am one that's old-fashioned enough to believe that the day the fiscal year begins, the budget of the Government should be in place, approved, and signed by the President.

Budget Deficit

Q. Mr. President, there are reports now that the deficit could go as high as $190 billion, that you have a report from your own economists predicting that this is possible. Is this true? And what can you tell the American people about the budget that keeps growing and growing -- you just can't seem to get control of it?

The President. I have spoken to the fact that the budget has a number of areas that are uncontrollable, principally in the entitlements, where the legislation that originally created the programs automatically provided for increases in them -- and without any further legislation. And we're looking at that as we go forward with the '84 budgeting process.

Also, there is the item of interest on the national debt, which is -- there's no way that anyone can say we won't pay that; you have to pay what's due. And when you stop to think how small the deficits would be if it weren't for those long years of deficit spending that have resulted in more than a hundred billion dollars -- the interest on the debt is higher than the entire Government budget was not too many years ago. And this is what I mean about the entire budgeting process.

But I think we have made great progress in reducing the rate of increase in spending. We're bringing that rate down, hopefully to the point that it will match the rate of increase that comes with natural growth in revenues. But right now you have an added factor: The greatest single factor is the recession. You have millions of people who are not paying taxes who normally do, and, at the same time, many of those people are now receiving benefits from government. And this has added to the cost and reduced the expected revenue.

But on this budget -- particular thing -- no, we have not done that, and I am slated in January to come forth with an estimate of what the deficit will be. And it has to be based on projections. And I know that the projections we ourselves have made, based on the soundest of economic advice, a number of times in these last 2 years have been proven to be incorrect, because they have not been able to predict unexpected happenings, such as this unemployment that I've just been talking about. And I would think that it would make us all cautious about the idea that, even though the law forces us to project several years ahead what's going to happen, the truth of the matter is no one can intelligently project.

The Middle East

Q. Mr. President, you talk about the Middle East in terms of being a greatest accomplishment. Yet, your guest King Hussein here at the White House today is still reluctant to enter the process. The peace plan you put on the table September 1st remains there. What gives you hope in the Middle East? And will it take a change in the government in Israel to bring about some progress?

The President. No. I don't believe that. And I think we are making progress. I don't think that just having announced the idea September 1st indicates that this is long overdue when you stop to think how many years this trouble has been going on there.

Now, I think we're making progress in the first step, which has to be the total removal of the forces from Lebanon. And King Hussein and myself, our people and his who are here with him -- we have made great progress in this. And I think his courage in being willing to join in this process is -- and participate as he has already -- is to be commended.

But I have another meeting scheduled with him this afternoon before he leaves, and I'll have a statement to make then, at his departure time.

Q. Will King Hussein do more?

The President. What?

Q. Will King Hussein enter the process even more?

The President. I can't comment at this time -- until we've concluded our meetings.

Unemployment

Q. Mr. President, it's Christmastime again. Millions of Americans remain out of work. What message can you give them specifically now? And when can they look for some help?

The President. I am convinced that this coming year, 1983, is going to see a definite upturn. I wish that I could promise that unemployment would instantly respond, but we know from seven previous experiences since World War II that it doesn't. It's the slowest thing in recovering.

But I would like to say to all the American people the evidence of the last few days of the neighborly spirit in America certainly must have been personally gratifying to every one of us all across this country -- the efforts that have been made to help those neighbors of ours.

The other thing that I would like to suggest to the whole business community -- I know that there are some businesses that, themselves, are faced with troubles and can't do this, but if a lot of businesses would take a look and see if they could hire just one person, it'd be interesting to see how much we could reduce those unemployment rolls. And there must be some that can't, I know, because of their own troubles. But there must be others that could probably do even more than one -- but if everyone would just simply look at it from the standpoint there are more businesses in the United States than there are unemployed.

Q. Are you frustrated by the inability of your administration to turn this unemployment situation around?

The President. No, because I think that we have put in place a sound program -- and for the first time that this has been done in a number of decades -- that is going to lead to a sound recovery.

The problem of unemployment has been plaguing us for a number of years. It's been a kind of a yo-yo, up and down, and yet each time that it goes up, it never has come back down to where it was before the economic crisis or upset. And this time we're trying to get an economic recovery that will see a sound recovery and a lasting recovery, not just a temporary -- as I've called it -- quick fix.

Q. Mr. President, I have heard you say on several occasions that there were Christmastimes when you were growing up when it was very tough sledding around holiday time, and that your father lost a job. And I wonder what you think the reaction of your father and mother might have been if the Congress of that period had passed a $5 billion bill that would have gotten him back to work right away, when you were a little fellow?

The President. Well, I've always thought that my father, God rest his soul, had the common sense that he would know that temporary fixes wouldn't work. As a matter of fact, when he finally did get a job it happened to be for the government, in which he and the county supervisor of poor shared a secretary, and were in charge of the help -- and they called it relief in those days -- for the people in our community.

But my father, on his own and without any instructions from government -- because there was no such thing at that time, I mean, as a program -- my father went out into the community on his own, single-handedly, and got everybody in our town that had any kind of work at all, part-time or anything else, to give him the handling of the jobs. And then, as our friends and neighbors who had to have help at that time would come in to him, weekly, for this relief. He had them all arranged alphabetically, and he would name off a list that he could tell them, ``How would you like to have some work for x number of days or a week?'' -- or whatever it was -- and they eagerly jumped at it and took that work.

And I sat there myself in his office and heard men coming in and say, ``When is it going to be my turn; when do you get to my name again? It's been a long time since I've had some work.'' And guess what? The Federal Government then intervened and figured it out that they couldn't take that work, because if they took that work, they were denied relief and then had to go through the entire formal process of applying for relief again. And that took longer than the amount of work that they'd had. So, they were forced onto permanent relief. They couldn't work.

Deputy Press Secretary Roussel. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Listen, I tell you, I know there are a lot more hands, and I'll try to see you more often. But I am now 31 minutes late for lunch with the Vice President, and you know how irritated George can get. [Laughter] So, I'd better get back up there to lunch.

Q. Merry Christmas, Mr. President.

The President. Merry Christmas to all of you.

Q. How's Mrs. Reagan?

The President. What?

Q. How is Mrs. Reagan feeling?

The President. Just fine, fine. And it is just as minor and insignificant as you've all been kind enough to say -- no further treatment needed or anything else.

Q. Have you seen your electric trains?

The President. I run it. [Laughter] Yes, they gave me quite a package. I've never seen one that tiny.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.