Interview With Jerry Boyd of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

February 1, 1983

Fiscal Year 1984 Budget

Mr. Boyd. You've had a rather strong attack from Speaker O'Neill -- [inaudible] -- where the budget is concerned. How do you respond to that?

The President. Well, I think that possibly Tip is speaking from the always present leaks and from maybe some of the things that he's been reading. But he only yesterday received the budget itself. And I know yesterday morning in a conversation we had, he raised some points about the need for job training and some things of that kind, and we were able to point out to him that we would be very happy to talk with him about that after he's read what was already in our budget proposal.

Mr. Boyd. Does that indicate you could compromise on the jobs issue?

The President. I think you always -- [inaudible] -- sit down and see where you can come together on something that will be beneficial to the people. We think that he will be pleasantly surprised when he sees the direction we've taken on the budget -- [inaudible].

Mr. Boyd. How far would you be willing to go for jobs programs?

The President. Well, we think that it is far more important to stress the idea of training, because we think there are a lot of people unemployed today at a time when there are jobs available. The increase in the advertising of employers seeking workers in all of the metropolitan papers in the country indicates that.

Mr. Boyd. The Democrats seem to want more.

The President. Well, I think some of them are thinking more in terms of the public work types of jobs, and that is not going to restore the economy and get the wheels turning again, which has to be the long-time answer to the problem.

Now, let me make plain, this doesn't mean that there aren't tasks that need doing. Evidence of that was our own passage or request for the 5-cent tax to rebuild the deteriorating highway and bridge system in this country.

Mr. Boyd. Is there anything else along those lines that you're considering?

The President. This is something to look at and, many instances, see where it could fit in with job creation.

Mr. Boyd. You've had people in your own party such as Baker and Michel raising a possibility that you'll have to cut defense a little bit more than you've been willing to do. Can you go along with that?

The President. No, and I think if they will -- if everyone will hold their fire until they understand the situation, they'll see that we voluntarily have been making some reductions based on management improvements, the reduction of inflation, so that the original plan that we submitted in 1981, the 5-year buildup, has been reduced already by some $58 billion. And the bulk of that was voluntary reduction by the Defense Department.

Mr. Boyd. Well, if they don't -- --

The President. I one day told Cap, I was joking, but I told Cap -- I said, ``Cap, you've got all those savings; you should play politics. You should leave them in the budget and then reluctantly give them up when they start telling you to cut the budget.''

Mr. Boyd. Well, if people like Baker and Michel don't hold their fire, what are you going to do?

The President. Well, I'm going to have to fight back, because, first of all, the bulk of the defense budget is for personnel and readiness. We have men and women in uniform in our volunteer military that a couple of years ago, it was a disgrace. We were acting as if we were still in a war and they were draftees. Those with families found themselves eligible for welfare.

Now we have increased the pay for those people to something comparable with what they're doing. And yet even here, in this budget, we're asking them to make a sacrifice and not take a cost-of-living pay raise, as we're asking the civilian employees. And I regret that very much, that we have to do that, because we're just getting them up to something that is fair, at least.

Now, that leaves, if they're going to cut, they're going to have to cut in weapons systems, and these are the least of the spending. You will get very little savings in proportion to the deficit we're trying to hold down if you wiped out all the vehicles and all the airplanes and even the reserve ammunition that we're seeking to buy, to say nothing of ships and planes.

Mr. Boyd. There are some people who say, on the deficit issue, that you have intentionally been rather overly cautious and that you expect a much rosier picture down the road, and therefore you won't have as high deficits. Is that true?

The President. Well, what we're trying to do -- because we don't want to get engaged in a debate up on the Hill that we're -- as is sometimes in the past they've tried to do -- their saying that we were coming up with rosy estimates. And to get in that argument, what we have to look at is that among all the experts, all those who project economic estimates, there is a wide range of difference. Now, you can't say some are more expert than others; so you have to say there's real leeway in there.

So, we've looked at what the most pessimistic say about the recovery, what the most optimistic say. And then we have tried to come down at a point that is neither at the bottom or at the top, but that recognizes what might be, based on history, a fair assumption of where it will turn out.

Mr. Boyd. What do you believe, though?

The President. I actually think that we are being conservative and being modest with -- I happen to be an optimist, and I believe that some of the signs, the indications, the fact that there is a stored-up market out there with just one figure, has to do with where we're visiting today.

A few years ago, the average length of time that people drove an automobile before they bought a new one was a little over 3 years. Today the average age of the automobiles on the road is 7 years. That indicates to me that there may be more of a backed-up market that has been delayed by the high interest rates and all that, when they can and do start buying.

Mr. Boyd. When do you see that happening? Do you think we're into a recovery already or is it beginning?

The President. I think the recovery has begun -- and I have to put it that way. We've had 9 months now in which, out of the 8 of those 9 months, all the economic indicators are up. But I think the key still lies in further reduction of the interest rates.

Mr. Boyd. What I see you saying is, if I understand you, that you expect a lower deficit than what's included in the budget.

The President. Well, I think -- let me put it this way: Just being an optimist, I'll stick with our assumption. But I personally have a -- well, let's call it a hope that it may be a firmer recovery than is estimated.

Legal Services Corporation

Mr. Boyd. Okay. A nonbudget issue. Your administration has tried to make some changes in the Legal Services Corporation. And you have people on the Board of Directors who have been charging the public for some fees that raise questions. How do you feel in general about the Legal Services Corporation?

