Radio Address to the Nation on the First Session of the 98th Congress

November 19, 1983

My fellow Americans:

Like many of you coming home for Thanksgiving, the Members of Congress adjourned yesterday to return to their districts. They can take some satisfaction from a change in the public's attitude about their performance. According to a Harris survey, confidence in the Congress -- as well as in other major American institutions -- has increased over the past year. There are some good reasons for that, and one of the most important can be summed up in two words: economic growth. Even the most committed pessimists are reluctantly concluding America is enjoying one humdinger of an economic recovery.

Pretty soon people will stop talking about economic recovery and begin discussing a new phenomenon we haven't seen since the 1960's -- a powerful, long-lasting economic expansion. Because whether we're looking at industrial production -- which has registered the biggest 12-month increase in 7 years -- or factory use -- now at a 2-year high -- or the drop in unemployment -- which has been faster than in the past six recoveries -- or inflation -- which remains below 3 percent, the best performance since 1967 -- we're looking at an economy whose engines are humming with open track ahead.

From autos to housing and from construction to high technology, growth is strong, confidence is building, and progress is being made. The Congress deserves its share of the credit both for helping us pass some key reforms and for bravely resisting attempts by some to return us to the old days of tax and tax and spend and spend.

As most of you know, our bipartisan commission on social security recommended, and the Congress adopted, a landmark bill setting the social security system on a sound financial footing. At the same time, the Congress granted our request for the first major overhaul of the medicare program which provides health insurance protection for retired and disabled Americans.

Before our returns [reforms], the medicare laws required that we pay hospitals on a cost-plus basis, footing the bill for whatever cost they wound up incurring in treating medicare patients. So, hospitals had little incentive to hold down costs. Under our new reforms, hospitals will be paid a fixed price to care for each illness. If they control costs, they'll retain sufficient funds to upgrade the quality of their care. We estimate these reforms will save taxpayers over $20 billion in the next 5 years, and the savings can be realized without taking benefits away from anyone.

The Congress helped ensure a responsible continuation of revenue sharing, which supports vital economic activities in local communities. I was also pleased to sign into law several key appropriations bills. The spending levels were not as low as we requested, but they were lower than liberal Members wanted, and that would have meant higher deficits.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Congress was not what it did for us, but what it didn't do to us. The big spenders are still alive and well. And these people spared no effort to take away the third year of your tax cut, to delay indexing -- the historic reform that'll protect you from being pushed by inflation into higher tax brackets -- and to hit you with huge new tax increases. Well, with the help of responsible Republicans and Democrats, we fought them back and won. And with your help, we'll keep fighting and winning.

The record on the domestic side, however, was not all roses. The single, greatest failure of the Congress continues to be its inability to pass a responsible budget to help bring down deficits. By ``responsible,'' I don't mean a budget that raises taxes to accommodate higher spending; I mean a budget that reduces spending to match revenues. You, the people, should not be forced to subsidize their extravagance. They should force themselves to spend within your means. Handcuffing big spenders and stopping them from taxing more of your earnings will be our first order of business come January.

I was also distressed that the Senate voted down -- and the House refused to consider -- our bill to provide tuition tax credits to deserving families. It was charged that this bill would have favored the rich. Well, that's a false charge. Those in high tax brackets were not eligible for the tax credits. The bill would have benefited those low- and middle-income people who bear the burden of tuition to send their children to parochial or independent schools and, at the same time, pay their full share of taxes to support the public school system. There would be no loss of revenue to public education, but there would be healthy competition among schools, which would improve the quality of education in both systems. Tuition tax credits and other unfinished business Americans want and need, like prayer in school and enterprise zones, will be pushed again by us as soon as the Congress returns.

I believe we're seeing another positive change that's making us feel more confident about our country -- a return to bipartisanship in foreign policy. Our administration's highest goal is to help build a safer, more secure and peaceful world. That mission rests upon the twin pillars of deterrence and dialog, upon a military balance together with serious negotiations to resolve differences peacefully. Thanks to bipartisan support, we're doing both. We're restoring America's military strength, and we're pursuing large reductions in nuclear weapons through genuine arms control. Last week I told the Diet, the Japanese legislature, our goal must be the eventual elimination of all such weapons.

We've had bipartisan support for our rescue mission in Grenada and for our continued peacekeeping role in Lebanon. And this same spirit of putting country before party helped pass the Caribbean Basin Initiative to stimulate trade, cooperation, and progress with our Caribbean neighbors and a bill to start up Radio Marti, the voice of truth to the imprisoned people of Cuba. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't believe for one minute America's best days are behind her. And judging by their confidence, neither do the American people.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.