Question-and-Answer Session With Newspaper and Magazine Columnists on the Fiscal Year 1984 Budget

January 28, 1983

The President. Listen, please, sit down. Get at your dessert. I have a -- is this your seat or mine?

Ms. Small. That's yours, sir. [Laughter]

The President. This is my seat?

Q. That's yours, sir.

The President. I have a horror of people that interrupt dessert. [Laughter] Having been on the meat-and-potato circuit for so many years, and I'm a dessert man, usually that fellow stands up there and starts introducing you just about the time they put the dessert down. And you stand there talking and looking down at it as it melts. So, eat.

Q. Mr. President, are you a football fan?

The President. Yes. I haven't been able to pay as much attention to it as I would like, but, yeah, I played the game for 8 years and broadcast it for another 5 on radio.

Q. Any prediction for Sunday?

The President. What?

Q. Any prediction for Sunday?

The President. When I used to be broadcasting and people would ask me that, I would quote Bob Zupke, the coach of Illinois, that a football bounces funny. [Laughter]

Q. Will you be sending in a play?

The President. Pardon?

Q. Will you be sending in any plays?

The President. No, no. No plays will go in from me. Except I've been amazed this year -- proving again that there's nothing new, not even in football -- I was amazed to see the sensational flea-flicker play being used again at every level from colleges to the pros. And I remember that that same Bob Zupke had that play way back in the twenties for the University of Illinois. And it worked then, too.

Maybe the single wing can't be far behind. Maybe the single wing'll be coming back soon. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, if you had one aspect of this budget that we've been talking about that seems more important than others, could you tell us what that might be? Is it some of your tax programs, your education program, or -- --

The President. Well, I think the things -- I wouldn't know how to pick out, Jack [James J. Kilpatrick, Universal Press Syndicate], what is the most important. I think, first of all, in the budget we're making really the first concerted attempt to get back under control what had been uncontrollable programs, and I think that is vital to the future. But the things that we want to do, yes, the moves toward training because, as probably has already been said here at this table, I think that a good share of the unemployment today is structural, and it reflects a change that's been going on for a number of years.

The fact that, when you look at the figures that we have, this great unemployment now, and yet, a part of that unemployment is probably, over the last couple of years, 3 million new entrants into the work force -- but that, at the same time, you have that great unemployment, you have a higher percentage of the potential work force employed than we've had even in the past in times of full employment. And you have a whole bracket of industries that are out there advertising constantly for employees. And we have to face it that the lack is that there are openings for workers today, but they just don't have the training that is required.

So, our efforts are going to be directed at training and not programs for dead-end jobs, to wait for some miracle to happen.

I'm greatly encouraged. I think the news in the last couple of days -- the beginning callback by the major automobile companies. And it's significant that it's the indefinitely laid off that they're calling back, not those people that were told, ``We're laying you off for 3 weeks or a month or something.'' General Motors -- 21,400 in seven plants. I was just talking to the Governor of Missouri, who is very pleased that one of the other major companies is calling back about 2,500 at a plant in St. Louis. And that news is coming in all over.

The Job Fairs on the television -- which is something new in job hunting -- they're all seemingly successful. I taped a little piece to be on five stations that all belonged to one company and were having a Job Fair on the same night on the five stations, ranging from Washington to Buffalo to Cincinnati to Kansas City, and I think the other one was Birmingham, Alabama. And they were kind enough to let me know the next day they got jobs for 5,200 people. So, in view of that, we found out that all over the country, local television stations are going to do the same thing.

Q. Mr. President, may I ask you a question? What would you say to your conservative critics -- the Wall Street Journal, Human Events, myself, others, some who have been among your most enduring and vociferous supporters -- that it appears that the Washington buddy system is, basically, wearing you down, that a lot of the things you were elected to do, they just seem to be fading away? They're not there anymore.

The President. John [John D. Lofton, Jr., Conservative Digest], you see, I don't agree with that. I think that you're all acting from a lack of complete information. No, there's no disarray or chaos here. And, granted -- and we knew this, to begin with -- you don't get a hundred percent each time of what you asked for, not in the legislative process and, particularly, when your party is not in control of the legislature. And I was used to that in California as a Governor. But, for one thing, we've turned the whole debate around.

For years and years, the minority, the Republicans, in the Congress have been fighting a rear-guard action against the ever-increasing proliferation of government programs and things that were supposed to make paradise out of this earthly sphere. And today, the debate is focused on how much or how little will the cuts be in government spending. And I think this is a result of what we did in the first year. We didn't get as much then; we didn't get as much the second year.

I know there's a great deal of talk because of last year with the tax program that I supported. Well, let's take a look at that. In Chicago, 1980, when I proposed an economic program, which was the program we brought to Washington, I said that we would try to bring taxing down to 20.6 percent of gross national product. And then, we would try, also, to bring spending down to where those levels matched. Well, when we submitted our tax program, we didn't get it the way we wanted it. We didn't get the 10 percent retroactive to January 1st. We got 5 percent in October, then 10 percent only 6 months ago, and the next 10 percent in the next few months we will get. But we still got more tax cut than we had asked for. But, while they were delaying those cuts that we thought would have had more stimulative effect, had we gotten what we asked for, even those who said they were opposed to tax cuts couldn't resist hanging a lot of Christmas tree ornaments on the bill.