The President. Well, I'm glad you asked that, because, first of all, these totally false charges that would indicate that someone is doing wrong or taking the Government ignored the fact that the commission, under the law, is paid on a consultant basis on the hours they put in. And our commission just happened to put in more hours than the previous one, because we did want some reforms in that legal system. Also, the Congress had raised the hourly rate, and that was before we got on the scene.

But I saw the legal commission from a different angle when I was Governor. I saw what they did. They were created to make necessary legal services available to people who might have a grievance that required legal redress but couldn't afford a lawyer. We found that more -- they weren't doing that, the Legal Services Corporation, as much as they were seeming to drum up class-action suits against the Government and, in other words, try to use their organization to legislate reforms. And this -- this at the expense of those individuals who had some legitimate legal claim and needed legal help in pursuing it.

Mr. Boyd. So, they went too far?

The President. Yes.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Mr. Boyd. On the foreign policy front, were you trying to send a new signal to the Soviet Union through Vice President Bush in West Berlin?

The President. No; frankly, I was simply responding to their vast propaganda effort that would try to discount our legitimate proposal for arms reduction.

Mr. Boyd. Well, there are a lot of people who say that if you're really serious about it, the thing to do is just to call for a summit with Mr. Andropov without any kind of conditions, sit down and try to work it out. Is that out of the question?

The President. No, but a summit takes a lot of organization. You don't just say, ``Hey, let's sit down and talk about things.'' You look at the history of past summits, and you see that great time has been spent on arriving at what would be a practical agenda. And now we have three teams in Geneva negotiating arms reductions and this all at our instigation. And suddenly there is a propaganda campaign that seems to be aimed at posing them as the people who want peace, and that there's somehow something wrong in our proposals.

Mr. Boyd. What are you trying to do about it? What would you like to do about it?

The President. Well, I just called attention to what I had said a year ago November when I proposed that we start with the intermediate weapons now aimed at Europe, and to see whether we couldn't arrive at a zero base where they with their, well, more than a thousand warheads targeted on Western Europe. Western Europe with no deterrent to prevent their using them had asked for us to provide a deterrent missile system. We had agreed. And I said that it seemed more logical to me that, if they would destroy their missiles, we wouldn't install ours. And Western Europe and Russia would be free of that nuclear threat.

Mr. Boyd. You seem to be discounting any chance of a summit any time in the near future.

The President. We've been in constant communication with them; you know, we're not silent with each other. And, no, I have announced principle, I support a summit meeting. I don't want, however, something to take away from this legitimate negotiation that's going on to reduce weapons. That's why I said there's going to be a fine place for me to have a meeting with Mr. Andropov, and that would be to sign a negotiated agreement on the reduction of arms.

The Middle East

Mr. Boyd. On the Middle East, is there any reason to believe that King Hussein might agree to come into the peace process by March 1st?

The President. He has been most helpful. And I believe that -- although, I don't know what the date would be or anything -- I know that -- --

Mr. Boyd. Do you think that's a deadline he set -- --

The President. No -- --

Mr. Boyd. -- -- for making a decision?

The President. -- -- well, he has been most helpful and, I think, would be prepared to do this. But I think, and I'm sure he thinks, that we have got to resolve this situation in Lebanon first and get all the foreign forces to withdraw.

Mr. Boyd. Did you give President Mubarak any reason to believe that the situation in Lebanon might be resolved -- at least progress was being made in resolving it?

The President. No. We discussed, very openly, this, and whatever information we had for each other on the situation, we exchanged it. And he, too, believes that the beginning step must be, as we've said, the removal of the foreign forces from Lebanon.

Mr. Boyd. Do you see that happening anytime soon?

The President. It's taking longer than I'd hoped it would take. There seem to be some stubborn people around. But we've got to help Lebanon reestablish itself as a sovereign nation.

Times Beach, Mo.

Mr. Boyd. One local prerogative, local question. There are some people out in a community called Times Beach that's had a dioxin problem and have been wondering if you would drop by to visit. You're going to Fenton, which is near Times Beach. You're not going by?

The President. No, this schedule doesn't permit that today.

Mr. Boyd. Did you give that any consideration?

The President. Well, we're giving full consideration to their problem out there. And we have been working very closely with the Governor and others. And we have been putting together a kind of a community program, and I think that that will be finalized within the next several days.

It is a complicated problem. We have increased greatly the number of laboratories to -- we've completed the job of taking the samples, more than 300 samples from homes, from the area, from fields and so forth. And we've increased the number of laboratories working to see exactly what the problem is and how real is the threat.

Mr. Boyd. Well, wouldn't a Presidential visit there have helped to encourage the residents?

The President. Well, I don't know, now. How do you visit when the real thing is you're telling the people to stay away until we know whether it's dangerous or not? And we have provided housing away from there for several hundred families.

Mr. Boyd. You seem well aware of the situation. Have you been briefed recently on it? I mean, you seem to really know what's going on there.

The President. Well, I've been kind of keeping track of it.

Mr. Boyd. Okay. Well -- one other question, I can't think of. [Laughter] So, I guess it's not important. [Laughter]

Thank you very much.

The President. That is just like an argument. You will think of it this afternoon -- [laughter] -- 4 hours later.

Mr. Boyd. I really appreciate it.

The President. Well, this was a pleasure. It was good to see you.

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. Good interview, Jerry.

Note: The interview began at 10:43 a.m. on board Air Force One while enroute to St. Louis, Mo.