Radio Address to the Nation on the Fiscal Year 1984 Budget

February 12, 1983

My fellow Americans:

Today, all over our land, we remember the birth of one of our greatest sons, Abraham Lincoln -- the self-educated backwoodsman who became a lawyer, Congressman, and President. Whoever would understand in their hearts the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abe Lincoln.

I was told once that if you stand to one side of his statue at the Lincoln Memorial, you can see the profile of a man of strength and wisdom, and by standing on the other side, the profile of a man of compassion. Well, I did that, and it's true. He taught us the true meaning of ``We, the people. . . .'' He made us understand that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. And he lived by his words. ``I am not bound to win, but am bound to be true.''

In the spirit of Lincoln, America has carried forward the dream of democracy, guaranteeing political rights for all her citizens. And as our nation has matured, we have sought to meet more fully the obligations that spring from our national conscience. In the history of mankind, there has never been a people who've strived harder or done more than we Americans to help all who are truly in need.

This administration is committed to carry on that tradition. When the first stage of our economic program was passed a year and a half ago, I said, ``America now has an economic plan for her future. We're going forward, and we're not leaving anyone behind.'' Well, getting our economy back on sound footing has been a long, tough haul, and the job isn't done yet. But evidence grows that the worst of what we inherited is behind us. The economy is improving. Recovery has begun.

What about the second part of our pledge -- to make sure no one in America is left behind? Now, I know that some have charged that the social safety net is in shreds. Well, if I may quote Lincoln one more time, ``Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.''

By and large, our administration is being criticized for our sincere and, I might add, long overdue attempts to target benefits to the truly needy and to reduce benefits for those who should be able to manage for themselves.

Now, let me give you a few figures: Welfare, medical, nutrition, and housing assistance for our most needy citizens, plus compensation for the unemployed, is almost one-fourth, 24 percent higher in the fiscal 1984 budget than it was in 1981. In our fiscal year 1984 budget we've proposed $93 billion in assistance for the needy and unemployed. Twenty-three years ago, the Federal Government wasn't spending $93 billion on its entire budget.

Look at one specific area -- nutrition assistance programs. The doom and gloom criers have been having a lot of fun with the charge that we're increasing hunger. Well, the facts are this administration is committed to providing adequate nutritional assistance to all who need it. And we're fulfilling that commitment. The Federal Government is subsidizing 95 million meals a day. Meal subsidies are now being targeted more heavily than ever toward children from low-income households. Nutrition standards are being maintained. More people are receiving food stamps than ever before, and average benefits per person have grown at a rate faster than food price inflation. Yes, there has been a slight reduction in the number of school lunches, but that's because there's been a reduction in enrollment.

Here's another myth from the misery merchants: They've frightened too many Americans dependent on social security into believing our administration would take away their checks. I have pledged repeatedly that we have only one goal -- to save a system badly in need of repair. The best thing that could happen to social security is to get it out of the news, out of politics, and back into the confidence of the American people. With cooperation from the Congress, we can pass the Social Security Commission's bipartisan plan and start to do just that.

What about their charge that we're slashing spending on social programs to spend more on defense? Well, it's true that we're requesting $1.6 trillion in defense spending over the next 5 years. But I'll bet you haven't heard that during this same period, spending budgeted for entitlement programs will be over $2 trillion or $500 billion more than defense. What we propose to spend on defense is a much smaller part of the Federal budget and our total economy than was being spent 10, 20, 30 years ago. Yet the threat to America's freedom is greater than it was in those earlier times.

So, let me repeat, far from trying to destroy what is best in our system of humane, free government, we're doing everything we can to save it by slowing down the destructive rate of growing in taxes and spending and by pruning non-essential programs. This way enough resources will be left to meet the requirements of the truly needy, and we will meet the challenge of fairness. The most unfair situation was the one our people were trapped in before, when record inflation, taxes, and interest rates were slamming shut the gates of prosperity on every American family. We're out of that trap now. If we work together, we can have a healthy and lasting economic recovery.

As Lincoln once said in another turbulent time, ``If we do not make common cause to save the good old ship of the Union on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage.''

Well, America met her test then. With your help, we'll do it again.

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.