So, we got more than we'd asked for. And much of what the last tax program, the tax increase, did was remove some of those things, because the truth was, when they got through, we were way below 20.6 percent of gross national product. And so, we restored some of that with the changes that we made. We are still below 20.6.

Q. On taxes.

The President. I think running about 18\1/2\, isn't it?

Mr. Stockman. [David A. Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget] 18.7 or .9, yes.

The President. Now, there's no way that you can cut spending enough to bring spending down to 18\1/2\ percent. And so, we were willing to do what we did.

On the other hand, the tax cuts that we still have obtained will, over this 8-year period, by 1988, will have the people of this country with some $750 million more in their pockets -- billion dollars more in their pockets than they would have had without what we did.

Everyone has neglected to notice that our tax cuts were to offset a tremendous increase in taxes, starting with bracket creep, but then, with the social security tax increases, those that we have agreed in a compromise to accelerate. I've even seen some stories that indicated that those tax increases were ours and now we were accelerating them. They weren't ours; they were passed in 1977 to keep on increasing all the way to 1990.

And, with the condition of social security, there wasn't much we could do about it. We tried in 1981 and delivered to the other side a political football which they kicked lustily through the entire campaign, lustily and breaking all the rules, pretty dishonestly. But if you will look back at that original proposal, it did include reducing some of those taxes they'd passed. Well, now we have a compromise, and at least this won't be, we won't have that to kick around anymore.

Ms. Small. Could we have one final question, because the President has another meeting waiting.

Q. Mr. President, have you gotten any encouragement from your conversations with the Republican leaders to think that your contingent tax plan has any prospects on Capitol Hill?

The President. I don't know whether they've -- we haven't talked to them about the prospects, or they haven't spoken for anyone else. But, no, they understand, and I think there is considerable agreement on what it is that we're proposing.

Remember that that tax proposal, if it were just out there as a contingency proposal with no restrictions, I could see the spenders up on the Hill then going right ahead and saying, ``Why cut? We'll just wait and have that tax increase.'' But they can't do that. That tax increase can't go into effect unless they have made the cuts. And it can't go into effect unless the deficit, then, is over 2\1/2\ percent of gross national product. And it can't go into effect if we're still in a recovery stage from the recession, because you don't raise taxes then. So, all of those things have to be met, and I think that many up on the Hill see that.

Karna, I have to take one more, because that gentleman down there had his hand up for a long time.

Ms. Small. Okay.

Q. I wonder if I might ask you a question, Mr. President. I was going to ask Secretary Regan. Perhaps it has some philosophic overtones to it. It has to do with the proposal to provide tax incentives to employers who hire the unemployed. Now, say Sidey [Hugh Sidey, Time magazine] here has got a great business going, and he's ready to hire 50 more people anyway. He's going to hire them, and then he's going to take your tax break and say, ``Thanks a lot.'' And maybe Beecher [William Beecher, Boston Globe] here, he can't sell his chickens on the Eastern Shore and he doesn't need anybody, but there are a lot of unemployed people around, and he's still not going to hire them because of the cost of hiring them. I wonder how efficient that program really is. Usually the people who -- employer who needs help is going to take them and also take the bonus from the Government. And the fellow who's surrounded by the unemployed usually doesn't hire them, because it costs too much to take them on the payroll.

The President. Well, I wonder, because some of the people that'll be available out there are people that an employer is going to have to look at with the idea that he's got to give them on-the-job training. And he's got to look at a period of time before they will represent an asset to him. And this is what we have in mind. We're talking about the long-term unemployed, the people that lack those skills.

But I also have to say something else about business here that might surprise you a little bit. When I made that statement -- and I won't look around, but some of you kind of sniped at it -- before Christmas that businesses that could, those businesses that didn't have their back to the wall, where they were really fighting for their own life, if everyone would think in terms of giving a job to one person, might make a dent. You'd be surprised at the flood of mail that I am receiving from all over the United States from business concerns that heard that and take the trouble to write me and tell me. And they have hired anywhere from one to six people and taken them on just because they felt, yes, it was their turn to maybe do something to help in this whole situation that we're in. So, I have a feeling that there's more altruism out there than we're giving people credit for.

Certainly the evidence in the way communities have rallied with regard to doing everything they can for those people that are out there and that are without jobs is more than we've seen in many a year. As a matter of fact, contributions to various kinds of worthy causes are all up in what would normally be accepted a hard-time period, when they would go down. But we have seen that. We get these letters from them, and they all sound pretty enthused about it.

But I think we've got some protections built into this. They can't take back someone that they've laid off to his old job and get this credit. It is really aimed at getting the hardcore unemployed taken care of.

Don [Secretary of the Treasury Donald T. Regan] says I've got to go.

Q. You can stay here and talk with us. [Laughter]

The President. So, John, with regard to all the other, I'm still just as stubborn as I always was. [Laughter]

Q. Hear, hear. Is that on the record?

The President. Yes.

Note: The exchange began at 12:54 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The columnists were at the White House to attend a luncheon briefing by administration officials on the budget.

Karna Small Stringer is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Media Relations and Planning.